by Kaitlin Roberts

HUNTERSVILLE – Instructors joke with students over cake and pizza, dancers share advice between songs and a little dog named Pootie shuffles between students warming up.

In the age of reality TV and competitive dance horror stories, this isn’t how most of us imagine a studio that has won national competitions for three years in a row.

POPS Performing Arts Academy held a celebration Jan. 31 to commemorate 10 years of teaching dance.

“The studio is named after my granddad,” Casey Rodriguez, owner and founder of POPS, said. “He always told me I could do whatever I wanted to do.”

Rodriguez knew after her first dance lesson that she wanted to teach dance.  The Charlotte native opened the studio to encourage teamwork skills and self-confidence.

“We’re very much a family organization,” Rodriguez said, introducing other instructors. “My brother’s band plays here, my mother works the front desk.”

The studio caters primarily to children ages 3 to 17. In addition to dance, POPS classes include drama, gymnastics, music and yoga. The dance program is divided into three levels: recreational classes, pre-competitive classes and a competitive dance program called POPS Company.

“We try not to lose focus on any one group,” said Rodriguez.

The studio has become a home away from home for many students.

“I like POPS because it really feels like a family,” said 14-year-old Emma Moore, who competes in jazz, tap and lyrical styles.

As the festivities wind down, instructors help the girls get into position and cue the music. Everyone works hard. Even the youngest competitive dancers spend up to 10 hours a week training.

POPS Company dances in five competitions a year and one national competition. POPS Company is gearing up for a regional competition in March. In late June, they will travel to Savannah, Ga., for nationals.

If you think POPS is just for girls, Tom Hill will prove you wrong. Hill has choreographed music videos, captained the Rally Cats entertainment team for the Charlotte Bobcats and launched dance programs for inner-city youth.

Hill said POPS gives boys a way to express themselves by teaching what he calls “real hip-hop and breakdancing classes.

“When we do a show, we use flashing lights. We give the boys powder for their hands. It’s like doing a music video,” he said.

POPS isn’t about becoming the best dancer. The studio focuses on positivity, building relationships and engaging with the community.

“I want to have good dancers and help them learn to dance,” Rodriguez said, “but this is a family and we also want them to be great people (and) to learn humility and teamwork.”

Want to know more?

Pops Performing Arts Academy

122 Commerce Centre Drive, Huntersville