The joy of dancing

Director Paige Engels (at right in back) leads Just for Kix in Moorhead, an after-school dance program for children from toddlers through high school seniors. Here, Paige and her fellow instructors are working with the Monday night kindergarten and first grade class. (Photo/Russ Hanson)

Nancy Edmonds Hanson

Some of the 46,000 people in the stadium on New Year’s Day may have thought the Outback Bowl was all about football … including Minnesota fans thrilled by the Gophers’ win over Auburn Tigers. But ten Moorhead youngsters and their families knew better: It was all about Just for Kix.
The young Spud dancers were in Tampa Bay, Florida, to take part in an experience every bit as thrilling as victory on the gridiron. They were there to perform, along with 441 other students, in the pregame and halftime shows, taking the field amidst 2,500 band members from all over America.
“It was something the dancers – and I – will remember forever,” says Paige Engels, who has directed the Moorhead program for the past four years. “We started fund-raising for the trip a year ago. The kids practiced at home with videos. When we got there, we had just 12 hours over three days for the whole group to learn the routines together.”
Just for Kix contingents have been dancing in Tampa Bay for 32 of the 33 years the city has hosted the Outback Bowl. This year, youngsters from 11 states gathered for the mass performance. Moorhead was represented by ten students in grades 2 through 8. It’s become a biennial tradition for the local students. They’ll be back in 2021 after taking a thrilling trip to New York this year to see and learn from the Radio City Rockettes next December.
Performances and contests may mark the high points of the dancers’ calendar. But it’s the weekly lessons taught by Paige and her five instructors that have built enrollment from around 100 girls when she took over the program to 318 students (including some boys) today. Now based at Dorothy Dodds Elementary School after several years at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church and then S.G. Reinertson School, the program offers almost three dozen weekly classes, workshops and private lessons throughout the school year.
Fourteen all-season classes, ranging from 30 minutes for the youngest to an hour for teens, meet Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in the gyms at Dodds Elementary. Special sessions are scheduled on Wednesdays and Friday – jazz, ballet, hip hop and lyrical, as well as several month-long father-daughter specials and an adaptive class. Two two-hour, one-night camps are coming up for 3-year-olds through third graders: “Frozen” on Feb. 7 and “Trolls” May 23.
“I love this! I’m passionate about teaching dance,” Paige asserts. “Dancing has been part of my life since I was 5 years old, and kept on right through my graduation in 2009. I took every class they offered – kick, jazz, hip hop, and Rockettes routines. I was my instructor Julie Abraham’s first student to graduate from high school.”
She grew up in Long Prairie in the center of Minnesota, not far from the Brainerd-Baxter area where Just for Kix was founded 38 years ago. A handful of programs had popped up around Minnesota by the time Paige took her first class in 1996. Now the corporation operates more than 200 programs in 14 states, from the Pacific Northwest to the Upper Midwest and from Texas to Florida, with some 21,000 dance students. Along with Moorhead, two more Just for Kix programs operate locally in West Fargo and north Fargo.
After a year at Concordia College in St. Paul, where she performed on the dance team, Paige transferred to Minnesota State University Moorhead to major in graphic communication. She worked at Microsoft until her first child, daughter Makell, was born. She worked at home as a designer for a time, but found something was missing: “I love people!” she exclaims. “I was feeling devoid.”
The anwer occurred to her when she returned to Long Prairie to participate in an alumni dance routine. “I learned Just for Kix had a job opening right in Moorhead. I applied right away, and they chose me.”
Paige has usedroutines and materials from the home office in many of her classes, but now develops others that are all her own. She talks of the range of exercises and instruction that participants begin learning as early as “Dance with Me” classes, which are open to children as young as 18 months. “The toddlers come with Mom or Dad, Grandma, and even one grandpa.” While the main objective is exercise and fun, the class includes posture, ballet positions and even some very basic kicks.
Preschool classes include children from 3 to 4 or 5. From that point, the little dancers are grouped by two-year increments – kindergarten and first grade, second and third grade, and so on. “Our preschoolers have really impressed me,” Paige notes. “They’re very attentive. You have to challenge them. It’s fun to see how fast they’re growing.”
The Just for Kix schedule of evenings and weekends means Paige lives an inside-out life. She’s home with her own children, 5-year-old Makell and 2-year-old Tarren, during the day while husband Nathan works for Cross Country Freight and attends MSUM, where he’s majoring in counseling. That works for now. But as the children reach school age, she plans to home-school them. “That’s the only way I’ll get to see them,” she confides.
Makell takes the preschool class, and Paige plans to try Tarren with the 2-year-olds this spring, where he’ll join a small number of boys entranced by dance. “Boys are generally more interested in our hip hop class, but having them in our regular classes is so fun, too,” she says. One of her dancing dudes, a second-grader, was among the excited group that got to make the trip to Tampa Bay this month.
Dance is growing throughout Minnesota, Paige notes. As part of the Minnesota State High School League, it’s regarded as a sport on the same level as football or basketball. “Dance is one of the league’s highest grossing tournaments,” she notes. The two-day contest at Target Center shows off the fitness that comes from dancing. “Dancing kick-style requires cardio fitness, flexibility and strength to perform a two and one-half minute routine,” she explains. “Whether the sport looks like a game or a workout, all of it has a purpose.”
Just for Kix dancers will perform at the Hjemkomst Center during Frostily on Saturday, Feb. 1. Their spring show in May 3, with all of the students getting to dance in front of an appreciative audience. The preschoolers, kindergartners and first graders will also have their own Sweetheart Show March 8.
While most classes officially begin at the start of the school year and wrap up in early May, Paige says beginners are welcome to sign up at any time, perhaps first trying it out with a free session: “Kids get really excited about dance. It’s more than fun,” the director says. “We teach respect and teamwork – values that will last their whole lives. No child gets left out.”
For more information on Moor head’s Just for Kix, call Paige at (320) 760-3268 or email her at

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