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WEST FLORIDA DANCE CENTER

With fingers snapping to the beat of Michael Jackson's Thriller, Tara Lynn leads a group of women through stretches and bends in her first adult tap dance class since opening West Florida Dance Center. The women, most of them middle-aged, laugh and groan a little as tight muscles resist some of the movements.

"It was fun, but it was harder than I thought it would be," Claudia Farrow of Clearwater said of Monday's class. "I had to really concentrate to remember the steps. It's going to make my brain work. But I think I can get the hang of it. I even ordered some tap shoes."

Marcia Dell of Largo said the stretching part of the class was "fluid, smooth and slow." She said she learned from Lynn how important it is to stretch every day to keep muscles in good working order.

"I was so pumped when I got out of there," Dell said, "I felt like I could have done a little routine if I'd had the shoes.

"She's a really good teacher."

Lynn opened West Florida Dance Center in Largo last week.

The center offers ballet, tap, jazz and hip-hop classes. It also offers yoga and private lessons, which start at $55 an hour. It also has a store for new and used dance clothing.

She teaches students from age 3 to adults.

"I tend to specialize in preschoolers," the 36-year-old Dunedin resident said, "because it's hard to find someone who can dance and teach, someone who can break dance down to the basics.

"With preschoolers, you have to have the right balance of learning and fun. There's a delicate balance of teaching them and keeping their interest so they will like it enough to want to continue. If they love it, they'll work hard."

Dance has been Lynn's life since she took her first ballet class at age 3, followed by tap, then jazz and all its variations.

At 19, while attending Monroe Community College in her native Rochester, N.Y., she took advantage of an opportunity to experience life as a circus performer.

For a lark, when the Ringling Brothers circus came to town, she auditioned for its show dancing team.

The next day, "they called and said would you like to join us in Pennsylvania? You have three days to meet us there," she said. "I went."

She traveled across country with the circus for four months, ending in California.

The dance costumes were Vegas-style elaborate, she said, with $3,000 worth of rhinestones and a 30-pound helmet with feathers. The pace was grueling. The dancers performed every night during the week, three times on Friday and Saturday and once on Sunday.

"It was pretty hectic," she said.

"I met a lot of amazing performers from all over the world. They were like a big family. We had barbecues after every show."

As for the animals, "I never saw anything but love for them," she said. "The dogs had nicer accommodations than we did."

When the circus left California, Lynn stayed behind. She wanted to get on with a career in teaching dance.

Six years later, she had gleaned enough experience and following to open her own studio in Orange County.

Before moving here in January to be closer to her family, she turned over the school of more than 600 students to her longtime assistant.

"Dance is good for self-esteem and self-confidence and it's fun," Lynn said. "It's very beneficial for those in sports as it improves agility and flexibility. There are so many positives to dance."

Her new dance center, she said, "is all about learning the love of dance."

"I plan to build a strong academic program for all ages," she said, "and ultimately put together some competitive dance teams, which I had at the California school."

West Florida Dance Center

Where: 12788 Indian Rocks Road, Largo.

When: Classes take place Monday-Thursday and Saturday, closed Friday and Sunday.

Special feature: A new and used store for dance shoes and togs.

For more information: Visit www.westfloridadance.com or call (727) 470-0322.

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