The growing list of options for childhood activities can include everything from organized sports, to technology camp to music lessons. But one pursuit especially has steadily gained in popularity among youngsters in recent years — dance.
Maryville is home to three dance studios that offer various styles of instruction for all ages, whether participants want to dance competitively or just have fun. All three studios attract students from as far away as Iowa and St. Joseph.
So why do parents choose to spend hard-earned dollars so their kids can spend a few hours each week learning how to dance?
"I think it's a way for young girls, and boys for that matter, to feel like they belong somewhere and bond," said Whitney Wallace, owner of Miss Whitney's Elite School of Dance. "I saw the need for a loving environment in dance and had taught for years, so I thought opening my own studio was the best opportunity."
Wallace, as a junior in high school, started her studio on West South Avenue with just five students in November of 2007. Now she has nearly 50.
"It was never my dream to start a studio," Wallace said. "I just wanted to dance."
Across town at Bearcat Boogie, students have been dancing their socks off since 2001.
"We just hope to create memories that they'll never forget," said owner Dana Schmidt. "I danced growing up and have lots of great memories of being on stage and with my friends."
The Schmidt family opened their studio on North Main Street when another studio left the area. Wanting to keep the option of dance instruction available to local children, they took a chance and started Bearcat Boogie.
"We never thought it would turn into this," Schmidt said. "It's great. We're celebrating our tenth year this year. I just can't believe it."
As the studio grew so did its performance base. The dancers take trips to national competitions and more recently danced aboard a cruise ship.
Maryville's third dance studio, Maryville Dance Academy, adds another option for dance instruction in town.
"We have dancers from all over," said co-owner Mel Schluter. "We have some that come from as far away as Villisca, Iowa; Savannah; St. Joseph and the surrounding towns."
Schluter opened MDA, located on East First Street, with business partner Cammi Zimmerman in the spring of 2007.
Both dance moms were tired of driving their daughters long distances several nights a week for lessons and thought maybe other parents were in the same boat.
"It's been much more fun and exciting than I thought it would be four years ago," Schluter said. "We just started it so we wouldn't have to travel four days a week, and thought the kids in Maryville should have a choice. I never thought we would have the amount of students that we have now and it's so great."
A growing clientele at all three studios — well into the hundreds at MDA and Bearcat Boogie — means more costumes, rhinestones, shoes and events.
Each studio offers recreational and competitive classes. Those competing often travel across the Midwest to perform for awards, trophies and titles.
"It can be expensive," Zimmerman said. "But it can be as expensive as you want it to be. This year, we decided to offer some fundraising options for students and families. We also decided to offer discounts for multiple-child families or those with several dance numbers."
Zimmerman said families find a way to make things work.
Bearcat Boogie also offers discounts, and Schmidt said some families take on part-time jobs to help fund their child's dance dreams.
Across the board, studio owners attribute the growing popularity of dance at their studios to recent trends in television.
"There are so many TV shows about dance on right now that I think it helps spark their interest," Wallace said.
Shows such at "Dancing with the Stars," "So You Think You Can Dance," "America's Best Dance Crew" and "Step It Up and Dance" can currently be found on TV.
"I think some kids dance because they get a sense of friendship and a bonding," Schluter said. "For most girls that aren't interested in sports, dance gives them an activity to do and they usually end up loving it."
All three studios are currently gearing up for regional competitions across the Midwest as well as recitals in Maryville.