Angelina Ballerina, the dancing cartoon mouse from a PBS Kids television series, is quite the big cheese these days.
The "mouseling," who has been described as an 8-year-old with a passion for dancing and life, is sharing her love of rhythm with children in Orange County.
Studio Fusion in Huntington Beach is an official Angelina Ballerina Dance Academy, joining a growing network of 110 studios in North America that train youngsters ages 3 to 6 in the art of ballet. The dance program can also be found in the United Kingdom, Ireland and Australia.
The program teaches beginning ballet at two levels using the British-accented, animated mouse's voice to guide students through their movements. The curriculum, designed by dance teachers and child development experts, is based on how a child develops cognitively, physically, emotionally and socially.
"I decided to become a partner with the Angelina Ballerina Dance Academy almost instantly when I found out how fabulous and rewarding the program was," said Cindy Cairo, owner of Studio Fusion, which opened in 2010. "Children are inspired to pursue their dreams of dance, just like Angelina."
On Tuesday morning, tiny dancers dressed in pink leotards and ballet slippers eagerly sat in a circle before class started. One clutched her oversized Angelina Ballerina doll. Another touched her hair, which was fashioned in a secure bun atop her head.
The young girls listened as instructors read about Angelina attending a school for the performing arts. It's at school where Angelina tells the tale of working hard to reach her goals and learning from her mistakes. Lessons are conveyed when the young mouse learns to go to sleep early and drink plenty of water.
Once the book was closed, classical music filled the mirrored room. The girls began warm-ups, legs in front and then bent to the side, with arms centered and then opened to the side.
Donna Abell of Huntington Beach stood behind the room's glass window and watched her granddaughter, Luca Watson, 3, practice beginner movements.
"This is so cool because it gives them poise," Abell said of the dance program. "Ballet, I think, is the root of all dancing. You can just see how they carry themselves, and this camp teaches them that control."
Not only is Angelina a ballet instructor, life coach and inspiration, but she is also a French teacher. Each week, students are taught a new French word, from plié to pirouett to jeté.
"When they hear her voice, it's magical for them," Cairo said.
For Cairo to become an Angelina Ballerina Dance Academy partner and receive approval for her studio, she had to attend a four-day training program in Louisiana. The sessions covered child development and how to use the curriculum to achieve the best student results.
"I felt like there was a need here with little dancers who needed a structured program where they could learn how to dance," Cairo said.
Dance education specialist Beverly Spell, a master teacher and author of the Leap 'N Learn program, developed the Angelina Ballerina Dance Academy curriculum.
Author Katharine Holabird published the series about Angelina Ballerina with English illustrator Helen Craig in 1983. The Angelina storybooks convey childhood themes such as friendship, jealousy, loyalty and dedication. As a creative consultant to the animated television series, "Angelina Ballerina: The Next Steps," Holabird consults on all aspects of the production, including the designs, scripts and music.
To kick off the program inspired by the animated series, Studio Fusion is featuring an Angelina Ballerina Summer Dance Camp starting Monday and running through Aug. 29. The five-day camp is designed to promote physical health, confidence and creativity while teaching proper dance technique.
The summer dance camp is a prelude to the actual 34-week program, which starts Sept. 15. The camp focuses on reading, learning about nutrition and creating a healthy body.
Once students graduate from the program with a recital in June, they may transition into the studio's ballet class.
"It's a great stepping stone for them," Cairo said.
Studio manager Tracy Tobin spoke about how the weekly classes are a safe outlet for young girls and a way for them to make new friends.
"All these kids grow up here," Tobin said. "It's like a family."
There's an Angelina Ballerina catchprase for that something positive.