As its name implies, Water Street Dance Company is located on the river, and co-owner Gina Kennedy is anxious to make some waves of her own in the arts community. She opened the studio in September 2003 with partner Julie Chilton after spending most of her life dancing and teaching. "I began dance rather late in life-not until seventh grade. My aunt suggested that my mother put me in dance because I was painfully shy and insecure. I took all forms of dance with Krystal Taylor at Take Five Dance Studio in West Peoria. By high school, I became an assistant teacher and became involved with competitive dance as well. I also began to attend yearly dance conventions and took classes with teachers from L.A. and New York."

Kennedy has taught dance at various studios in central Illinois ever since. "From 1991 to 1997, I choreographed for the Peoria Riverkids, Rising Stars, and the Dynamics. They performed at Rivermen games, local events, Disney World, the Bulls' halftime, and attended various competitions. For the next five years, I had Gina Kennedy's Dance Company at a home-based studio in Pekin."

After quitting her teaching job in Pekin, Kennedy knew another studio was in her future because she said she couldn't imagine her life without dance. "I also knew I had so much more to give to children when it comes to dance and wasn't ready to give it up at this point. Julie's daughter, Amanda, had been a student of mine for many years, and we had developed a friendship through dance. So we began looking at buildings in August 2003 and only had a matter of weeks to get every thing ready for fall classes. We, along with our spouses and good friends, renovated an old meat locker into a beautiful dance studio."

Construction and remodeling turned out to be an ongoing process, she said. "Julie's husband, Mark, continues to work on the building weekly, adding walls, doors, viewing windows, etc. All of the hard work was well worth it. We had a wonderful dance show in the spring at the Bertha Frank Performing Arts Center in Morton and ended up with really happy students and very impressed parents."

That success was due in part to the teachers Kennedy has assembled, including herself. Kennedy teaches jazz, tap, Pilates, and hip-hop; Elizabeth Curtin teaches ballet and lyrical; and Amanda Chilton and Sarah Gschwend are the studio's assistant teachers. "We offer classes for ages three-and-a-half up to college students. The Pilates matwork class is for adults," Kennedy said.

She knew there wasn't a shortage of dance studios and classes in the Peoria area, but she knew she had something to contribute. "I did fear there may be too many and wasn't sure we would have enough students interested in coming to a new studio. Last year, we had six competitive dancers, and enrollment was at 74 students for the show. This year, we have 19 competitive dancers, and enrollment is at 120 and still growing. Now, I believe there was a need for a new studio to come along in Peoria."

Kennedy said almost all of the competitive dancers at the studio are girls she's taught for several years in Pekin. "So I did have a little bit of a following; however, I really didn't know who would want to come to Peoria from other areas. But we also have members from Morton, Metamora, Deer Creek, and Manito."

Members of the competitive team include Savannah Boyd, Amanda Chilton, Regan Fairfield, Cassie Frow, Meagan Given, Jennifer Grossweiler, Kirsten Grossweiler, Sarah Gschwend, Brenna Koonce, Dree Lickiss, Brooke McWilliams, Natalie Nimmo, Natalie Reames, Joanna Salmon, Cassiday Savage, Abbey Steger, Beth Steger, Leigh Stephens, and Alyssa Tompkins.

The difference between Water Street and other local studios is the long warm-up and stretch before each class, Kennedy said. "Also, for the first couple of months, we teach technique rather than a dance. We start choreography for the show between November and January. Once choreography is completed in February, we then return to technique, as well as rehearse the dances for the Spring Dance Show."

She said the long-term goal of Water Street, naturally, is to produce performers, educators, and professionals in the dance field. "More importantly, however, we want to give children confidence they can use throughout their lives. Another great opportunity is to give everyone an outlet to express themselves through dance and experience the excitement of performing for an audience."

One of those opportunities comes in the form of the Spring Dance Show, which takes place this year at 1 p.m., June 5, at the Scottish Rite Cathedral. "Most students will only perform there; however, the competition members perform at local events and compete at four competitions this year in Davenport, St. Louis, and Chicago. The classes also seem to help the children in other areas such as cheerleading, poms, sports, and musical theater. So, needless to say, it can be very beneficial to be enrolled in dance."

And even if students have been dancing since they were very young, new things crop up every day. "In recent years, dance has become more difficult than it used to be," Kennedy said. "They're doing leaps and turns that weren't around in the past. There are always new and exciting things happening in dance. One very important factor is flexibility, and we're definitely working on that with our students."

She said the most challenging aspect of her career is all of the choreography she puts together. "Just this year, I'm choreographing dances for 14 different classes; I've already choreographed seven competition dances, six solos, and a competition routine for the Dunlap poms."

But all of this work is really a labor of love for Kennedy, who feels fortunate to be doing what she loves. "The best thing about my career is that I'm having fun at work-most people can't say that. I love to teach, I love music, and I love to dance." AA!