“All right everyone. Places please.”
Christina Aguilera’s inspirational electropop song “Express” begins to thump as instructor Amber Welte guides a dozen teenagers through the first few moves of their musical theater dance routine.
“Dance is just such an amazing stress reliever, and it lets me take a break from my academic routine,” said Celia, a Stanwood High senior, who like her teammates, dedicates hours each week to rehearsals and dance instruction.
While dance studios nationwide are seeing a surge in enrollment, owners of two local studios — Premiere Studios Northwest and The Dance Project NW — say dance is more than just an opportunity to compete.
“Dance is not only a healthy physical activity, but it’s also a great way for kids to channel energy, relieve stress and feel good about themselves,” said Marissa Shreiber, who co-owns The Dance Project NW in Stanwood with Welte.
Celia is at the studio six days a week for dance team and other classes, a similar regimen as her fellow dancers.
"I love dancing. It just makes me feel happy,” she said.
At last summer’s Spotlight Nationals Competition in Seaside, Oregon, her Advanced Teen Musical Theater Team placed first in their division, Teen Musical Theater, and sixth overall out of hundreds of teams from across the country.
“This musical theater team is made up of most of the same dancers who participated at the national competition last summer,” Welte said. “They are just so connected and supportive of each other and truly want to improve to become more competitive.”
But Celia and her teammates are striving for more, and they know how much hard work is needed.
There’s lots of competition in this fast-growing sport. Reality shows like “Dancing with the Stars” and “So You Think You Can Dance” have propelled competitive dance into the national spotlight.
Since 2000, the country has seen a 30% spike in the number of people taking dance lessons and attending dance events, according to USA Dance. The Dance Studios industry has surged 4% over the past five years to become a $4 billion industry, according to market data.
Local studio owners said dance is more than just an opportunity to compete.
“Our mission is to create an environment that supports health, mental and physical fitness, creativity, and artistry — along with building strong, overall character,” Shreiber said.
The owners agree that participating in dance instruction and competitions offers a positive activity for kids that gets them moving and away from electronic screens.
“I love the confidence my students gain in themselves through dance,” Hoffman said. “Plus, the kids on teams really connect with each other in such a meaningful and supportive way.”
Cali, 10, said she feels that connection as a student at Premiere Studios.
“I’ve made so many friends here,” she said. “It feels like a big family."
Kristen Hoffman, instructor and owner of Premiere Studios Northwest in east Stanwood, said she also feels that connection with her students. She has a background in ballet and gymnastics, bought the Stanwood and Lake Stevens dance studios in 2016 — and now she and four instructors serve more than 100 students.
“It just seemed like the perfect fit,” said Hoffman, who trained at Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle and Olympic Ballet Theatre in Edmonds after spending years competing in rhythmic gymnastics in the Junior Olympics.
Welte and Shreiber established The Dance Project NW near the Stanwood Camano YMCA in 2018. Welte, who owned a dance studio in California for several years, has a background in child psychology and counseling that she found useful when working with young dancers.
“I believe that my experience and education truly help me connect with kids,’ Welte said. “I understand how to encourage kids to reach their potential in a healthy and positive way.”
“We felt like two pieces of puzzle that fit together,” said Shreiber, who studied mathematics and dance in college. “We had the same vision and practical skills to start our own dance studio.”
Welte and Shreiber also understood the high level of support for youth dance in the Stanwood and Camano area.
“Because we had worked together at Camano Dance Academy, we knew first-hand that there was huge interest in quality dance instruction for kids in our community,” Shreiber said. “When that studio closed, we saw an amazing opportunity to open our own studio.”
The Dance Project NW’s nine instructors serve almost 300 students and 21 different competitive dance teams.
‘Not just about winning’
“All right, places please and let’s try it again,” Welte said as she directs the musical theater dance team to start their routine once more.
It’s been a long day but as the music starts, the energy in the room builds as dancers take their places and look to one another for encouragement.
As they begin to move in unison, their young faces reflect the happiness they feel from being part of a dedicated group seeking to improve, not only a team, but as individuals.
Their routine is just one of many variations. Dance styles range from musical theater, jazz, lyrical, contemporary to hip hop. Dancers compete in solo, duo, trio and team events in age ground from preschoolers to teens.
“Before we know it, it will be time for the national competition in Seaside,” said Celia. "For me, it's not just about winning or placing well. It's also about the whole experience with my team and instructors that competitions provide."
But it’s the time spent between competitions that is incredibly meaningful to the youngster and helps them feel good about themselves and their dance community.
Middle schooler Faith, who has been at The Dance Project NW since it opened, sums up how much dance means to her.
“I love coming to the studio and taking classes with my friends,” she said. “It’s definitely hard work but I get to leave my everyday pressures behind and feel a part of something special and fun.”