Like many young girls, dance lessons were a rite of passage for Shelly, Stacy and Stefani Schrimpf who began taking ballet when they were each 5 or 6 years old. Those lessons culminated each year in a recital where they took the stage in their swirling tutus and became princesses, at least for that night.
“I remember my first dance recital. I was a bumble bee,” said Stacy, 36. “Back then we had our recitals at Richardson Auditorium at Lincoln University.”
While most little girls move on to other pursuits, the hard work and discipline involved in being a dancer appealed to all three sisters, who immersed themselves in all things dance. To pay for their tuition, their mother, Sharon, worked the front desk at Dance Center on Missouri Boulevard and later was involved in opening Dancers’ Alley.
“I come from a family of musical people and performers,” said Sharon, who along with her husband, Benjamin “Bennie,” raised their family in Taos. “My dad was a trumpet player and my grandmother and great grandmother danced and entertained as part of the Toby and Susie show from the back of a wagon on the tent show circuit.”
By 8 years old, she was already dancing “en pointe” – on pointe shoes – but after her parents divorced there was no money for ballet lessons.
Dance became their passion and ultimately led to the family business.
As a principal dancer with the Kansas City Ballet, Stefani initially became a performer while Shelly and Stacy stayed in Mid-Missouri to help Sharon run the STEPS Dance and Pilates Studio they opened in Osage Beach in 1994. A small studio followed in California, Mo. Their newest location is in Wardsville, where the girls attended Blair Oaks High School.
Their father drove an 18-wheeler while Sharon kept up with their five children, including two sons, Scott and Shannon. Shelly attended St. Frances Xavier School and at 15 taught classes at Dancers’ Alley. After high school, she was offered a scholarship to the Conservatory of Dance at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, where she received a bachelor’s degree in fine arts, with an emphasis in modern dance.
“Modern dance is very expressive and it offers a lot of freedom and creativity in choreography,” she said.
“I was ready to find a home base and I’d always loved teaching dance, so I stuck close to my family,” said Shelly, 46, who lives in Tan Tara Estates and is now married with two stepdaughters.
Stacy has been involved in the STEPS Dance Studio since she was only 16 years old.
“Dance was pretty much my life growing up,” she said. “Ballet was my favorite but I took jazz, tap and modern dance classes too. Whenever I had the chance to take extra dance classes, I did.”
During her summers, she attended dance programs at the Missouri State Ballet and also participated in college classes during high school. Eventually she started teaching and helped her mother open the studio at the lake. Today she lives in the family’s cabin in Rocky Mount and travels to the Wardsville location to teach classes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.
“I hated my first ballet class,” said Stefani, 38. “We sat in a circle with our feet in the center and we had to point them. I had pointy feet anyway and thought they were making fun of me, so I told my mom I never wanted to go back.”
“But I did and the dance studio became my second home,” she said.
By the time she was 14 years old, she was traveling several days a week to take classes at Stephens College in Columbia. A year later, she auditioned and received a scholarship to HARID Conservatory, a prestigious training and boarding school in Boca Raton, Fla.
“A woman I met several years ago that helps dancers transition to new careers said, ‘ballet chooses you’ and I think that’s true,” she said. “The desire to dance is something inside you and fills everything you need as a person. This was my open door.”
“In school I had always felt like a bit of an outcast because I didn’t do sports, but at HARID I found a group of people that were just like me,” she said. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without that experience.”
After her junior and senior year there, Stefani joined the Cleveland/San Jose Ballet as a trainee, where she met her husband, Juan Pablo Trujillo, from Columbia, South America.
At the end of the 1998 season, she joined the Kansas City Ballet and became a principal dancer. During her 13 years in the company she became a ballerina princess on stage as the Sugar Plum Fairy in “The Nutcracker,” Aurora in “The Sleeping Beauty Ballet,” Myrtha in “Giselle” along with many other roles. Her prince in many of these performances was her husband, who joined the company in 1999.
While she was enjoying her career, she also experienced the grueling physical demands of ballet. Early on in her career, she sustained an injury and danced for years in a lot of pain. In 2006, she and her husband opened Physiques, a Pilates and Gyrotonic Studio, and four years later they retired from The Kansas City Ballet.
“Ballet has been such a huge part of my life that it’s hard not doing something you’ve done since you were small,” she said. “It’s hard to know that my husband and I won’t perform again or that our son won’t see us in that capacity.”
Now it’s all about passing on their knowledge to others, which the couple does at the Kansas School of Classical Ballet in downtown Overland Park, Kan., that they co-founded in 2010.
“It’s wonderful to pass on your love of something to other students and I want to create the same environment that my mom did,” said Stefani, who serves as artistic director.
“She was such a lovely person and so good with the parents and all the students wanted to talk to her and would come up and give her a big hug.”
“We’re very serious about what we do and we expect our students to behave and adapt to a structure so we can teach them and they can learn,” Sharon said.
Many of their students have grown up at the dance studio.
“It’s very rewarding when young children can grasp a concept,” Shelly said. “When they come in it’s about how to pretend you’re a flower in a garden but eventually you can see they understand the turnout and other positions that are the foundation of ballet.”
“More than how many pirouettes they can do, the classes are about movement and gaining strength, control and flexibility,” she said. “It’s a physical and mental challenge. Some of our kids don’t come from great home lives and they have found healing and safety in the security of the classes.”
Shelly and Stacy choreograph winning dances for their students to perform through Stages Dance Company, an affiliate of STEPS. The dancers audition and those chosen perform in competitions in Kansas City and St. Louis each year. They also perform those dances during their recital held at the School of the Osage.
“Shelly and Stacy really compliment each other. They’re so supportive of their students and have created the kind of atmosphere we had when we were young,” said Stefani.
“We all know a lot of our students won’t be professional dancers, but the skills we teach, discipline, hard work and time management can be used in any professions,” she said. “For so many schools it’s about the numbers of students attending, but we’re about nurturing the children and making them better people.”
Dance has definitely helped them build confidence in themselves and provided a structure for their lives. It’s also part of their shared history, and has strengthened their connection to each other.
“Having the same background and a love of dance in common definitely brings us closer to each other and gives us a special bond,” Stacy said. “My mom was instrumental in our love for dance and all three of us were raised in that environment. It’s rewarding to pass on the opportunity we had growing up to others.”
The Cadillac of Pilates
The Schrimpfs began offering Pilates at STEPS Dance and Pilates in Osage Beach beginning in 2002, and now brings it to the Jefferson City area at their new location in Wardsville.
The first studio in the area to offer Pilates classes on the larger pieces of equipment, they can provide one-on-one or small group training on the Reformer and Cadillac trapeze table. Using springs with different resistance levels, there are 500 different exercises that can be done on the Cadillac alone. Some of the exercises strengthen the arms and others the legs and can be done laying down or standing up.
“Our dance students can do ballet movements like a plie on the Cadillac table with much less pressure on their joints,” Shelly said.
An alternative approach to fitness, Pilates has long been popular among dancers, gymnasts and other athletes. It’s designed to stretch and strengthen targeted muscle groups and improves strength, balance, flexibility, alignment and posture. The breathing patterns also help practitioners to develop increased lung capacity, improve circulation and is a great way to deal with stress or recover from an injury.
Both Shelly and Stacy Schrimpf are certified Stott Pilates instructors.
“It’s a very strenuous certification process as you have to know anatomy and how to work with injuries and different body types,” Stacy said.
Their brother, Scott, a mechanical engineer, takes Pilates with his two sons, Joshua, 15, and Julian, 13, a go-kart racer. Scott suffered a serious accident 10 years ago and was in a wheelchair. Both of his ankles were reconstructed with metal and his prognosis didn’t include walking.
“We called him the Iron Man,” Shelly said.
He started doing a few Pilates moves under the guidance of Stacy and has continued as he eventually did walk. Joshua also races go-karts and Julian is very into martial arts, so they both are interested in becoming stronger and more flexible.
STEPS Dance and Pilates Studio is offering introductory rates at their Wardsville location, at 6332 Highway B. For more information, go to www.stepsdancestudios.com.