You studied dance in Minnesota, how did you decide to come to Riverside?
“I actually grew up in the midwest, so I’m used to seasons and a colder winter, but I came to Riverside to get a Ph.D. in critical dance studies. I reached a point in my life where I didn’t want to teach in academia anymore and I moved to a more hands-on approach by teaching younger kids, and I grew in that. I became a better person, it made my brain work differently and I like that it had an impact on young people.”
How did De.Fine/Dance Space get started?
“We officially opened in September of 2015. I had stumbled into a dance family that I felt I was an important part of. My co-owners Beth and Vanessa are moms whose kids I taught and they became my kids. I didn’t have family or friends when I arrived here but they brought me in and when you do that for someone they become woven into your life.
My other co-owner, Raven, is a fellow teacher and I taught her when she was younger. She came back and we were teaching together at another studio when the four of us found ourselves in a situation where we wanted to start something different. So we said, ‘let’s start our own studio!’
Our goal was to create a space that was safe and that provided quality dancing, but we’re also teaching teamwork, we’re teaching work ethic and responsibility. Those are not just traits of dancers but strong people. Those are good traits of young people who go out into the world and want to give back to their community, be invested and challenge themselves.”
What was the inspiration behind the name of your business?
“Naming a dance studio can be tricky. We wanted to be something different and we liked this idea of redefining what dance could be and redefining what a dance studio could be. We’ve continued using that idea with our ‘word of the week’ in the studio. We use words that mean things to us like ‘strength,’ and ‘perseverance.’ We break them down phonetically like in our logo. We want to help young people define those for themselves and incorporate them into their world.”
What are the average age groups of people who learn in your studio?
“Our youngest student is two right now and our oldest is 18. We’re really big on alumni. A lot of our former students come back and take class regularly. We wanted to build that community. It’s important to us that we’re building a community that people feel a part of. Whether they go off and dance after high school or they move onto other things, we want them to always know this is a part of their home.”
Is there a tagline or motto that floats around the studio?
“When we first opened, our big tag for a while was ‘just hold on, we’re almost home.’ We were playing on the idea of being home or a second home. These kids are oftentimes spending more time in the studio than they do in their own house. So, these are very much their informative peers and mentors. We want to communicate that we’re here for you in whatever capacity we can be.”
How do you encourage your students before a competition?
“We have a tradition before every performance. They all circle up and every dancer counts, and there are 43 of them. They jump up and down, counting all the way to 43. Then they clap and yell ‘Define!’ It really gets them energized and excited. They know they’ve done everything they were supposed to do and now that they’re warmed up, they’re ready.”
What are life lessons other than dance that you see in the studio?
“We do a lot of things with regard to kindness. We would put up a board and write things down like, ‘What is it to be kind?’ ‘What is it to be courageous?’ and we ask them to define those words, too. It’s so personal. We’ve asked, ‘What did you do today that was kind to someone else?’ Then we get to learn about the kids. We’re still a fairly small studio so we can get to know everyone coming through the door and show the families that, ‘These people really do care about my kids!’ Then we see that the parents are more likely to stay invested and involved.”
Where do you hope to see the studio go in the future?
“I hope we’re continuing down the same line of quality, excellent training, that we’re forming strong athletes, students and nice kids. It’s hard for young people in 2021 to be okay with being kind and to be themselves and to be what they want to be. There’s so much pressure to be a certain way but these kids bring something so special to the table and they don’t have to be cookie cutter. We value all their individuality.
From a business perspective, I’d love to see us grow. Before COVID, we were looking at an additional space and it’s something we’re thinking about for the future when we’re dealing with more students.”
How did you thrive during the pandemic?
“We actually lost over half of our business. People were scared when everything first happened. We had a lot of families whose extra income just went away. Dancing online became a big thing throughout the pandemic, but it sucks when you’re used to being in the studio. It’s about being in the space with people and using that tangible connection. So we had to figure out how we could continue to provide value to our students.
We developed De.Fine University online. We prerecorded a whole catalog of online classes and tips and tricks like, ‘How to pirouette.’
Luckily for us, our families are really invested and they stayed with us. They bought into De.Fine University. We still ran rehearsals online for our competition kids. We did one last competition in August 2020. I still get emotional when I think about this video I have of them when they were synchronized on Zoom.
It was amazing to see what we all were capable of when we were in the middle of COVID. It goes to show what four powerful women can accomplish together.”
What’s your favorite part about Riverside?
“Honestly, I feel like it still surprises me after living here for 15 years. Even in the last six months, I’ve found different pockets I didn’t know existed. I love the community. To this day I still get families who walk in the door and say, ‘You taught my kid years ago!’ and that’s so humbling because you couldn’t do that in a bigger community.
I love that I see vastly different walks of life pouring into one another, no matter the different economic, social, education or racial backgrounds. We get to learn from each other and Riverside does an amazing job of promoting that. I’m amazed by the number of people willing to pour back into our business.”