Looking up at the headshots on the wall, Wanda Manville carefully goes over almost each photo, explaining the dancer’s name, background and where they are now. I suddenly realize that Manville, the 74-year-old owner and director of Tempe Dance Academy, has a genuine personal connection to each of the faces displayed on the wall.

“The best part is watching the kids grow and learn to love dance,” says Manville.

Originally from Prescott, Manville began dancing at the age of 9 and started teaching lessons at 13.

“I had thought about becoming a professional dancer and even a nun, but I love the kids and couldn’t imagine doing anything else,” she says.

Manville received her first lesson from a farmer who had previously been a double stand-in for Gene Kelly. By 13, she was teaching the neighborhood kids how to dance, charging them 50 cents a lesson. Manville made her way to Arizona State University, where she majored in dance and performed on the university’s gymnastics team. One thing lead to another, and Manville established Tempe Dance Academy, now more than 50 years old.

“I originally started the academy with a partner, but it has turned into a family business,” says Manville.

Manville has three daughters, and to no surprise, each of them is a dancer; the oldest was even a Rockette. All three of her daughters now teach, and Manville still continues to teach seven days a week and is very much involved in her studio.

“I would say I spend more time here than at home,” she says. “I wake up at 5 a.m. and probably don’t go to bed until midnight.”

Throughout her tenure at the academy, Manville has introduced a Europe trip, where she takes students over the Atlantic every two years to perform across the continent. She is taking what might be her last trip this summer.

“I like to make sure the trip is educational, so we tour the countries as well as dance,” says Manville. “I love to watch the kids with their mouths wide open; I’m trying to create a love for dancing and memories.”

The largest production the academy puts on is its annual Spirit of Christmas show. The idea was orginally concieved while Manville was in Austria after they had performed.

“We were all getting on the bus, it was snowing, and the kids started to sing ‘The Sound of Music’ songs, and I thought to myself, ‘We should do a Christmas show at home,’” she says.

The show, playing Dec. 14-22 at Chandler Center for the Arts, is now in its 26th year, and Manville says she still has former students tell her it was their favorite part of training.

Some of those students attend or plan to attend presitgious dance institutions, such as The Juilliard School and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

As of right now, Manville has no plans to retire. She hopes, when she isn’t around anymore, that Tempe Dance Academy will continue.

“Some people get into this business for the money,” she says. “I don’t make any money, but those smiles and hugs are worth a thousand dollars.”

If you go

What: Tempe Dance Academy’s 26th annual Spirit of Christmas, an energetic variety show with 100 performers who sing and dance amid snowy villages, twinkly Christmas trees and even a live horse pulling a carriage across the stage.

When: Six shows run Saturday, Dec. 14, through Sunday, Dec. 22

Where: Chandler Center of the Arts, 250 N. Arizona Ave.

Cost: Tickets range from $20 to $28. Discounts are available for children younger than 12.

Information: (480) 782-2680 or ChandlerCenter.org

• Nicole, a junior at Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, is an intern for GetOut and the East Valley Tribune. Contact her at (480) 898-6514 or nschwab@evtrib.com.

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