Joelle "JoJo" Siwa knows how to play a room. Monday, the 10-year-old dancer commanded the attention of a roomful of mini-dancers trying, with varying degrees of success, to follow her every move and direction.

The young reality-TV star gyrated, kicked, pumped, spun and mugged in front of a wall of mirrors at Xtreme Dance while her mother and other family members watched along with a bank of parents.

JoJo and her mother, Jessalynn Siwa, of Omaha, are on the Lifetime Channel show "Abby's Ultimate Dance Competition," which airs weekly on Tuesday nights.

On the show, JoJo and other young dancers compete for top honors, money and a prestigious dance academy scholarship. The show also follows their "dance moms" and the drama they engage in behind the scenes in support of their children. Since the shows were filmed earlier this year in Los Angeles, the participants know who won but are sworn to secrecy.

There is a local connection for the Siwas. Jessalynn, whose maiden name is Lombardi, was born in St. Catherine, Iowa, and her extended family still lives in Dubuque and Bellevue. Jessalynn's sister, Tessa Medinger, owns the Xtreme Dance studio in Dubuque.

"I've loved dancing my whole life," said Jessalynn, 38, who owns a dance studio in Omaha. "Dancing makes people happy whether it's performing on stage or with your friends at a wedding. From the time she could walk, JoJo was at the studio every day, hanging out with me."

When JoJo was 2 and still in diapers, her mother entered her in her first dance competition.

"She loved it. That's when I knew this was going to be fun," said Siwa, who began submitting tapes of her daughter to various contests and taking her to auditions around the country. The reality show staff called back immediately and booked interviews with mother and daughter.

JoJo, a wiry bundle of energy, is a born entertainer. She talks easily to adults and kids alike and prances rather than walks. Home-schooled by her mother, she dances five to six hours daily and is a grade ahead of her age. She has an older brother, Jayden, 13.

"The hardest part of the show is learning the dance routines in two hours and not being able to tell who wins," she said, standing behind a table piled with Team JoJo tees, hair bows, caps and posters at the studio before the long line of local dancers entered. She and two other show contestants, McKaylee True and Ally Robinson, are on a multi-city tour, teaching classes and signing autographs at each stop.

"The best part is being recognized and meeting all the fans and getting free stuff," said JoJo, who hopes to dance in Broadway shows when she is older. "Being the youngest on the show is actually an advantage and so is being home-schooled, so I have time to dance every day."

At first, the show's staff thought the Iowa native Jessalynn was "too nice" to provide drama and tension during the competitions.

"But I told them they hadn't made me mad yet. I can hold my own, but I would never put another child down so mine could win," she said.

Jessalynn said she tries to keep her daughter's life as normal as possible.

"Her future? I just want both my children to be happy when they grow up and to keep their lives in perspective," she said.

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