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Learning to Dance the Joan Izzo Way

Chantilly dance studio emphasizes self-esteem, technique.

When Cheryl Royal's second daughter, Jessica, became very shy as toddler, she tried to get her to socialize by sending her to soccer. But Jessica became nervous when she had to go first at a drill or if others were watching her. A neighbor of Royal's suggested Joan Izzo and her dance studio.

Chery Royal immediately signed up Jessica who didn't always want to attend dance classes. There were weeks when Izzo carried her on her hip as she cried to go home. After a year of doubts that dance wasn't working, Jessica finally came out of her shell. And seven years later, she couldn't be happier in her intermediate ballet classes.

"She has the bug. She's 10 and absolutely loves dance," said mom Cheryl Royal. "I give Joan all the credit. It changed her. She took this daughter of mine and made a world of difference."

ELIZABETH PICINI, 15, of Fairfax and Emily Taylor, 15, of Chantilly are both freshman at Chantilly High School. They have been dancing together since the age of 3.

"When we come here, we build our friendship and character," says Elizabeth Picini. The duo have choreographed and performed their own worship piece to "Via Dolorsia" at last year's spring recital and at their local church on Easter morning. "... We focus on worshipping God in our dance," explains Emily.

The Joan Izzo Dance Studio of Chantilly was founded five years ago when Joan Izzo, 50, decided to share her dance philosophy with the community — "to create a love for dance, to promote self esteem and confidence."

The studio has eight teachers, including Izzo who has been teaching dance for more than 20 years and has degrees in both dancing and education. Izzo is certified to teach grades K-12.

Izzo felt a calling that she could teach dance differently — by stressing the importance of technique and self-esteem.

"We're different because we worship every religion and our teachers are great," says Amanda Le, 12, of Chantilly.

When she started, Izzo, who had a loyal group of students ages 2-6, had rented space at the Washington Sports Club in Centreville. She later moved to her current location on Brookfield Corporate Drive, where she has been for three years.

THE JOAN IZZO DANCE studio for beginning through professional dancers focuses on ballet with classes from pre-ballet to pointe. The emphasis is on technique in a caring, supportive environment.

The studio also has classes in worship dance, creative dance, jazz, tap and imagination dance.

"Technique is how refined the movement is. If [dancers] want to be professional, what's going to matter is technique ... and that's what we focus on," says Royal.

This year the studio will incorporate a hip hop/jazz class due to demand. Classes run Monday to Saturday and generally are one hour. However, pre-school classes are 45 minutes and advanced classes are 75-90 minutes. The dance studio keeps the classes small — 10 dancers on average — especially at the advanced levels.

"[Joan] truly cares about the kids ... the reality is she hires teachers who care. Especially with self-esteem," says Cheryl Royal, the assistant director at the studio.

Mary White, a classically trained teacher in her fourth year at the studio, teaches ballet and worship dance with a strong emphasis on technique.

"This school is family oriented. We're not focused on competition, but a healthy way of mind, body and soul," said White.

Currently, the studio has two performances a year — a Nutcracker and a spring recital. "The Nutcracker" is held the weekend before Thanksgiving, with emphasis on ballet and children as young as 5 on stage. The spring recital is a combination of all types of dance performed by students of all ages except the pre-school classes. Royal explains: "Parents come to see their kids, but they get to see a variety too."

THE PRE-SCHOOL classes have their own recital with parents watching in the studio so that the dancers get the positive experience of being on stage without having to perform in front of a large crowd. Izzo would like to mix up the shows and incorporate more shows into the year as her dance studio grows.

Dancers from the Joan Izzo Dance Studio have gone on to study at Boston Ballet, Miami City Ballet, Orlando Ballet, Washington Ballet with Susan Jaffe, North Carolina Dance and Princeton Dance and Theater.

"One of my dancers goes to James Madison University ... she is not a dance major and this class here is harder," says Izzo.

Elizabeth Ether, 12, of Centreville, agrees: "Compared to other schools, we're just great."

The Joan Izzo Dance Studio is located behind the Dulles Expo Center at 4425 Brookfield Corp. Drive, Suite 200, Chantilly, next to the carpet shop. Call 703-724-1450 or contact Cheryl Royal at 703-266-7728.