By definition, an academy is where someone goes to receive intensive training in a specialized field. Think military academies or police academies. But there's another type of academy that is much more fun, where mastering a skill may involve plies and time-steps and, most likely, the uniform consists of sleek black leotards and frothy pink tutus.

The St. Charles Dance Academy is one such place where children from 2 to 18 can lace up their tap shoes or ballet slippers and don their leotards or yoga-style pants to immerse themselves in whatever form of dance catches their fancy. From ballet to tap, hip hop to jazz, Irish dance to Company dance, the park district's staff of accomplished instructors provides a thoroughly professional experience within the friendly atmosphere of the Pottawatomie Community Center.

The St. Charles Dance Academy program not only encourages the development of the talents necessary for specific dance genres, it also imparts some essential life-skills such as self-confidence and poise.

"Our instructors have a very good realization that yes, a lot of our students are there to learn dance, but depending on the age of the child, they are learning many other things as well," said Rosie Fasching, Recreation Supervisor. For children as young as 18 months to 3 years old, a dance class may be their first classroom experience, where they are mostly adjusting to what it's like to be with children their own age and receive instruction from someone other than their parents. "They are doing all that, just through the form of dance, which is the unifying topic," said Fasching. For older students, such as teens who are in competitive dance, they are learning team-building, group responsibilities and the important social aspects of what it means to be a young adult. "It very much shapes their future lives," said Fasching.

If developing artistic as well as social and behavioral skills sounds like a tough job, the Dance Academy's instructors are more than up to the task. All have a formal education in dance or theater/performing arts background and, not surprisingly, have been dancers most of their lives - just like their students. And for many of them, that dancing life began at the park district, too.

"They know the park district from a personal side because they have danced here or taken other programs here," said Fasching. "They are members of the community and know the schools their students attend." This gives instructors a broader and often insightful view into the lives their students lead outside the classroom. "They aren't just here to teach dance. They understand their student and make those personal connections."

All this takes place within the professional atmosphere Dance Academy instructors maintain and promote. Dance attire requirements, class etiquette and class schedule details are provided to parents in a St. Charles Dance Academy parent handbook, which helps families understand the commitment the 9-month program requires. Things like wearing the proper clothing for a specific genre of dance - leotard or footed tights for ballet class, and hair pulled up away from face - are important parts of the whole dance experience.

"Attire and appearance are very important for dance," said Fasching. "It puts all students on a level playing field and fosters that sense of community, but it also has a practical application in that it gives the instructor the ability to observe their movements and offer critique."

With their generous scheduling and competitive pricing, St. Charles Dance Academy classes offer a competitive alternative to private dance studios.

"Because of the resources of the park district, we are able to offer dance to members of the community who aren't able to go to a private studio, whether that's due to time commitment or financial obligations," said Fasching. "We also enable students to pursue other interests, too - a sports team or an arts class, for instance. Sometimes, choosing a studio life means that there aren't enough hours left over to take classes in other things."

For more information about the programs offered by the St. Charles Dance Academy at the St. Charles Park District, contact Rosie Fasching at 630-513-4334.