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story.lead_photo.caption Dancers with Jefferson City Dance Academy pose after rehearsal for their upcoming 40th spring dance recital, "Gretchen and Gretel," with the title characters Ireland Bax and Emily Doggett, back row center.

In 1979, Jan Dunning opened Jefferson City Dance Academy in a small space about where Arris' Pizza is in downtown Jefferson City.

With her extensive experience in dance, teaching and choreography, she was able to grow her business during the next 17 years to the point she needed to find a new building. She did, and for the last 23 years, the Jefferson Dance Academy, operating at 129 West Dunklin St., has continued to teach generations of dancers a variety of styles, discipline and life skills to its now 50-plus students.

As part of its 40th anniversary celebration, Jefferson City Dance Academy invites the community to its annual spring recital at 7 p.m. Friday at the Simonsen Ninth Grade Center, 501 East Miller St.

Outside of national competitions and community events like the recital, Dunning and her fellow experienced teachers at Jefferson City Dance Academy offer classes for all ages, groups and skill levels, starting with those ages three to five in the Kids in Motion program.

Designed to enhance many areas of childhood development, including coordination, concentration, fitness, socialization, and musical rhythm and timing, this program teaches students basic ballet and tap steps along with beginning tumbling movement, Dunning said. There is also a class called hippity-hop for ages three to five for those without the structure of tap and ballet and wanting to decide what forms of dance they want to pursue.

The next level is for ages five to seven called Tap, Ballet and Tumbling, with three different levels for students depending on enrollment, Dunning said.

"Then we have intermediate and advanced levels of ballet, tap, lyrical/modern, hip-hop, jazz and pointe," she added.

At the spring recital, all students at Jefferson City Dance Academy come together to display what they have learned in a unique presentation.

"I grew up with a story being told through dance, so I take any kind of story, adapt it to incorporate dance and add narration," Dunning said of her annual spring recitals. "We have done takes on 'The Wizard of Oz,' 'Raggedy Ann and Andy' and a Silver Jubilee for our 25th anniversary, which a story based on what dances I liked best as a child through to when I was a professional dancer."

This year, Dunning adapted the popular fairy tale, "Hansel and Gretel," to create "Gretchen and Gretel." At the beginning, Gretchen and Gretel don't know what is going on, dancing and not knowing what is going to happen, Dunning said. Then they go into the forest, get lost and then meet the candy witch. Dancing flowers, candy and many other characters help deliver this unique twist on the well-known story.

"Not everybody watching it may understand it, so Francis Butel narrates as the dancers are on stage telling the story," Dunning said. "He helps me makes things work after I write the story. His daughters all have danced with me and now I am teaching two of his grandchildren."

Lots of generations are coming back to learn at Jefferson City Dance Academy or watching the company of dancers perform at a variety of events such as Downtown Living Windows, Salute to America and at local retirement centers, which will also be celebrated the business's 40th anniversary.

Dunning believes outside of simply learning to dance, Jefferson City Dance Academy provides a place to teach discipline, respect and mentorship that creates a tight bond between the students, teachers and families who attend.

"We tell our students to always do their best and treat others with respect. That has carried on into their adult lives," Dunning said. "It is called a dance family, and that is what it really is."

Tickets, which are available at the door, for "Gretchen and Gretel" are $12 per person and free to those under the age of three. Dunning encourages alumni to attend the rectial. For more information, call 573-634-4337 or visit