PEKIN, Ill. (AP) – Outside a sign reads “Classical Dance Academy.” Inside, a pile of tap shoes and ballet slippers greets the eye as classical music treats the ear. Pictures of local ballerinas of all ages decorate the foyer, while barres and mirrors line two long walls in back.

It’s the place of dreams. And lots of potential.

That’s the way CDA owner/teacher Liz Curtin, 30, sees it anyway. She believes in the dream so much, in fact, that she’s moving her business to a building downtown, across the street from the Tazewell County Courthouse, at 359 Court St. She intends to start remodeling as soon as the papers are signed.

“It’s very exciting because Jazzercise is merging with the CDA. The whole grand scheme is to have everything going on at the same time, with exercise and music lessons – piano, clarinet and guitar – in the basement, and performance space with theater and orchestra on the main floor. That’s my 10-year plan,” Curtin said, noting that she’s hoping to be in, up and operating in the new building by the end of October.

“We’re going from 1,300 square feet to 4,000 square feet.” She adds, “Presently we’ll be starting on the main floor and rent to some visual artists and eventually expand.”

Curtin sees a brighter future downtown.

“The revitalization that’s going on downtown is phenomenal. There’s a lot of potential in Pekin. I think downtown is going to be huge in three years. It’s already started,” she said, referring to the popularity of the new art center that opened earlier this year. As neighbors, Curtin believes they’ll be an enhancement to each other.

CDA provides developmentally appropriate curriculum in the areas of ballet, tap and jazz to students aged 3 years through adult. Students learn coordination exercises, musical forms, improvisation, performance and dance vocabulary.

“Ballet is a whole other language,” she said. Curtin contends that ballet is the core of all dance training, and the focus of her academy. She insists that her students learn ballet from the inside out, including a little of the French language – since that’s the language of ballet. Additionally they learn balance, agility, techniques, nutrition, anatomy and self-control.

After graduating from the University of Arizona in 2003, she moved to Peoria to be the ballet mistress and soloist with the Illinois Ballet. From 2006 to 2007 she taught dance to fifth- through eighth-graders at Roosevelt School in Peoria. In 2007 she opened CDA in the old Kroger building on the East Bluff.

Ballet is her true love, but she also plays piano and hopes to teach others to play in the near future. Until then, she offers ballroom dancing, line dancing, and a Pilates class.

“Ballroom dancing is popular with bridal parties … who want to learn a dance for their reception,” she said. “One particular couple want to dance to ‘Do You Love Me’ by the Contours. They want me to teach them to dance so they look good and feel comfortable on their wedding night.”

Ballet, though, is her forte, and she gladly teaches the art to 3-year-olds.

“People think, ‘Oh, they’re 3 years old so they can’t do anything.’ But, yeah, they can. It’s amazing what a 3-year-old can do. They can learn to speak French; learn ballet. Ballet is a whole different language, and the younger they are the easier it is for them to learn it.”

Curtin keeps class sizes to a maximum of 12 students because she feels it is more effective. Not only does small class size mean more personal attention paid to each student, but Curtin said she can bond with students and teach them how to avoid bad habits while learning proper techniques.

Ballet is more than art form. According to Curtin, it can improve balance and agility in other areas of performance. Presently, she said she trains half of the Pekin Poms team for technique classes at Pekin Community High School. But she wants more.

“I want boys. I don’t have them yet,” she said. “It’s a stigma for boys. Boys are good with sports – football, basketball, on the soccer field – but they could be better. They need the balance, agility … athletes can benefit from dance, too. I would like to get a program going with PCHS. It would really help them. Most of your professional athletes have taken dance lessons.”

Curtin is as excited about revitalization plans for downtown Pekin and her future expansion plans as she is about being asked to be a guest artist at the Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Mo.

“I’m excited … they asked me to be a guest artist and choreograph their faculty show, a contemporary ballet. I’m so excited … there’s just so much going on right now. It’s an exciting time for the arts.”

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