Mommy & Me instructor Carolyn Butters

Mommy & Me instructor Carolyn Butters takes a break with three of her dance students, including, from left, Cora Mae Dart, Payson Rogers and Michaela Rosales.

Each Thursday morning at Ahwatukee’s Dance Studio 111, tiny people enter the doors, either hopping about in excitement or standing shyly while holding tightly to the hand of their parent or grandparent.

Others not yet walking are borne in arms as a unique dance class gets underway for children crawling through age 2 1/2.

This is the new and free 30-minute Mommy & Me class taught by veteran dance teacher Carolyn Butters, who has led similar Mommy & Me classes locally for decades. 

She enjoys bringing the joy of dance, music and movement to little children.

“I love being kids’ first dance teacher,” she said. “I’ve been honored to have been so many dancers’ first dance teacher. I have some former students who continued with dance after having experienced it first as toddlers in my classes.”

The Mommy & Me, a first for Dance Studio 111 at 4910 E. Chandler Blvd. in Ahwatukee, is designed to help children with coordination, motor skills and learning how to follow along with the teacher and the kid-focused music like “Rock-a- bye Baby.”

Butters said she presented the idea for the toddler class when she joined Dance Studio 111 where she also teaches jazz and tumbling. She had taken a year hiatus, and COVID-19 extended that time away from teaching.

“Like so many families, I was excited to get back to work and thrilled to join the staff at Dance Studio 111,” she said. “Owner Kimberly Lewis and I agreed that our Ahwatukee community was in need of a morning enrichment dance program that would help give young mothers and toddlers a safe environment to come back into.  

“Our free toddler class has put a spark back in our tiny dancers and built some new friendships along the way.”

For Butters, the passion for dance began with gymnastics.

“While growing up as a competitive gymnast my love for dance grew out of my floor routines and ballet classes,” she recalled. “Later in high school I enjoyed studying and taking all genres of dance. 

“I started teaching dance and gymnastics locally at 16 and found that I had a genuine love and connection working with boys and girls ages 6 and under.”

She has spent a quarter century developing toddlers-kinder programs and boasts they have “proven successful from the tiniest dancer to the advanced competitive dancer with each gaining confidence, enriched learning and an everlasting love for the arts.”

Each Mommy & Me class includes energetic music and props such as stuffed animals.

“Music is key that helps students stay engaged while picking up choreography and basic dance fundamentals,” explained Butters.

Among the tiny dancers barely balancing on her own two feet is Cora Mae Dart, age 10 months.  Although she’s still in the crawling stage, she makes attempts at walking and even when sucking on her pacifier, is attentively engaged with the goings-on.

She is accompanied to class by her grandmother, Kim Lindsey, whose two grown daughters, Samantha (Sammie) Dart, Cora Mae’s mother and a COVID-19 nurse, and Cassie Lindsey, a Phoenix Suns Dancer, both were trained in dance at Dance Studio 111. 

Cora Mae’s father is Tyler Dart and the family lives in Ahwatukee.

“I always loved taking my daughters to dance classes so it was natural for me to bring Cora Mae when these Mommy & Me classes were offered,” said Lindsey, who kept an eye on her granddaughter, bedecked in a purple tutu and leopard-print leotard with matching headband that Grandma Lindsey had made her.

“I make her a custom dance outfit every week,” she said. “They’re only little for such a short time so I want to make the most of every minute.”

Socialization in the age of COVID was another big reason in Lindsey’s decision to bring Cora Mae to the weekly classes.

“Because of the pandemic, children, especially little ones like Cora Mae, haven’t had opportunities for contact with other kids,” said Lindsey, who was raised in Ahwatukee. “She was born in January and COVID hit in March, so she had only her parents and me around her.”

Also in attendance was Lindsey’s great niece and Cora Mae’s cousin, Michaela Rosales, who turned 1 in September. 

“It’s nice because they’ve been able to hang out together,” said Lindsey, a 1992 Corona del Sol High School alum.

Butters said this introductory dance class can set a child on the way to a lifetime of learning and enjoyment.

“The first dance class is so important, and I take pride in making sure that I build a strong foundation and a passion for dance that will have everlasting memories for everyone,” she said. 

“It’s important for my little dancers to understand the value of dance is far greater than the awards, it’s a chance to shine with greater self esteem and discipline. I love that I can bring out the best in my students by motivating and inspiring them.”

Kimberly Lewis is delighted with the community’s enthusiastic response since the Mommy & Me classes began Oct. 15.

“Miss Carolyn is very well known in our Ahwatukee Foothills Community, and she has such a sweet connection with children,” she said.  

“I love when she starts her class with her ‘Good Morning’ song.  The moment she starts dancing and singing you can see the children –some as young as 10 months – light up and connect with her,” said Lewis. 

Lewis said there are many benefits to starting dance so young.

“Dance classes help a child develop work and learning skills that will help set them up for success and this starts at a very young age,” she adding they help kids’ emotional development and encourage socialization and  creativity – “not to mention the fun both parent and child have together in class.”

Lewis said one of her favorite parts of the class is the Teddy Bear Dance.

 Miss Carolyn hands each tiny dancer a little teddy bear and they dance and sing the teddy bear to sleep.

“It is precious to see,” Lewis said.   “You cannot help coming out of her class happy and feeling good and uplifted which we all need during this pandemic. “

Butters said even though the class is called “Mommy & Me,” dads and grandparents are encouraged to join as well. 

The class meets for a half hour at 9:30 a.m. Thursdays. Call 480-706-6040 or email dancestudio111@dancestudio111.com

Studio 111 also has started regular classes for children ages 3-4 from 10-11 a.m. Thursday. This is not a free class and includes a half hour of tap and a half hour of ballet.

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