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Modern Dance In Acadiana

Sep 17, 2018 09:14AM ● By Scott Brazda

“This is huge for Lafayette, I think,” says Jill Listi. “None of us truly realize just how much talent we have both here in Lafayette and in Louisiana.  Most of these kids have no idea how good they really are.”

While the owner of the dance studio (Jill Listi Dance Studio) that bears her name has been back from the West Coast Dance Explosion competition since the second week of July, time has not lessened the level of pride she feels for the 32 girls who--at three levels--impressed judges and dazzled audience members. “Chalk it up to lots of hard work and dedication,” says Listi. “We’d attended the event since it began over 20 years ago, and had gotten to the Gala level on the final day, but we had never gotten to the point of winning.”

That is, until July of 2018.  

Jill Listi teams in the ‘Mini’, ‘Junior’, and ‘Teen’ divisions made it through round after round in Orlando and went toe-to-toe against some of the nation’s very best dance teams and studios. “The ‘Gala’ is where the top seven teams in those divisions compete, essentially the finals,” explains Listi. “There were thousands of dancers and routines at the competition, and the Gala features the very best. And wouldn’t you know it? Our girls brought it. And won it!”

The ‘Elite Mini” squad, made up of 18 Jill Listi students, ages 7-to-11, weren’t satisfied with just reaching the Gala; they decided to take their exceptional talents to the next level…and to finish first. “I thought they were going to do pretty well, but I had no I idea they’d win the whole thing,” recalls Listi. “But they were the most talented, technical kids in the competition, and they had worked six days a week, six-to-eight hours a day to get to that level.”

Pure and simple, there wasn’t anything ‘mini’ about Listi’s ‘Mini’ squad.  “They knew what they had to do and they went for it.”

Nine girls on the Elite Juniors team came oh-so-close to duplicating that feat. This group of 11, 12 and 13 year olds ranked first all the way to the Gala, says Listi, but just one slight mistake cost them the title. “Oh, they were so wonderful, and was the team all the way from regionals to nationals that every teacher was talking about,” adds Listi. “Just one little flaw in their ‘Feel It Still’ routine—they missed one of their lifts--cost them first, but that doesn’t diminish just how fabulous our Juniors squad was.  They ended up third, and were just some amazing kids who knew exactly what it took to succeed at any level.”

Also earning the finals spotlight was a quintet of dancers not the least bit awed by their West Coast Explosion stage, or their Gala opponents.  “There were only five dancers in our Elite Teen group, and every other team was much bigger, with bigger production numbers,” smiles Listi. “I mean, huge teams from all over the country--one of them had 25 or maybe more on stage—and our girls held their own. A fourth-place finish in what may have been the hardest category?  Wow.”

After the event, two of those five Teen superstars received even better news from the American Music and Dramatic Academy: they’d earned scholarships to continue their studies at the next level. “I have to brag, you know? AMDA gives out only five scholarships,” explains Listi, “and Julia Toups was awarded $40,000 while Gabby Bronner took home a $20,000 scholarship.”

Listi will be the first one to tell you she has had an amazing team carrying the torch for the studio behind the scenes as well. “Our coaches, our instructors are all family,” she says, “and they’re talented, dedicated and work overtime because they want the kids to do so well.” And even though the studio’s elite dancers are among the best-of-the-best, “…there’s always room for improvement. That’s why we attend so many workshops and various educational opportunities; you’ve got to keep learning and keep up with the times.”

My final question to Jill Listi was, “Does this kind of success offer validation for Jill Listi Dance Studio in Lafayette, La.?  Does it give sort of a ‘Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval’ to what you’re doing here?” Listi’s answer is a common theme among those who manage ‘champions’.

 “Well, none of this is about us, about me or my teachers. The kids always come first; nothing else matters but the kids, and helping them reach their potential in our family environment. Those students are truly what this is all about, and I’m just proud to see what they’ve accomplished.”

*By Scott Brazda 
*Photos Courtesy of:

 West Coast Dance Explosion