By Caitlin Enwright
– The Capitol Hill Times –
Photo Courtesy of Studio 52
Music thumps up the stairway and onto the street on a quiet Sunday afternoon outside Dance Underground. A crowd can be heard buzzing and laughing somewhere down below. Descending the staircase reveals a large room, lowly lit. Mirrors line the walls bordered with red LED lights that give the whole room a reddish hue. The space is packed with dancers stretching, chatting excitedly, and waiting for their class to begin. This is the grand opening of Studio 52, a new dance company that uses the Dance Underground studio for its classes.
The owners of Studio 52, Dina Innominato and Barb Duff, started instructing at this neighborhood business together almost eight years ago when Dance Underground opened in 2003. In those eight years they have taught over 4,700 classes and had over 75,000 students pass through the studio. They’ve recently decided to re-launch their dance company, previously Nia Underground, to Studio 52.
“We will be offering 19 classes a week including our homegrown blend of dance arts, martial arts, and healing arts called More Than Dance,” Innominato says.
They’ve acquired several new instructors to their team and have a wide variety of classes to attend and techniques to learn. “As our program evolved into new lines of business including Zumba, strength training, hula hoop sculpting, and hip-hop, our new name allows us to be more expansive and inclusive. Studio 52 prepares us for further growth and opportunity.” She says. “As Capitol Hill residents, we are thrilled to be adding to the diversity and charm of the neighborhood we love so much.”
The dance space itself has been around for over 30 years located on 15th Avenue East and and East Harrison Street in the lower portion of the building – the “underground” part of “Dance Underground.” The studio came into existence under the ownership of Ilana Rubin and Tony Fan in 2003.
Savoy Swing, Argentinian Tango, Capoeira, and Estatic Dance and others share the two studios with Studio 52.
They held a grand opening on March 25, in the form of a class displaying many of their dance techniques taught by all their instructors. Innominato and Duff applied temporary tattoos to their students in the shape of their logo while dance hits vibrated through the room. As the beginning of the class drew near, students took their positions on the large hardwood dance floor, facing the mirrors. Instructors walked through the rows of students, visibly getting into the high tempo of the music and snapping their fingers. Everyone in the room seemed to be anticipating the start of the class.
“Part of our mission is to create a safe, supportive, and non-competitive dance space, which is rare in this industry,” Innominato says. “We take time before each class to share this mission with our community and let it know that we strive to hold a space where people with and without dance experience feel comfortable. We continually tell our students that everybody is welcome and we’ve had students from ages 7 to 70.”
Innominato reflects on what she sees in the business’ future: “We want to train dancers from our community to be instructors. We want to bring our style of dance into the workplace. We want to continue to respond to our community’s needs as they surface.”
Sara Grippen, a current Zumba and “More Than Dance” instructor began as a student and was encouraged to become an instructor by Innominato and Duff. “I’ve been so inspired by these two teachers that I decided to take the plunge to further my dance passion,” Grippen says. She moved to Seattle several years ago and mentions the difficulty of meeting people and her experiences with the “Seattle Freeze.” But after attending a few dance classes she found her welcoming community at Dance Underground. “These ladies were right there as I stepped out from being a student, to being a teacher in their community. They’ve worked hard to build this,” she says.
A quick look around the room reveals the diverse demographics of the student body. A young boy – maybe 7 or 9 years old – dances beside his mother. An older man takes a spot in the front row. Some look like they’ve been dancing for years; they are lean, flexible and buff. Some look like beginners. There is no one uniform body type to be found. Once the music starts, everyone is moving together, hooting and hollering as they with choreographed moves. It’s hard not to notice the supportive atmosphere.
“Dance is our first language,” Innominato explains. “Everybody knows how to dance even if they think they cannot. We want to show those doubters that they can. Culturally, we live in our minds and away from our bodies. Dance reconnects us with our physical selves.”