By:  Kelly Stuart Williams, MA

You would be hard-pressed to find a resident of Carrollwood-Northdale whose lives have not been touched by Mary Jo’s Performing Arts Academy (MJPAA). Though based in Northdale, Mary Jo’s influence reaches far beyond Greater Tampa Bay. If you have attended a Broadway show or boarded a cruise ship; if you enjoy collegiate or NFL games; and if you watch Netflix, cable, or broadcast television; you have probably experienced the legacy of Mary Jo’s.

As the studio’s motto states, “It’s so much more than dance…Mary Jo’s Performing Arts Academy’s success stories are not only found on the resumes of those who’ve pursued their passion as a career, but in the hearts of every student who attends the Academy.” (

The mother of an MJPA alumnus shared the following story, “Our eight-year-old daughter was a true tomboy who had lots of motivation to be an actress but little poise or stage presence.  What she lacked in poise and presence, she learned at Mary Jo’s.  Our daughter brought the desire, and MJPAA brought the skilled and caring faculty.  At age 23, she has performed on the set of Ozark, Stranger Things, Ballers, Bloodline, and many more. We credit her success to the expert faculty and confidence-building environment of Mary Jo’s.”

At Mary Jo’s the heartbeat and pulse of the studio, and what makes the academy a space so many people call home, is the focus on not just the art, but also the artist.

Owner and Artistic Director Mary Jo Scanio said, “I started dancing when I was four (4) years old, and then continued on to become a Dance Major in college. I was dancing professionally; however, I found that I loved teaching. Having the opportunity to pass the arts along to children became, and still is, my passion.”

As a performing arts academy, MJPAA features classes in Music, Instruments, and Voice; Acting and Theater, and Dancing.  Classes and private lessons are offered in voice and music for ages five to adult. And there is a program designed for infants to five-year-olds. Music Together® was developed with the understanding that music is key in developing language, speech and reading skills in early childhood. 

“A 2016 study at the University of Southern California’s Brain and Creativity Institute found that musical experiences in childhood can actually accelerate brain development, particularly in the areas of language acquisition and reading skills. According to the National Association of Music Merchants Foundation (NAMM Foundation), learning to play an instrument can improve mathematical learning and even increase SAT scores.” (

In addition to assisting with early childhood development, music education has been demonstrated to assist in all areas of school readiness and social-emotional development in children.  As well, music education for adults has been proven to prevent memory loss and strengthen memory skills. (

“Playing a musical instrument throughout life is associated with a lower risk of developing dementia. This has been attributed to the ability of musical training and performance to increase the resiliency of the brain.” (

MJPAA Theater Instructor, Sheri Whittington, discussed how theater education also helps with confidence, learning and child development, “Among other things, it builds strong communication skills and teaches how to work well with a team. Down the road, it will make them a better public speaker, problem-solver, and leader in any profession they choose.” 

Tiffany Sotelo, the mother of MJPAA students wrote, “My children enjoy the instructors who go the extra mile to ensure their success.”

Among our cultural concerns for youth are childhood obesity, lack of confidence and problem-solving skills.  Mary Jo’s music, theater, and dance education addresses all three.  Utilizing large motor skills, balance, coordination, flexibility, and cardio, dance classes include Ballet, Jazz, Hip Hop, Acrobatics, Modern Dance, Tap, Musical Theater, and many more. These classes have been proven to improve a child’s social, emotional, and physical health.

Classes are offered year-round in a wide variety of styles and disciplines. Children of all ages and abilities have the chance to learn new skills, improve those they already have and express themselves through dance, all while creating long-lasting friendships and building their character. “We are always looking for progressive new ways to enhance our instruction and come up with exciting fresh and modern programs to offer,” said Mary Jo Scanio.

In a public funding environment where many of our public schools have been forced to cut music education and performing arts programs, it’s comforting to know that convenient and affordable training is available in our Carrollwood-Northdale community. 

According to The National Assessment of Educational Programs in the Arts, student exposure to arts education in schools has steadily declined since 1997…It is estimated that a majority of Fine Arts Departments in public schools have adopted funding and/or program cuts since 2010. Everything except core academic subjects is starting to be considered a perk. (

For over 40 years, Mary Jo’s Performing Arts Academy has been a well-known and respected name throughout Tampa Bay and beyond. Its legacy continues in the lives of children who grew up in Carrollwood-Northdale. Third-party validation includes being listed among Dance Spirit Magazine’s top dance schools since 2004, and MJPAA was voted one of the top 50 dance schools in the country. The Academy remains one of the Federation of Dance Competition’s Top 25 schools in the Southeast Region. 

This December, many of the MJPAA students will be showing their talents with our community in two separate performances. Beauty and the Beast will be held at HCC’s Mainstage Theatre Ybor on Saturday, December 7, and The Nutcracker Ballet will be presented at USF Theatre 1 on Saturday, December 21. Tickets for both shows will be available online at

Mary Jo’s Performing Arts Academy is located at 15906 Mapledale Boulevard in Northdale. For more information, visit or call 813-969-0240.