Friday, December 18, 2009

More Than One: North Hollywood & Lankershim Boluevard

North Hollywood has been one of the dance studio epicenters in Los Angeles through the 2000s. Anyone who's ever been in a hip hop dance class has probably thought of taking one at Millenium Dance Complex, Debbie Reynolds or Evolution (formerly know as Synthesis). On Lankershim Boulevard, these three major studios have been the site of many classes, auditions, and gatherings that have marked the studio choreo culture in our city of dreamers. Our final "More Than One" weekly feature is about North Hollywood's hip hop dance community and how it has shaped the perceptions of hip hop choreography by the outside world. (Photo above is from a Google Images Search for North Hollywood.)

You can see the website for Millenium here:

You can see the website for Debbie Reynolds here:

And you can see the website for Evolution here:

A dance studio will always be a popular gathering place for aspiring dancers and professionals. It provides opportunities for employment as well as training. Established dancers can teach master classes on a weekly basis. And aspiring dancers can drop in for classes or pay for a longer-term class program. It's good business. And business has been booming through the 2000s. No one person or dance studio has been solely responsible for this community in North Hollywood. It's been a group effort with many different contributors. The dream of pursuing a career in the professional entertainment and dance industries is an underlying factor driving much of this studio life.

Millenium Dance Complex (formerly know as Morolandis) has been one of the high profile studio spots due to celebrity choreographers and music artists using its facilities. Dave Scott, Shane Sparks, Wade Robson, Jayson Wright, Fatima Robinson, RoRo, Rich & Tone Taluega, Swoop and many other high profile hip hop choreographers have frequented the spot, including the largest room known as "the Dome." Some critics have labeled Millenium as a "Hollywood-ish" place for its advertising of its high profile clients. But it still remains a go-to place for many young dancers to be seen at auditions as well as to network. The studio appeared prominently in the MTV reality TV series DanceLife. If Millenium's environment seems business-driven, then it's not unintentional. While the public's fascination for dance has exploded in the past few years, it only makes competition among dance studios even more fierce. Millenium's staff surely know this and want to cultivate a loyal following. Perhaps few other studios in Los Angeles have shaped the perception of hip hop choreography as much as the choreographers coming from Millenium. Several of these high profile dancers have created sequences for Hollywood films like You Got Served and Step Up 2, which have influenced a generation of youth worldwide. It is the work of these dancers who are shaping the perception of hip hop dance in the public spotlight because they have access to this world professionally.

South of Millenium and a little further down Lankershim Boulevard is Evolution Dance Studios. Formerly known as Synthesis, it was previously owned by the beloved Gary who brought a wide variety of dance classes to the premises. Poppers and lockers can remember classes being taught by Suga Pop, Poppin' Pete, Jr Boogaloo, and Sweepy here. Gary's family also included Adam Sevani who would later be featured in Step Up 2 and the upcoming Step Up 3D. Many Synthesis dancers will remember a young Adam participating in many of the hip hop and popping classes at the studio. Synthesis always had a very homegrown, intimate feel compared to Millenium. It's this warm, welcoming environment that was one of its greatest strengths in helping to build a local hip hop dance community. Now under new ownership, the studio has been relabeled as Evolution and is undergoing a new phase of growth. Evolution's other contribution is also being a favorite rehearsal spot for choreographers who staged pieces for the monthly Choreographer's Ball, aka Carnival. Often held at the Key Club, this showcase has grown from humble beginnings in the early 2000s to a celebrity-filled party scene in recent years. Evolution fostered a placed for choreographers to create pieces that were daring, risky, and outside of the usual norm as seen in movies and music videos.

And finally, further north up Lankershim Boulevard is Debbie Reynolds Studio. It strikes a balance somewhere between Millenium and Evolution in terms of atmosphere. There's both a business feel and an intimate, family vibe going on at the same time. For street dancers, it remains a place for training with lockers like Anthony Thomas and waackers such as Kumari "Lady Frankie D" Suraj. Groove Night hosted by the Groovaloos is also a popular session spot on Thursday nights for local and international dancers. For a time, Miss Prissy, seen in the documentary film Rize, was also teaching krumping choreography classes here. The diversity of classes at Debbie Reynolds is one of its strengths. And it has helped to attract a wide berth of international dancers who seek professional gigs here in Los Angeles or on national tours. Debbie Reynolds seems to attract some influential dancers from under-represented (at least in the public spotlight) street dance scenes whether it's waacking, popping, or krumping. That's a great development because we need more support for these teachers to pass on their art form to willing students.

So overall, these three major studios and others like them have contributed to a vibrant dance studio culture that is part of the larger hip hop dance community. No two studios are alike and each will surely develop along different paths in the future. They represent the business side and the artistic side of our shared passions. Let's hope they can also evolve into places where dancers can seize greater control over their professional careers. Somewhere among the thousands attending their dance classes, there may a creative mind who is looking to change our professional landscape for the better in the future.

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