It's just before 7 p.m. and Mary Frangione is up to her ankles in females. There are tiny ones, tall ones, first-graders and ninth-graders. They're students from Largo's dance troupe, the Tutterow Dancers.
On most evenings and Saturdays, you can see ballerinas dashing through the Highland Recreation Complex. Tutterow operates its ballet program from a studio in the back corner of the facility. Tutterow's other offerings, including tap, hip-hop and jazz, are taught at the Largo Community Center.
Some enter the Highland studio through the outside door, hugging their moms goodbye and disappearing inside. Others enter by way of the gym, dodging basketballs.
Once inside, no matter their age, the first order of business is the slippers. The girls plop themselves down on the floor, sliding into the pink shoes. They stretch a little and gab a lot.
Frangione, 57, honors the sisterhood. "Many of these girls have known each other for most of their lives,'' she said.
Ballet instruction ranges from beginning ballet to pointe to adult classes. For the beginners, Frangione keeps the learning light.
"At the age of 6, the students are still learning how to focus for an hour, but it isn't long before you can see who has the passion for the movement.''
Because of children's bone development, Frangione requires students to be at least 12 years old before enrolling in pointe class.
Along with the tougher bones, as the ballerinas hit their teens, they also have realized ballet requires a commitment.
"The foundation has already been established, and they know what work is involved,'' Frangione said.
A studio like Tutterow operates much like a family.
"Each of my students has a story, and I see how the home life is reflected each week in the dancers' behavior and personality," she said. "At different times, different ones, even me, might carry the story into the studio.''