"We didn't have that much time", good Samaritan Toni Nehmi said.
But when the ladder tips over, several of the children leap off the balcony as the men yell "jump!"
When the teacher opened the door to the studio's only exit, they immediately saw the heavy smoke and fire, and "everyone started freaking out", she said.
The mayor applauded first responders and business owners who raced towards the blaze to help bring the group of girls to safety, telling reporters in video shared by NorthJersey.com: "We're very fortunate here tonight..."
"I'm really grateful for the people who came over to help", said Twomey. They didn't know what to do - the girls were trapped on the second floor.
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"I was the one who called the fire department". But others could not reach the ladder and started to drop to the ground, desperate to escape.
More than a dozen American girls fled a second-storey dance studio onto a balcony as a roaring fire engulfed their building, some dropping or jumping to the pavement as bystanders tried to rescue them with ladders.
Five people caught in the blaze were rushed to a local hospital with nonlife-threatening injuries, according to Edgewater Fire Chief Steve Curry.
However, the entire building was quickly consumed by the flames which tore through not only the dance studio, but also a restaurant, health spa and auto wash, Edgewater Mayor Michael McPartland told reporters at the scene.
The cause of the fire is now under investigation.