Dance revolution

Studio offers special-needs classes, boys' groups and more

Students take part in a ballet class at Fascinating Rhythm School of Performing Arts. Kia Crader founded the school 20 years ago in Reno.

Students take part in a ballet class at Fascinating Rhythm School of Performing Arts. Kia Crader founded the school 20 years ago in Reno.


When Lane Saunders was a kid, he and his mother, Kia Crader, struck a deal: She’d fork over $1 every time he took a ballet class, but would charge him 25 cents whenever he yawned in the process. The system lasted a few months.

“You don’t have to pay me anymore,” the little boy finally said. “I like ballet.”

Saunders is now 23, and a professional dancer. He’s also a teacher at Crader’s studio, Fascinating Rhythm School of Performing Arts, where he leads tap, parkour and special-needs classes, among others.

The special-needs program is a popular one, and it’s especially dear to Crader’s heart. As a college student, the California native studied child psychology with an emphasis in autism education—a brand-new notion back then—and she’d planned to pursue a related career.

“But then I got an opportunity to dance professionally, and then another opportunity, and another opportunity, and I began dancing professionally all my life,” she said.

Crader actually took her first paid role at age 16, then came to Reno in the late ’70s for the massive stage show Hello Hollywood, Hello. She lived in New York back then, with her opera-singer aunt, and a friend tipped her off about the audition. “They hired me right on the spot,” she said with a laugh, “and they said, ’So you start tomorrow.’ And I said, ’I don’t even live here.’”

She got a three-day grace period, and never looked back.

Now huge gaggles of girls are apt to giggle and sweep their way through her studio, which turns 20 this year and is also home to the Sierra Nevada Ballet Academy. It’s an art-filled place on South Virginia Street, with friendly clutter and various distractions to occupy students’ younger siblings as they mill about in the waiting area. (The pink play kitchen seems to be a favorite.)

But male dancers have a home here, too. Like younger incarnations of Saunders, most start their classes gingerly. The school’s boys-only tap class usually feels safest at first.

“The guys who start in tap, a lot of them are taking ballet now, and recognizing what a strengthening style of dance it is,” Crader said. “I’m proud to say that we have a lot of male dancers here.”

Logan Strand, 13, fears no ballet. He tap dances, too. At first, he said, “I was the only boy in an all-girls tap class, and then one day like five years ago, all these boys came, and it was the happiest day in my whole life. It’s almost a filter to make friends; they’re people who share your same interests, and aren’t afraid to go out and do something weird like dance.”

Strand couldn’t talk for long; it was time for him to clackity-clack into class. A minute later, as bass thumped from the stereo, he and a handful of other teenage boys moved their feet to Saunders’ lead. They looked cool and seemed to know it.  

In the room next door, instructor Joanna Wagner and student-teacher Hannah West led a large ballet class, mostly of kids under the age of 10. There was a single boy, and at one point he threw his arms over his head and waved them around in sheer glee.

“A lot of people don’t recognize the importance of dance as far as what it does for your brain, because it really does work both sides of the brain,” said Crader. “And it releases the endorphins to feel good.”

She remembers a student who’s now a self-assured high-schooler, but was once so shy that she’d default to looking at the floor and covering her face with her hands. Dancing “just brought her a confidence and a comfort in her own skin.”

The special-needs class, which runs every Saturday, is all about confidence and fun. It’s opened its doors to children who aren’t much older than toddlers as well as adults, including a past student in her 40s. “We have all different abilities as opposed to disabilities,” said Crader. She quickly started the class in 2006 when a couple of local parents approached her and told her no one would teach their daughters, who have Down syndrome and cerebral palsy, respectively. Lane and Crader’s elder son, Sean, both help with instruction. Sean is also a certified behavioral analyst at the University of Nevada, Reno, specializing in early intervention with autism—one more chip off the old block.

With the special-needs class, which covers many genres of dance, “our goal was for these families to have a regular dance experience,” Crader said. “They’re in the recital like everybody else, and treated like everybody else. And they are, hands down, the hit of the show.”