LAND O’ LAKES — Lilly Jayska once cried and cowered at the notion of dancing on stage. Now, after four years of classes at Nicole’s Dance Center in Land O’ Lakes, the 10-year-old wants to dance solos. When asked to name her favorite type of dance, her answer is enthusiastic.
"All of them," she said.
Her mom, Christina Jayska, tears up as she considers the influence that Nicole’s Dance Center — celebrating its fifth anniversary this year — has had on her daughter.
"She used to keep to yourself. Now she’s a little performer," said Christina Jayska.
Studio owner Nicole Bouchard said that’s the idea behind her independently owned dance business. The small studio in the Lake Padgett Estates neighborhood teaches more than 35 classes to 120 students.
Since its opening in 2013, Nicole’s Dance Center students have won hundreds of trophies and medals at state and national competitions. The school also has a community dance team that performs for free throughout Pasco County, from nursing homes such as Suncoast Retreat assisted living facility in New Port Richey to the Shops of Wiregrass in Wesley Chapel.
"When I was organizing a fundraiser, I reached out to Nicole, who had taught dance to my daughters at other studios," said Penny Foote, owner of Foote Family Daycare Home in Lake Padgett Estates. "She brought her dancers to do a free show for the fundraiser, which guests loved."
Bouchard, a dance veteran who performed in Super Bowl parades and Disney World and won numerous awards, discovered the love of dance at age 3 and has taught dance since she was 18.
"I want to help everybody’s light shine through," Bouchard said. "With work and determination, everyone can do something on the dance floor."
She has coordinated fundraisers to help underprivileged students pay for classes and costumes, and accepts pupils regardless of their dance ability.
"I want to help everyone of all ages, races, religions, shapes, sizes and backgrounds learn to dance," she said. "I feel that God gave me this gift to share it with children and make their dreams come true."
To this end, Bouchard is starting a dance class for special needs children. She also teaches dance to adults.
Before opening her business, Bouchard taught at other studios and took business classes at the University of South Florida. She drew inspiration from her father, a longtime business owner, and is teaching the craft to her daughter, Katelyn Bouchard, 23.
"I love to watch the change in the students," said Katelyn Bouchard, the center’s assistant director who teaches hip hop, lyrical and ballet classes.
In the minds of many students, Nicole’s Dance Center makes a difference.
"They teach us to do our best, keep trying, and keep smiling," said Gracey Jayska, 6.
Ashley Chalfant, 17, has studied jazz, ballet, tap and lyrical at the school. She believes she can carry the lessons she has learned about kindness and good sportsmanship into any profession she chooses.
"At this school, I can dance my heart out," said Aliyah Borgella, 7. "I feel amazing when I dance."