- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 4, 2014

CREST HILL, Ill. (AP) - A ballet class 74 years ago witnessed the start of a special homegrown talent in Crest Hill.

It was Shirley Smith’s first dance class at age 3, and she hasn’t stopped dancing since.

“The moment I took that first class I loved it,” Smith said. “I always say, ‘You have to teach them to love the art before you teach them the art.’ “

Smith was honored by the Crest Hill City Council on Jan. 21 with a resolution recognizing the 50th anniversary of her dance studio, which has passed down to her daughter and granddaughters and is now known as Times III Performing Arts Academy.

Shirley's Dance Studio has become a symbol of the industry and good citizenship of the people who founded Crest Hill and devoted so much of their energy to make the city of Crest Hill a congenial place to live and work,” the resolution stated.

City council members said Smith is an iconic figure in Crest Hill from the work she does shaping children into capable young men and women through dance, to the contributions she gives to the Joliet Kiwanis Club and St. Anne Catholic Church.

Louise Newbury, whose four daughters learned under Smith, now drives her grandson to classes at Times III. She also joins the Times III dance troupe as a “room mom” to all the international and cross-country competitions.

“She’s an institution,” said Newbury, who has known Smith since 1972. “And we’re all a big family. She teaches respect. And she has transformed kids generation after generation.”

Smith’s daughter and Times III owner Jodi-Ann Kasky took over operations of Shirley's Dance Studio and changed the name to reflect her own life and philosophy, triplet daughters and the three pillars of dance - ballet, tap and jazz.

But Kasky said her mother is a great role model and still teaches at the studio.

“It’s an honor to be Shirley’s daughter,” Kasky said, explaining that she and her mom collaborate well to progress the dance studio. “She’s like a whole package with everything that she has done. And that’s what I try to give my own children.”

Smith and Kasky’s teaching style involves discipline in more than just dance. Staff at Times III say both of them make sure students show respect to their parents, faith, community and work.

“Working with her, most of all, has taught me responsibility,” said Jenae Prince, a former student of Smith who has stayed as an instructor with Times III for 13 years.

Smith is also deeply involved with the Crest Hill community, earning Woman of the Year honors for St. Anne Catholic Church last year and directing the Joliet Kiwanis Shows for years.

“Besides being a good teacher, she’s a good producer,” said Keith White, chairman of the Theater Department at Lewis University, and a former student of Smith.

White met Smith through the Joliet Kiwanis Club shows in the early 1980s. “You know when you work with Shirley, you’re really going to work,” he said.

Smith grew up learning dance, and when she turned 13 she started helping teach classes as a demonstrator. The teaching roles helped Smith earn some money so she could pay for her education.

Smith’s dance career brought her to stages across the country. But while touring in New York, Smith realized she wanted to teach others what she had learned and wanted to stay close to family in Crest Hill. So she came back and started Shirley's Dance Studio out of her father’s basement in 1957.

When Smith started dancing, ballet, tap and tumbling were the main styles. But through her years of teaching, the instructions evolved to include jazz, hip hop and other dance forms.

“Dance itself hasn’t changed,” Smith said, using ballet as an example of a style that exemplifies classical dance. “The type of music changed.”

Now, Times III includes several forms of dance.

“What she has done for many of the young people in Crest Hill is unbelievable,” Mayor Ray Soliman said at Tuesday’s council meeting. “Because she not only taught them, she mentored them. And probably now most of them are in professional roles throughout their lives.”

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Source: The (Joliet) Herald-News, http://bit.ly/1dyEHbK

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Information from: The Herald-News, http://www.suburbanchicagonews.com/heraldnews

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