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Best of Olympia 2018: Studio West Dance Academy

Writer's pick: Best dance studio

Studio West Dance Academy students Alex Castro and Naomi de Jesus practicing ballet at the dance academy, which has been operating in Olympia for 10 years. Photo credit: studio west dance academy

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The art of dance is about passionate expression and storytelling, am I right? Don't we all sink into our theater seats knowing we'll be wooed by romantic costumes and storylines of classical ballet? Don't we all hold our breath as we watch hip-hop dancers lay their emotion down with the beat? Studio West Dance Academy (SWDA) in Olympia knows we do, but it also knows the art of dance is about personal growth and community.

"We want our students to have an appreciation for the art of dance," said Stephanie Wood-Ennett, co-director of SWDA. "We hope through dance, students become self-confident, self-disciplined and overall strong individuals in body and mind."

SWDA has been a staple in Olympia's dance community since it opened in 2008. The dance academy is co-directed by Wood-Ennett, a former professional dancer, and Mary Cecelia Piper. Together, they oversee the instruction of 115 ballet, hip-hop, jazz and tap classes each month by SWDA instructors.

"When we opened Studio West Dance Theatre, our goal was to provide quality dance performances to the South Sound audiences and be a key contributor to our vibrant arts scene," said Piper. "Many of our patrons say they no longer have to travel to see high caliber (dance) productions because it's now available here. Every year our productions get better as we set the bar higher and higher."

Since SWDA opened its doors 10 years ago, it has expanded from two dance studios to five, gone from four dance instructors to 17, and increased its administrative staff to accommodate an ever-growing number of students. Wood-Ennett and Piper estimate that more than 6,000 students have received dance instruction at SWDA over the last decade.

"Over the years, our students have been consistently accepted to challenging and prestigious summer programs such as Pacific Northwest Ballet, San Francisco Ballet and Boston Ballet, to name a few," Wood-Ennett said.

SWDA has also donated heavily to local charities during the past decade. Each year, the SWDA community chooses a charity to highlight its annual "Dance to Make a Difference Charity Gala," then works with the charity and SWDA students to coordinate volunteer work in the months leading up to the event.

"It's a full-year commitment to the organization," Wood-Ennett said. "The charity galas let us connect with our community. They're such inspiring events for us ... with dance companies from all over Puget Sound coming together for one night to share our new works and raise funds for charities in our community. We want our dancers to have the opportunity to give back to the community and to help those in need."

SWDA is preparing for this winter's "10th Annual Dance to Make a Difference Charity Gala," highlighting the Family Support Center of South Sound, a nonprofit providing family support services to community members in an effort to eliminate family violence, homelessness and poverty. Net proceeds from the event will be donated to Family Support Center of South Sound.

Studio West Dance Academy 10th Annual Dance to Make a Difference Charity Gala, 6 p.m., Saturday, March 10, Kenneth J. Minnaert Center for the Arts, 2011 Mottman Rd. SW, Olympia, $15 (dance performance only), $42 (gala and dance performance), 360.956.9378,

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