Seven years after initial plans, studio breaks ground on new home
By B.C. Manion
Susan Sisk, owner of The Dance and Gymnastics Academy of Tampa, has a simple philosophy she expects her dancers and gymnasts to live by. They may stumble. They may fall. They may have trouble learning new skills. But, they should never utter those dreaded words: “I can’t.” “When you are hanging on those bars and that (gymnastics) coach is telling you to flip your feet over, it seems impossible. You may think, “I am never going to. Never. It’s too hard. It’s hurting my hands. It’s hurting my shoulders.”
“And, then in six weeks when your feet go over the bar, it’s not just about your feet going over the bar – you know what you’ve learned? That when something is hard, don’t just run around, or be scared, or cry. Face it. Take a deep breath. You can do it.” The same goes for dancers: “Don’t tell me, ‘I can’t pirouette.’ You don’t know what you’re going to be able to do next week, or next year or in five years. “We’re teaching life lessons here. I’m not just teaching dance and gymnastics.” The dance instructor, who has taught young charges for nearly a quarter-of-a-century in Land O’ Lakes, had to follow a little of her own advice regarding perseverance — during her quest to create larger quarters for her program. She recognized seven years ago that the academy had outgrown its home at 2632 Land O’Lakes Blvd., and she began searching for a new location. At the time, commercial land was simply too expensive, so she tried, unsuccessfully, to rezone two parcels. She spent time, money, and countless hours of frustration, pursuing those false starts. In the end, however, those failures turned out to be blessings in disguise, she said. Just 4½ years ago, before the recession hit, the project’s budget would have only covered an 8,000-square-foot building. The tough economy, however, caused land values and construction costs to drop, allowing her to build a new 12,000-square-foot center instead. A groundbreaking for the center, at SR 54 and Livingston Ave., was Aug. 7. The $1.8 million project is expected to take seven to nine months to complete. The academy now has 300 to 350 students, ranging from toddlers to adults. The vast majority of its dancers and gymnasts are school-age students. Programs include separate gymnastics classes for boys and girls and dance classes, as well as Mommy and Me and adult programs. At the new center, Sisk will be able to offer more classes at opportune times, enabling her, and co-owner Jill M. Bosack, to meet the demand.
“Kids out here get out of school at 4 (p.m.). I can only offer so many classes from 4 (p.m.) to 8 (p.m.),” Sisk said. “We constantly have waiting lists. I constantly am turning away students who have specific needs that I can’t meet.” The new center will allow her to accommodate around 700 students, she said. She will be able to increase the number of gymnastics classes she offers, from three at a time to six. Those classes are maintained at a ratio of six students per instructor. The dance studio is moving into a larger space, too, from its current 30-by-30-foot space to one that that is 40 by 50. But Sisk is not increasing the number of dance classes she offers because she teaches them all herself, She enjoys guiding students as they develop their skills. When the new center opens, it will mark the end of constant accommodations to work around limitations at the current space, Sisk said. “My older gymnasts – currently, to vault over the vault table – they have to run through the doorway (from the lobby), because you need 60 feet to vault,” she said. At the new center, there will ample room inside the gym to get the job done. Parents who come to watch their children’s classes will also be able to get much better views of their children’s progress. Glass windows will flank both sides of a large lobby, with the gym on one side and the dance studio on the other. A parent can sit in the lobby, work on a laptop and periodically check on the progress of his or her children – whether the kids are in gymnastics, in dance, or both, Sisk said. Knowing that their parents are watching is important to young athletes, said Sisk, recalling how much it mattered to her when she knew her mother was watching. “I know when she walked into that room, I was trying a little harder. I was trying to show off for her. I was trying to get that pirouette that the week before I kept stumbling on,” said Sisk, who fell in love with dancing when she was just 4. After class, she’d ask her mom: “Did you see that?” And they would talk about it all of the way home. “That makes a big difference in your training,” said Sisk, who estimates she has taught more than 1,000 dancers over the course of her career. Another advantage the new center offers is the ability to host competitions, Sisk said. That will make life easier for the academy’s families who have been carting their kids to competitions all over the place for years. When she envisions the new center, she sees it as a vastly improved version of the current center with all of the space issues resolved. The academy’s overall mission, however, will remain the same. “My dream for this building is the same as it has always been,” Sisk said. Whether students are at her academy for six months, or 15 years, she wants them to walk out of the school’s doors with something that can help them for the rest of their lives.
About the new center
What: The Dance and Gymnastics Academy of Tampa
Where: 23633 Venezia Drive (off the northwest corner of SR 54 and Livingston Avenue)
How large: 12,000 square feet
When: Slated to open in seven months to nine months
Parking: 50 paved spaces, with overflow parking on the grass
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