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Natural Awakenings Naples and Fort Myers

Dancing Good-for-You Fun at Dance Arts in Naples

While dance instruction for children is known to help them develop a strong, healthy body and brain through movement, and to increase body awareness, control, balance, coordination, self-discipline and self-esteem, sometimes kids just want to learn how to dance because it’s fun. At age 5, Maria Ellis Nave’s mother saw an ad in the local paper for The Nutcracker auditions. Nave, now the owner of Dance Arts in Naples, tried out and got a part. “The first time I danced on stage and heard all those people clapping I thought that it was the greatest thing ever. I fell in love right then and there,” says Nave, who is now married with an 18-month-old daughter who shows off a few steps of her own at the studio.

Ballet, tap and jazz were part of Nave’s childhood dancing repertoire. By the time she was 10 years old, she focused strictly on ballet, and at age 14, she joined Mohawk Valley Ballet, the local professional ballet company in Utica, where she danced for five years. During the last two years, she enjoyed her work as ballet mistress, helping with costume design, running rehearsals and teaching some of the ballet company classes, organizing their auditions and ironically, managing their annual Nutcracker. Following her resignation, Nave enrolled at Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pennsylvania to pursue a dance major and a business minor.

When the Lake Effect brought sub-zero temperatures and big snowfalls to Erie in 2002, Nave began to seek employment in the South. “I looked for jobs anywhere south of the Carolinas,” she quips. Nave accepted a teaching position in Naples at Tracy’s Dance studio, which she purchased in June 2006, renamed, changed the studio’s programming and added a performance and competition team that perform locally. In 2012, we did a total of 30 shows,” she notes.

Nave enjoyed a big year in 2007. She scheduled her first dance recital in June and her wedding one-week later. “When I look back on that today, I see how crazy I must have been to schedule those two things so close together,” she says with a hearty laugh. The fun and flourish of activity around the studio hasn’t stopped since, largely due to Nave’s connections in the business, networking abilities and a long list of friends who are dance professionals. “A girl I used to dance with now dances with the Sarasota Ballet. She came to Naples and offered a workshop for our students. People in this business like to help each other,” advises Nave, whose studio has a total of 12 instructors offering their specialty, whether it’s ballet, jazz, tap, modern, contemporary, hip hop, lyrical or improv.

Dance Arts students have performed at the Broadway Dancer Center in New York City as well as at the Orange Bowl. Nave experienced the excitement of watching the kids perform at the Orange Bowl from her hospital room. “I didn’t plan for that date very well either. My first child was due around that time but I didn’t count on it being the same day. My husband Shaun and I drove to Miami, got the kids settled in and then drove straight to Naples Community Hospital. “I tease my daughter that she first watched the kids perform while she was only hours old,” says Nave.

“Dancing is good-for-you fun and when you do it, you don’t have a worry in the world; it’s just you, the rhythm and the music,” remarks Nave, who notes that many of her students think of the studio as their second home. “Many students do very well in school. One of them who is on our competition team carried an A average through her senior year and that’s impressive considering that his day began at 7 a.m. and he came here to dance until 9 p.m. Another graduated summa cum laude from Barron Collier High School and another graduated Magna Cum Laude from Gulf Coast High School. They danced five days a week through a full school schedule. I am very proud of them and their accomplishments. I think it reflects well on our studio.”

Location: 5610 Yahl Street #10, Naples. For more information call 239-513-6999 or visit