SPRING HILL — It's not surprising that a 6-year-old is enrolled in classes to hone her dancing, acting and modeling skills. But it's a bit more unusual that she's joined by a 68-year-old amateur pianist who wants to modernize her musical style, learn to play by ear and add the organ to her repertoire.
It's true. Girls, boys, men and women of all ages are welcome at Stir Up the Gift studio at 6175 Deltona Blvd. in Spring Hill.
The title of the organization describes polishing talent. The driving force behind it is a couple who moved to Spring Hill nine years ago from New York City: Melinda Crandle, 51, and Darnell Crandle, 52.
Though Darnell Crandle has been occupied since they arrived — they moved so he could take a job as a music minister at a church— Melinda Crandle soon grew frustrated by the lack of opportunities to use her dancing, singing and acting abilities.
"I didn't get to use my talents," she said.
So the Crandles launched the organization to fill the needs of people like her, skilled performers who wanted to sharpen and showcase their gifts.
"I talked to those who danced and acted and had no outlet," Melinda Crandle said.
She thought that "if I could use what I have and share it, (those other performers could) begin to use their gifts. And it gets passed on and passed around."
At the studio, students take classes from these more seasoned performers in acting, singing, modeling, several styles of dancing, piano playing and various genres of stage performing.
Fridays are reserved for rehearsals and stage workshops to accommodate the more seasoned artists.
Recently launched is a drumming class; scheduled to start early next year are classes in guitar, tap dance and Broadway dance.
The offerings attest to one of Stir Up the Gift's aims: If the organization doesn't or can't provide a class, it will find someone who can, Melinda Crandle said.
"Classes are growing because of the gifted and talented instructors," she said. "You'd be amazed."
Students pay only for per-class instruction and, if they take several classes, can add additional ones for free.
They also take to the stage regularly, particularly in the organization's Club Jada, which is open to all students and to the public.
"For an hour and a half, we bring down the spotlights," Melinda Crandle said, "and have the kids perform: act, sing, dance, do karate routines, model. They bring whatever talents they have.
"It provides an opportunity in an environment they're comfortable with. Little by little, it increases their ability and their confidence. They learn from the stage."
Each month, a top performer is chosen by Melinda Crandle, the couple's daughter, Jada, and two instructors. The winner's reward: a trophy or a gift card donated by a local business.
"Just something to keep them encouraged," Melinda Crandle said.
More and more, the group is performing for outsiders, too.
About 35 vocalists and instrumentalists debuted this fall with Stir Up the Gift Community Choir, sharing their gifts at three area churches. A cast that includes more than 100 actors and dancers will perform Go Tell It, a Christmas play written and directed by Melinda Crandle, on Dec. 22 at Mount Calvary Seventh Day Adventist Church in Tampa.
In April, the choir is scheduled to perform at the Spring Hill Relay for Life.
Last summer, the big event was an awards ceremony held at the Quality Inn in Spring Hill. Students arrived by limousines and wore gowns and tuxedoes. After a dinner for about 100 attendees, the event culminated with the traditional opening of award envelopes.
"It was something really big to make them feel like stars," Melinda Crandle said.
Beth Gray can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.