KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The floor in the middle still needs a final layer of lacquer and a grand opening is still a few weeks away but for Street Styles Academy students like Mary Ford, the new space is a welcome reminder of how far she and the academy have come.

“I’ve always been more introverted,” Ford said. “I feel like dance has made me better at talking to people, better at communicating.”

Six years ago, she found Zonte Warren and Lukas Kirby’s academy and started learning a bunch of styles of what they call street dance while also picking up lessons off the dance floor.

“I would say the biggest thing that they get out of what we teach them is confidence,” said Kirby who started as Warren’s first student around 2010.

That mission and the business around it was going well when in early 2020, the academy got a big space near Power and Light for it’s roughly 100 students just as the world shut down.

“When we finally hit that 100 mark, that is when the pandemic came and we came crashing down,” Warren said.

“It was really tough,” Kirby said. “We went from 100 students down to eight students.”

It meant downsizing, took understanding from the families they worked with, and hard work to build the business back in smaller spaces.

Now, they have about 40 students, letting them rent their own space in Hy-Vee Arena, where they have access to a gym, and two venues upstairs for shows and competitions.

“These things are somewhat of a superhero power,” Warren said. “And they bring smiles to people so when you’re able to bring a smile to other people, it makes you smile and it makes you feel good.”