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Friday, Nov 24, 2017
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Young dancers take turn at Patel ballet classes

TAMPA - After a morning of marching, galloping, skipping, jumping and running on her tiptoes, 5-year-old Semaj Tolbert ran to her instructor and gave her a hug. "Can we do this again tomorrow?" the East Tampa girl said. Semaj just had participated in her first ballet class. Free instruction recently was offered at the Patel Conservatory downtown. The conservatory, at the north end of the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, offers more than 100 performing arts classes in dance, theater and music for children of all ages and experience levels.
Dancers ranging in age from 3 to 5 recently dipped their ballet slippers in the water to decide if they liked it. Sherry Tolbert brought Semaj and 3-year-old Semya Wimbley. The girls love to dance, and they had a good time learning some basics of ballet. "I want them to learn how to listen more, to become more active, to be more exposed to different types of cultures," Tolbert said. While her girls took a liking to ballet on television, they would prefer to be princesses. Classmate Madeline Foley, meanwhile, either wants to be a ballerina or a lawyer. The 4-year-old Channel District resident smiled during class and focused on her instructor. Madeline is in another dance class but never has taken ballet. "We wanted to see if this was something that might interest her," said her father, William Foley. After the 45-minute class for tots, instructors taught beginning ballet for an hour to children in first through eighth grades. Then the conservatory wrapped up the day offering an elementary/intermediate class for children with a little more experience. The classes offered instructors a chance to determine the children's skill level in case any signed up for additional instruction. Shella Miller of Dover brought two girls to the conservatory: 4-year-old Jayce and 6-year-old Jayden. The girls want to be ballerinas, dancers or gymnasts. "They were so excited about this they couldn't sleep last night," Miller said. "They were ready to go out and dance." Miller left impressed by the conservatory. "It looks like they work well with the kids, and they're keeping their attention," she said. "[The instructors] look like professional dancersvery graceful."

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