Reprinted from Culver City News.
By Christian May-Suzuki
For DC Dance LA founder Diane Collins, taking a leap or a jump was nothing unfamiliar to her. She started training in dance at just three, and her life has revolved around it ever since. But now, over four decades later, Collins has had to take a different kind of leap: a leap of faith.
The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns that came with it have taken a toll on many businesses, but none may be more affected than dance studios. Held in closed spaces with minimal ventilation, adhering to safety protocols is simply unfeasible on many studio properties.
For Diane Collins and her studio DC Dance LA, a move to a new Culver City location is a last ditch effort to stay alive amidst the loss of business due to the pandemic. This new location at 11828 Teale St. boasts a 3,600 square foot main room, a 1,200 square foot outdoor patio, as well as a smaller, bright studio upstairs for ballet classes and privates.
Coming out of the prestigious Donna Miceli Dance Center of Boston after training there for over 20 years, traveling and performing internationally, Collins decided to move out to Los Angeles over two decades ago to take her shot at the Hollywood dream. However, she found her love in a far less glamourous spot.
“When I moved to LA, I was auditioning and all that fun stuff. I got a job through My Gym Children’s Fitness Center, and it ended being a partnership,” Collins said. “So, I ended up in their studio, and that’s where I was until I moved this past month.”
Collins program quickly caught the eyes of locals, and that small space was soon feeling cramped.
“I started my small little studio in the back of My Gym, and I would say within three years, we had to tear down walls and make a second studio,” Collins said.
“As the kids got older, I had to offer more in the schedule. The ballet, the tap, and the hip hop; you can’t have them all at the same time.”
It was a big step to take for the 25-year old Collins, but she quickly found that her classes were garnering attention and growing in size. Soon, she had what she needed to break off from My Gym.
“In 2003, I broke off completely into my own business, but I built the program for My Gym, and it took off pretty quickly,” Collins remembered.
For Collins, her childhood spent focused on the ins and outs of ballet left a deep impression, influencing the direction of her career and her studio. She has spent the past two decades instilling that same love of dance in other kids.
“The main focus is really children. My first true love and where I started was at three years old,” Collins explained.
This was also impacted by her connection with My Gym. She attests that many of her first clients were a part of [My Gym], and the kids that would start with her at a young age would just stay all the way through college.
“When my kids graduate from me and go to college, I would say about 75% still continue with some kind of degree in fine arts,” Collins said.
DC Dance LA currently hosts several dance classes for kids, ranging from ‘Tiny Tutus’ for the youngest dancers to more serious advanced classes in Jazz, Ballet, Tap, and other forms of dance. They also offer yoga and acrobatic classes to improve flexibility.
While the focus is on kids enjoying dance, there are also options for when students get more serious. Most ballet studios hold a Nutcracker performance during the holidays, and DC Dance LA is no different.
“Back in 1998-99, I started little performing companies in the community. Ballet was my first love, so I started these Nutcracker shows in the winter. It gives kids the opportunity to do solos and work on their technique, not just commercial jazz and all the fun stuff,” Collins explained.
“Back when I started, competition was just starting out, but 2021 is a whole different world. I don’t push competitions at a very young age, so I don’t let them compete until they are about 10 or up. You don’t want to burn out the students or the parents. I want to keep the love for dance.”
Of course, there is a certain level of dedication needed to be demonstrated before Collins will allow a student to compete.
“They have to be training a certain number of hours a week, and be more dedicated to the art,” Collins said.
“It’s hard when you get kids that are doing gymnastics, soccer, and this and that for them to be a competitive dancer, just like any sport. So, I wait until they can dedicate the time so that we can make it successful, and be not just about the trophy.”
However, the past few years have seen a different kind of approach. After remaining in the My Gym space for over two decades, Collins was very matter-of-fact when asked about why she moved to the Culver City location: the pandemic.
“I had outgrown [my old] space, but just finances to move into LA is a huge commitment. The Culver City space opened up through word of mouth,” Collins said.
Collins admits that she lost about 90% of her clients to lockdowns, and had lost all of them by the time the second surge hit in Dec. At that point, it was sink or swim for Collins.
“I had to get a studio with a safe outdoor space, and I had to make the decision overnight to either close my doors after 25 years, or take a huge leap of faith,” Collins said.
So, on Feb. 1, DC Dance LA made their move to Culver City, attempting to salvage the clientelle base that had been lost throughout the pandemic.
The drop-off wasn’t all immediate though. Collins recalls that many kids tried to balance having Zoom claases for both school and dance, which resulted in about 50% of her kids sticking around for the first couple of months.
However, around May and June, the numbers began to trickle down, hitting about 10-15% enrollment.
“The kids that have a true passion for dance, that is all I really have left today,” Collins said.
Teachers too have had to been cut back. At one point, the studio had 10 instructors, including several Masterclass instructors. Today, that number has been cut in half.
But with this new space secured, Collins hopes she can continue to keep the studio alive.
She is hopeful that parents will have faith in the outdoor classes, and kids will be able to get out and enjoy life.
“That was my number one goal. These kids were getting sad and depressed sitting in their room, and my heart was just breaking for these kids.
“We’re hanging on by a thread, but definitely the change of the space has given us more opportunities to get kids moving again.”