The stream of parents briskly maneuvering through the parking lot of Steppin’ Out the Studio is steady.
Youngsters as little as 2-years-old high-tail it toward one of four classrooms owner Phyllis Balagna and staff uses to teach an array of dance moves, cheers and vocal exercises.
Judging by the pace of activity on the afternoon of Sept. 11, it is small wonder why Steppin’ Out has been a mainstay in the Lee’s Summit business community for 25 years.
“It’s been crazy, it’s been fun,” Balagna, a former professional singer and dancer, said of her journey over the last two decades-and-a-half. “My goal when I started out was to build a performing arts studio for anybody and everybody. When I sit back and think about it…what does it all mean to me? It’s just all of the kids that I have had the chance to teach.”
Steppin’ Out, 750 N.W. Main Street, hosted an open house Sept. 4 to celebrate its 25-year anniversary. More activities are planned for the rest of the year, but the open house brought forth a collection of second generation dancers, and in some cases, three generations of dancers greeted Balagna and her staff of 13 instructors.
“It was so amazing,” said Balagna, who is active with the Lee’s Summit Chamber of Commerce’s education committee and serves on the R-7 School District Board of Education, among other civic duties. “I had third generations of kids coming in and for me it’s about teaching kids and sharing my love of dance. But more importantly, it’s just creating a really positive place for kids to grow up in that teaches them confidence, self-esteem and help them feel good about themselves. We really push that around here.”
Jill Balagna, Phyllis’ daughter and business manger at the studio, said the business has been a major part of her life since age 4. Even after going away to college, Steppin’ Out has been a constant.
“I grew up dancing at the studio at the age of 4 when my mom started it,” Jill Balagna said. “I danced all the way until I was 17. Then I moved away to Miami and I graduated from college and I came back here and I’ve been back six years now.
“(Twenty-five years I business is) a very big accomplishment for a small business and the Lee’s Summit community. My mom has had some of the same clients for 25 years. We have grandchildren dancing here now, so we see a lot of the same people repeat through the studio. It’s a pretty steady stream from 4:30 until 9 p.m. at night almost every single night.”
Elisa Ali wasn’t around for the first 20 years, but in the last five she has seen up close the tight-knit community feel of Steppin’ Out. Not only does Ali teach a musical theater class and gives vocal lessons at Steppin’ Out, she also has a 10-year-old daughter, Miriam, enrolled at the studio. Without one, there is no other, she said.
“We actually moved from the West Coast five years ago,” Ali said. “We had been highly recommended to come here. (Miriam) wanted to learn how to do everything. She didn’t just want to do ballet, she wanted to do tap, jazz; she wanted the whole shebang.
“I’m glad I’m here. Getting to know Phyllis over the last five years – not only as an employee, but as a parent – I mean, your job is your job, but I wouldn’t be on this job if she wasn’t so great to my kid. I hope we are here for another 25 years, because I wasn’t here for the first 20 years. I just hope we are here and celebrating 50 years.”
The community feel of the studio is what Phyllis Balagna, who also helps choreographs dance routines for participants in the annual Dancing with the Chamber Stars event, said is the key to the longevity of the business.
The 1976 graduate of Lee’s Summit High School who was inducted into the school’s hall of fame in April estimated Steppin’ Out has 450 to 500 students each year, which would amount to somewhere around 5,000 students over the past 25 years, she said.
“We produced national award-winning kids, but that’s not what this place is about,” Balagna said. “It’s just about kids and families in Lee’s Summit. That’s truly the best way I can say it. Kids, families and Lee’s Summit. This is a business and a career, but people see that its more than just that for me. This is where I was born and raised so I have to succeed. This is all I know. This is my hometown; this is it.”
For more information on Steppin’ Out the Studio, visit www.steppinout4kids.com