By Craig Stocks / Photography by Craig Stocks
Peoria jazz and hip-hop dancers Amanda and Tyler Relph had been toying with the idea of opening a dance studio for years, but the timing and details never seemed quite right. Then, in September of 2011 the answer came. “I know what we’re supposed to do,” Amanda recalled saying. “I really do think we’re supposed to open a dance studio, but I think it’s supposed to be different. I think we should do it non-profit… to impact and improve the lives of youths in Peoria who are under-served.” She filed the paperwork immediately and City Dance of Peoria was born.
When Amanda was four years old, her mother started her in dance classes in order to channel her energy. “I got bored with most things pretty quickly,” she said, “but dance was really exciting and fun. I got to move in ways that I didn’t know my body could move.” Her classes included jazz, tap and ballet, but it was jazz that she loved the most. Later, in high school, she began to study and study hip-hop dance as well.
Amanda considered majoring in dance but instead she chose to focus her energies elsewhere. She considered nursing, but her love of teaching led her to a bachelor’s degree in health care administration and a master’s degree in health science. After teaching at both Illinois Central College and the nursing program at Methodist College, she now teaches medical ethics and bio-statistics online for Grand Canyon University’s RN to BSN program.
Dancing remained somewhat on the back burner for Amanda and Tyler while they began a family and Tyler served on active duty in the Air Force. Upon their return to the Peoria area, Tyler’s parents gave them the gift of free time one night a week, and they used the time to begin attending Wednesday night dance classes.
Amanda and Tyler started taking classes more frequently over the next few years. Amanda says, “We’d forgotten how much we loved it, and not just because we were good at it. It relieved a lot of stress, it allowed us to be creative, and it gave us something to do that was just for us.” She continued, “No matter how old you are, dance is an opportunity to forget everything else. All of the stressors in your life disappear and you leave with a clear head.”
Dance was a gift that Amanda wanted to share. She explained that she “made a lot of bad decisions and was going in the wrong direction” when she was young. “Dance was the only thing that pulled me out,” she said. “Dance saved my life. It seems wrong, to me, to not give these kids the opportunity to take part in something that will save their life.”
As with many pastimes, dance is something everyone can enjoy. “It’s a skill that they can actually get their hands on, and it’s something that you can improve each week,” Amanda said. “It’s an outward expression of someone’s thoughts and their feelings. It’s a really beautiful way to communicate something that you can’t put into words.”
City Dance was founded with the mission statement, “City Dance is a nonprofit organization committed to changing lives through dance and arts mentorship.” They accomplish that mission through studio classes held at Body Fitness on University Street and through after school programs in schools and community centers. The instructors are kept busy with a number of classes every day Monday through Friday. “Let’s just say they get a really good workout every week,” Amanda said.
Pictured above from left to right, Liz Siron – Assistant Instructor, Amanda Relph – Founder & CEO, Michy Maloof – Instructor, Anna Yee – Instructor, Joshua Dick – Creative Director & Instructor.