Archive for Thursday, July 6, 2006

Dance school marks 34 years in Basehor

July 6, 2006

The doormat leading students, parents and visitors into the studio says it all: "Judy's Studio -- we'll flip for you."

Inside, little ladies of all ages are doing just that -- flips, cartwheels, back bends and splits -- to not only improve their tumbling skills, but their self-esteem as well.

"Can't" is considered the "C-word" at Judy's and the minute students walk through the door, it is erased from their vocabulary.

"Our motto is: Judy's Studio teaches children to love and respect themselves and others -- and we also teach tumbling," Judy Whitcraft, owner and instructor, said with a smile. "We try to build confidence and self-esteem to help them realize they can do it. That's what sticks with them. Cartwheels aren't going to matter later in life."

With the boost of confidence comes an amazing display of talent and ability. After earning her degree in physical education from Kansas University and teaching five years in the Kansas City, Kan., School District, Whitcraft transformed the garage and surrounding area of her home into a studio 34 years ago. She now has more than 200 students in the tumbling, jazz and hip-hop classes she offers.

Eighty of those students compete in the Mid America Tumbling Society (MATS) meets where each student from 16 tumbling studios around the greater Kansas City area performs a routine based on their skill level and is judged in several different categories.

The next MATS meet is coming up in October. Winners from that meet will compete in the championship meet in March. Whitcraft said last year, Judy's Studio had more qualify for the championship meet last year than ever before. Competitors also earned higher places and brought home 25 percent more trophies.

Although they do not compete, the beginning to advanced jazz and hip-hop dancers taught by Whitcraft, head jazz instructor Tracie McGraw and several other assistant instructors add to the annual recital held at the Lied Center in Lawrence.

"We usually fill up the auditorium with 1,500 to 1,800 people," Whitcraft said. "Even the fathers say it's wonderful because there's a lot of variety and it moves quickly."

Dancers and tumblers are recognized for their showmanship during recital each year. Designated "smile spies" sit in the audience, write down the names of those performers who they think had the best smiles and tally up the scores to see who won for each routine. The "smile winners" are then posted up in the studio for everyone to see.

Along with Whitcraft's approach to building confidence and self-esteem, she also teaches her student instructors to be reliable employees.

"I have them sign contracts and sign in their hours for pay," she said. "They know they're valuable and they know they have to communicate with me if they're not going to be there. I teach them to be good employees from the start."

David and Sue Walker lingered in the waiting room one Tuesday afternoon waiting for their daughter, Tressa, to complete class. When asked why she enrolled Tressa at Judy's Studio, Sue's answer was simple.

"She loves it," she said. "I went here when I was a kid as well."

Whitcraft's rules of doing your best and treating others with respect make Judy's Studio a family kind of place and keep students coming back year after year and generation after generation.

"At Judy's, it's a family atmosphere because we've all known each other forever," Whitcraft said. "I've watched all of my students grow up."

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