"When I started the studio, Alex became my first student because she was my student at school," said Stepheny Atencio-Stone, the academy's co-owner.
Atencio-Stone taught science at C.V. Koogler Middle School. About five years ago, she and her mother opened the dance academy together.
This year, Lema auditioned for the academy's competition team and became one of 24 students to be accepted onto the team.
In March, she received a score of 4.25 out of 5 for her solo performance of "Sail" by Awolnation at the Showstoppers dance competition in Albuquerque. Then in April, she was given an outstanding score at the Cathy Roe Ultimate Dance Competition, also in Albuquerque.
"The studio always pushes us to be our best," Lema said.
Lema wasn't the only one who took home trophies. Over the course of three competitions — Showstoppers, Cathy Roe and Starpower — members of the academy's competition team earned about 40 trophies.
The competitions involved around 30 different types of dance including solos, duos, trios and larger groups. For some of the dances, all 24 students participated.
The team ranged in ages from Atencio-Stone's daughter, 3-year-old Karsynn Stone, to Lema, who is 19.
One of the large group dances was "Circus" to the tune of "Funhouse" by Pink. The dance received a Superior score at Cathy Roe — the highest possible score — and took first place in division at Showstoppers. The dance also received creative costuming awards at both Showstoppers and Starpower.
The dance starts with Lema handing out lollipops to the younger girls, and then it progresses. One of the major props is a circus tent, and there are also props such as a jack-in-the-box for Lema to pop out of and scare the other dancers.
The song lyrics state, "This used to be a fun house. But now it's full of evil clowns."
Lema dances the role of an evil clown and frightens the younger girls.
In order to perform the dance, students learned basic acrobatics, which were taught to them by dance academy instructor Kimberly Stripling. Some girls had to learn chest stands — essentially hand stands with their chests on the floor. Some of the dancers brought their legs up over their heads while balancing on their chests.
In addition to the group dance, students of all ages performed solo dances.
Molly Lasater, 4, performed a solo dance of "Drop It Low" while wearing a feathery costume.
"It was all big and puffy," Lasater said.
The performance earned her special recognition for her "sass" and a Superior score.
The younger girls look up to the older girls, like Lema, and the older girls help the younger girls get ready for show and practice dancing, Atencio-Stone said.
"The girls have really formed a family here," Atencio-Stone said.
That family extends to include the instructors, as well.
"Stepheny is like a sister to me," Lema said.
She said sometimes they even argue like sisters.
Lema has even started teaching at the academy herself. She said she loves to go to the academy and watch her students grow into better dancers.
In the fall, Lema plans to attend Stephens College in Columbia, Mo., partly on an academic scholarship. She plans to study business management and English, focusing on journalism.
Atencio-Stone has used her experiences teaching to help her instruct students at the dance academy. She creates lesson plans and all the students must learn ballet and the French terms surrounding dance.
Atencio-Stone started dancing when she was 3 years old and has been dancing for 29 years. She said it is a blessing to see the love of dance passed down, not only to her daughter, but to the other students.
"It's in your heart," Atencio-Stone said. "That's what you pour out when you perform."
Hannah Grover can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 505-564-4652. Follow her on Twitter @hmgrover.