CUYAHOGA COUNTY, Ohio (WOIO) - On Thursday, 19 News told you the dramatic story of Cassie Cotter, a Garfield Heights woman who said her dance teacher violently sexually assaulted her. 19 News has learned at least four Ohio police departments are investigating the former hip-hop dance instructor. We’ve learned he has worked at dance studios in Parma, North Royalton, Strongsville, and Rocky River.
“We worked side by side. We actually did a few projects together and we worked on competition stuff together,” said Jennifer Wade, a former dance instructor at Studio 82, and current instructor at Dance Dance Dance. “We were friends.”
Wade worked for two years as a dance instructor at Studio 82 in North Royalton. She said she wishes she could have done more to protect her dance students from her former colleague. Wade is also working with police on their investigation.
“A group of girls had told me that he had been sending inappropriate text messages to a few of the students and that had been around 8 years ago,” said Wade.
Wade said her former colleague preyed on young people who trusted him; young people who wanted nothing more than to become a better dancer. Wade says she’s embarrassed to admit he even came to her wedding.
“I feel guilty because I didn’t speak up eight years ago when these girls said something to me, because it wasn’t my story, you know? And it was a he-said-she-said eight years ago and I would try to warn as many people as I could that he was doing these things, but at that time, there was no proof that I had,” Wade said.
When she learned about his inappropriate behavior, Wade was living in Columbus and didn’t know how to handle it. She says the teacher was eventually let go from several dance studios because of his alleged behavior.
“Some of them didn’t want to tell their parents,” explained Wade. “Some of their parents just found out last week. They didn’t wanna tell the studio owners. They didn’t wanna tell their moms because they didn’t wanna get their ’daddy,’ as they’ve been calling him, to me in trouble.”
Wade has since become an advocate for Cotter and the trail of other alleged victims.
“A lot of these girls didn’t even know something actually happened to them until Cassie came forward, and that’s really big, you know? He had them so manipulated that they didn’t know this was wrong,” she said.
Wade feels like this case and the recent arrest of former Cleveland Dance teacher Terrence Greene highlights the problem of abuse that has been swept under the rug in the dance industry.
“I feel like we need to have more background checks going into especially dance studios,” Wade said. “Then we need to continue to check on our young people because you know they are the most vulnerable people. These girls they thought they were his favorites. They were being shown love and support and they were being put in the front. They were having sleepovers at his house they were doing all these things that were completely inappropriate. So, we as an arts community we need to do better for our young people.”
At least four Ohio police departments are investigating this dance teacher for sex crimes. Investigators are expecting additional reports in the coming weeks.