Best of Denton: Life & Fun

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Best Child Care

First Baptist Child

Development Center

1100 Malone St.


At First Baptist Child Development Center, the staff ministers to the whole child.

It’s more than wholesome snacks, stimulating play and loving attention for children ages 18 months through kindergarten. Under the leadership of Director Maegan Woodard, the development center staff attends to the social, emotional, physical, academic and spiritual needs of Denton’s youngest residents.

The center has been in business for more than 30 years, and serves local families through both all-day day care, half-day pre-kindergarten and kindergarten. First Baptist uses an accelerated Christian curriculum to engage children in music and movement, science and computer study, sign language and Spanish, stories and art.

Parents and adult legal guardians don’t have to be members of First Baptist Church to enroll their charges, though church members can register their children early.

Runner-up: Wellspring Christian Academy

Bragging rights: First United Methodist Church Children’s Day Out



Best Community Event

The Denton Arts & Jazz Festival

Quakertown Park

321 E. McKinney St.


Locals have declared the annual Denton Arts & Jazz Festival the best event in town for years now.

Even as the festival landscape in Denton grows — with Denton’s Day of the Dead each fall and both Thin Line and 35 Denton fleshing out the spring, Arts & Jazz fest remains the best among readers.

The perks? Three days of jazz and blues — both by musicians with multiple Grammy Awards and by emerging groups; hundreds of vendors selling fine art, jewelry and crafts;  – and tons of performances by resident dance and music enthusiasts. Oh, and you can get into the festival for free.

The Denton Festival Foundation was established in 1980 just to stage the annual festival. For the past 24 years, the foundation has served a weekend crowd that surged from 12,000 to 225,000.

“Thank you, voters!” said festival director Carol Short. “The Denton Arts & Jazz Festival is a combination of all that makes our community great. You can see the smiling faces of the music and dance students on stage and appreciate the greatness of the professional musicians and fine artists.”

The festival happens on the last Friday, Saturday and Sunday in April, with seven stages, 300 artists and vendors, seven food courts and games, art and performances for children.

Runner-up: North Texas Fair & Rodeo

Bragging rights: Denton Community Market


Best Dance Studio

Denton Dance Conservatory

4103 Mesa Drive


Most hometown dance studios lovingly teach tots to move creatively and challenge older dancers to refine their technique in everything from ballet to hip-hop dance.

Denton Dance Conservatory has done the same — and more. Founded in 1988 by lifelong dancer and ballet enthusiast Lisa Racina-Torre, the studio started humbly.

Then, as it grew, the studio formed a nonprofit board of directors that lead two independent dance companies: Denton City Contemporary Ballet and Denton Youth City Ballet. In other words, Denton Dance Conservatory taught dance — ballet and pointe classes, contemporary, tap, jazz and hip-hop — while nurturing artists, choreographers and dance audiences.

Dancers who have joined the contemporary ballet have performed in an international festival in Austria, and many have come of age in A Gift for Emma and Collage Dance Festival, yearly shows that put practice into performance.

“Denton Dance Conservatory has been active in the Denton Community for 26 years,” Racina-Torre said. “We have performed in every venue and event Denton has to offer. Even after our dancers graduate from high school or accomplish their dance goals, we try to maintain the bond of friendship with our students and their families. Once a dancer, always a dancer.”

Runner-up: Denton Ballet Academy

Bragging rights: A Time to Dance Studio


Best Gymnastics

Achievers Gymnastics Center

3014 S. I-35E


If the children in your family have Olympic dreams or a craving to lead cheers, Denton’s favorite place to learn the basics and beyond is Achievers Gymnastics Center.

Cheer and gymnastics students are united in tumbling instruction. Achievers students who study gymnastics will train on all apparatuses — balance beam, vault, floor and uneven parallel bars for the girls, and parallel bars, high bar, rings, pommel horse and floor for the boys — according to students’ age and development.

Achievers also gives athletes a soft place to land, with free foam pits under bars and rings and trampolines to launch bodies through tumbling passes. The gym has a playscape for tots and a rock climbing wall. Parents, grandparents and guardians can watch the young athletes from an observation area.

Children as young as 4 months can start with music, games and play. Classes are also available for grownups. Achievers Gymnastics Center maintains competitive teams for serious athletes.

Runner-up: Denton Gymnastics Academy

Bragging rights: Dynasty Cheer Academy


Best Health & Fitness Club

L.A. Fitness

1350 S. Loop 288


L.A. Fitness has just about everything an easily bored fitness fanatic needs: Free weights, weight machines, cardio machines (from treadmills to climbers), group exercise classes, swimming pool, basketball and racquetball courts.

“As far as Denton goes, you can come here month-to-month for a dollar a day and take advantage of the weights, the pool and the courts,” said Shawn Spain, general manager for the Denton gym, which opened in 2009.

On top of having a big building at the intersection of Spencer Road and Loop 288, Spain said the gym offers generous hours.

“We’re open from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m., 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturdays,” Spain said.

Busy parents can drop their children off at the kid’s club in the morning — 8 a.m. to noon — or during their afternoon workout — between 1 and 4 p.m. during the week.  On Saturdays, the club is open from 8 a.m. to noon. The club is for infants ages 3 to 12 months.

The gym offers memberships to ages 14 and up.

“We get a lot of college students coming here, and that’s probably because, even though their student fees cover the gym facilities on campus, they know that here, the equipment will work. And if something breaks, we’re going to make sure it gets fixed,” Spain said.

Personal training is available through the local gym for additional fees.

Runner-up: North Lakes Recreation Center

Bragging rights: Denton Jazzercise


Best Live/Music Theatre

Denton Movie Tavern

916 W. University Drive


Denton Movie Tavern has had a devoted following since it replaced the Carmike cinema years ago.

There’s plenty to do in Denton, but when you want to lean on that date night staple of dinner and a movie, the Movie Tavern has it pretty well wrapped up.

Denton Movie Tavern may have fewer screens than some, but it understands the craving for the latest 3D special effects bonanza and the nostalgic yen for old favorites. Most screens show the latest films, but Denton Movie Tavern often devotes a screen to the classics and cult favorites. While you watch, you can sample the old standbys — popcorn, candies and soda — or you can split a pizza,  share buffalo wings or try a beef slider.  A full bar can calm your nerves before seeing that thriller or put you in the mood for a summer comedy.

Runner-up:  Cinemark

Bragging rights:  Denton Community Theatre


Best Martial Arts Studio

Reding Martial Arts

407 Fort Worth Drive


Don’t think the Reding brothers are just teaching Denton folk how to fight.

For the co-owners of this local martial arts studio, the disciplines they teach — personally and through the studio’s faculty — are about cultivating intention, self awareness and maturity. “We believe the practice of martial arts should always be functional,” brothers Mark, owner, and Nick say on the studio website. “Our classes teach both the technical and street sides of combat, with an eye toward real-world self defense … We’re passionate about focusing our diversity into achieving our common goal: to become bettermartial artists, and thereby better people.” All ages and abilities can study the forms taught at the studio: Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu; Jeet Kune Du concepts; Filipino Martial arts; and American Kenpo karate. The studio offers some wrestling and fitness classes as well as Muay Thai boxing.

Runner-up: Denton Taekwondo Academy

Bragging rights: Denton Academy of Martial Arts


Best Place to Create Arts/Crafts

SCRAP Denton

215 W. Oak St.


SCRAP Denton — which stands for the School and Community Reuse Action Project — was bound to capture the lively local imagination.

It’s a collection spot, an office and school supply discount shop  with a gallery and boutique all rolled into one downtown location.

Under the leadership of executive director and Denton native Heather Gregory, SCRAP collects a limited array of donations — fabric, gently used crafting supplies and tools and office supplies. The nonprofit agency hosts workshops for children and adults in everything from jewelry making to fabric dying.

“Our business is unique because it is the only place like it in the area,” Gregory said. “People are able to get rid of materials they no longer need, shop for new ones, learn new skills and view inspiring work made by the local community.”

SCRAP promotes conservation by keeping useful materials out of the county landfill and then shows how recycled, reused and found material can be made into something beautiful.

How? In the annual Trashion fashion show, artists take materials we usually throw away — plastic bags, plastic zip ties — and turn them into something hip, like a dress, a blouse or a pair of earrings. Each month in the Re:Vision Gallery, locals can see art created with mostly reused, recycled or found material.

“We love Denton and are able to offer something to everyone,” Gregory said. “We have affordable materials and education, a space to work and be inspired and a place for creative reuse artists and entrepreneurs to display and sell their work.”

Runner-up: Time to Kiln

Bragging rights: Serendipity on the Square


Best Private/Group Music Lessons

The UNT String Project

415 Avenue C


The UNT String Project has marshaled the considerable resources of the University of North Texas College of Music to bring group music instruction to public school students who want to learn how to play the violin, viola, cello and double bass.

Grants from the American String Teachers Association helped launch the project about nine years ago, and help sustain it.

The program not only introduces North Texas children — starting in second grade and continuing through graduation (if they wish) — to string instruments, but it also grooms the UNT string education majors for their teaching vocations.

Students rent their instruments from local music stores and, for an annual fee of $125, students get small group string instruction. The string project only offers group lessons, but officials said that when groups reach a certain size, the college recruits a new teacher. Small groups mean more individual attention, administrator Alyssa Hedenstrom said. Students are also responsible for monthly instrument rental.

This year, the UNT String Project enrolled 150 students. Enrollment is open now, and parents and guardians can visit the site to register online. Students are encouraged to send a recording of a song they like to play with their registration for evaluation and placement if they aren’t beginners.

Runner-up: Bonduris Music

Bragging rights: The Ghost Note


Best Wedding Venue

The Little Chapel-in-the-Woods

415 Chapel Drive


You might have to look twice to see the Little Chapel-in-the-Woods off of Bell Avenue on the Texas Woman’s University campus, but it’s there. And for our readers, the snug little brick chapel is the best place to take your vows.

It makes sense. The guest on the last row of pews can see the beading on a bride’s gown and hear the faintest notes of a ceremony’s introit.

David Sweeten, the TWU Director of Conference Services, said the first wedding in the Little Chapel-in-the-Woods was officiated in 1939. Designed by Denton architect O’Neil Ford, the chapel has been a sweetheart of Texas architecture.

“It has been recognized by the Texas Society of Architects as one of Texas’ 20 most outstanding architectural achievements,” Sweeten said.

Tall, elliptical arches are set off by the stained glass windows designed and fabricated by TWU art students under the direction of artist and professor Toni LaSelle.

The chapel isn’t just a sought-after wedding venue, either. Musicians regularly perform concerts there.

“The Little Chapel-in-the-Woods is a Denton icon, unique to the community with nearly 75 years of history,” Sweeten said. “Local residents realize the hard work it took to build the chapel, appreciate the history while admiring the beauty the chapel offers.”

Runner-up: Wildwood Inn

Bragging rights: Ashton Gardens


Best Yoga Studio

The Yoga Hut

611 N. Locust St.


Stretch. Breathe. Notice your intention.

Denton Record-Chronicle readers agree that the best place to do all three is The Yoga Hut.

You can’t miss the surprising little pagoda on the same block with downtown restaurants and a jaunt away from a local teahouse.

“Many people are attracted to our studio because of the gorgeous surroundings,” said owner and yoga teacher Rose Kamego. “There is a nice garden and original art by Silver Ra Baker, not to mention the unique architecture.”

A small staff of teachers guide practitioners through asanas and meditation, teaching those who want to advance in their practice while easing beginners into the breath-body connection of yoga and mindfulness.

“People love us and come back to study with us because of the attention and care they receive when they come to classes here,” Kamego said. “There is a welcoming and inclusive attitude among students, many of whom have been here for years.”

All ages can study at The Yoga Hut, and indeed families attend classes. Kamego said most longterm students are there for the exercise and the wisdom they find on the mat.

“The exercise is only part of what we do,” she said. “There is a deep philosophy behind what we teach. Our aims are spiritual. This is what people are truly in need of now, not just gymnastic contortions, but support in the search for their own spirit. We provide that.”

Runner-up: Denton Yoga Center

Bragging rights: Twisted Bodies

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