Summer dance camp spurs kids to fun and fitness

Tyra Ray can’t stop dancing.

A few weeks ago, her father, James Ray, enrolled her in a free, four-week camp at Monica’s School of Dance in Lee’s Summit. The camp is part of Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign to fight childhood obesity and encourage healthy eating habits.

Now, Ray said, Tyra brings the moves home, occasionally knocking over furniture in the process.

“It’s off the charts for my 7-year-old,” he said, laughing. “I think she has a future in gymnastics. She flips around the house all the time. It’s just ridiculous.”

Tyra and her classmates will be showcasing their weeks of work at a final performance at 4 p.m. today at the studio, 332 S.W. Blue Parkway in Lee’s Summit.

Owner and instructor Monica Renwick said she was contacted by Jann Wynn, owner of Wynn Twins School of Dance in Raytown and the Missouri and Kansas director of private dance schools promoting the Let’s Move free summer dance camps in the area.

Wynn’s was the only studio to hold a free dance camp last summer — she had trouble getting others to sign on for the pilot program, she said, and paid $1,200 out of pocket to get it off the ground. This year she was able to get 10 private dance schools in the area to commit, Monica’s among them.

She expects the area to have at least 20 free camps next summer.

“This is where everybody is in agreement,” Wynn said. “This is not a political issue. Everyone is in agreement that we have a crisis with childhood obesity.”

The dance studios involved this summer are footing the bills to hold these camps with help from sponsors.

“It’s time for us to serve back to our community and help our children,” Wynn said.

The campaign has made its way across the country with an official workout dance that packs styles like dancehall and salsa and even some jogging into 31/2 minutes. There’s also a YouTube music video and tutorial that stars pop singer Beyonce.

Ray said Tyra and another daughter, Tamia, see him regularly working out by running, and he hates to turn them down when they ask to tag along. So the Lee’s Summit resident enrolled them in the class.

Ray’s girls are among more than 100 children participating in the camp, from preschoolers to high schoolers.

Many of the dancers are new to the wood floors and floor-to-ceiling mirrors, but “they just love it,” Renwick said.

“They’ve never been into a studio to see what it’s like to have the mirrors and the music and to perform and have applause,” she said. “We make them feel very welcome at the studio. I think the whole approach to this is fun.”

Rehearsals last an hour, Renwick said, interspersed with conversations about healthy eating. Some of the students take each class as seriously as if they were dancing on Broadway.

“Those kids don’t want to leave the room,” she said, laughing. “I think that they would be there all night dancing if they could.”

Their dance routine is a definite workout, Renwick said.

“They’re all sweating and working,” she said. “I try to instill in them to continue this every day, to do the dance, to do the exercise.”

Ray can speak from personal experience. While his daughters were in class one day, he decided to take a quick two-mile run. When he got back, his daughters were sweating, he said.

“This is a workout,” Ray said. “I know that part of it is getting the kids together, having something to do weekly — the fun aspect of it. But they really get a workout.”

Former Kansas City Council member Cathy Jolly, who has been helping Renwick organize the camp, said the Let’s Move effort has benefited the entire area. Her son, who’s almost 9, takes classes at Monica’s.

“It’s great to do for the kids,” Jolly said. “It’s something that pulls together a community around a great cause.”