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Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2016

Local academy earns nationial recognition

Sunday, June 25, 2006

This photo was featured in the 2006 yearbook edition.
SIKESTON - When Dance Spirit magazine and Dance Teacher magazine combined for the annual 2006 Yearbook edition, members of Sikeston Academy of Dance were all a twirl. There on Page 28 was their school featured as one of "50 Studios on the Move."

In presenting the 50 studios, the magazine explained the winners were chosen from among thousands of studios for exhibiting "a passion for dance, a reputation for sportsmanship and an active presence on the competition circuit."

The Academy's founder and executive director LaKrisha Graf credits the school's students and their parents in bringing about the national recognition, which comes from nominations by dance competition hosts.

Growing up in East Prairie, Graf was a competitive twirler but at age 12 she accompanied a friend to dance class. It was love at first step.

By the time Graf was 14 she knew she wanted to be a dance teacher and focused her energy on learning her craft with teachers in Sikeston, Paducah, Ky., and Jonesboro, Ark., then studied dance at Southwest Missouri State University in Springfield.

LaKrisha Graf stands in the studio of the Sikeston Dance Academy.
When she returned to Southeast Missouri, the question began coming: When are you going to open a studio?

Graf admitted while she knew she could teach dance, she was less sure about the business-end of a dance school. She found a business partner in Jamie Rogers and on Jan. 3, 2000, opened the Sikeston Academy of Dance at 615 Davis Blvd.

Today the school has grown to 180 students with classes in classical, modern or lyrical ballet, jazz, tap, hip-hop and even occasionally ballroom dance.

Classes are open to youngsters as young as 2 1/2, who are encouraged to develop their motor skills as they learn creative movement. But no matter what age, Graf said, her goal with every beginner is "to get them hooked on dance."

The school's hip-hop dance class often attracts teens, who want to learn the dance moves featured in today's music videos. According to Graf, this is one of the Academy's most popular classes.

Because of the free-style and gymnastic moves involved, Graf said the hip-

hop classes offer lots of strengthening movements for the young dancers along with skills in gymnastics, group formations and timing.

Those who begin to master the dances soon realize that other classes will help them improve. Many opt for tap classes then ballet.

"They find they need ballet for balance and strength. As a result the ballet classes have grown quite a bit," said Graf.

In addition to the classes at the Sikeston Academy of Dance, Graf has a competitive dance company, Footnotes. These select members attend approximately three competitions annually, some taking part in as many as five or six dances.

It was at these dance competitions where the Academy's students began gaining attention. During the 2004-05 season they were selected Most Entertaining, Best Costume, First Overall Junior Solo, First Overall Junior Large Group, High Score in the Teen Large Group and the Soloist Scholarship at the Applause Talent Competition and at the Masquerade Dance Competition were selected to receive the Studio Spirit Award and were a finalist for the Encore Challenge (the entertainment award) along with numerous solo and group honors.

For competitions and recitals, Graf has introduced not only dance moves and music but also sought to help her young students understand what is behind the songs they are dancing to. When they danced to the music from the movie "Schindler's List," they discussed the holocaust and some of the dancers watched the movie giving them an insight into what the lyrical dance could portray.

"It was so pretty it made me cry," said Graf about the performance.

And that is what she hopes not only her students but also their audiences will gain. "Dance is an art form that can touch a person. It is a way to express yourself without saying a word."

While the youngsters master the steps, Graf said they are learning more than just dance. "Dance teaches discipline, control, balance. It teaches how to move the body in a graceful way. Dance is very much the science of your body," she said.

The instructor went on to point out that while students may leave her dance classes for other activities, they have told her how what they learned helped as they were cheerleading, in gymnastics, in sports or just provided them with stage poise.

"I love dance so much but I understand most of them aren't going to dance professionally or teach," she said. "I want dance to be something they use later in life, even if it is just to evoke good memories."