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Dreams of dancing

Holly Diaz leads competitive local studio that boasts collegiate, professional alumni

Posted: August 13, 2011 11:58 a.m.
Updated: August 19, 2011 11:58 a.m.

Students from The Dance Experience performing “Viva la Vida” routine during a competition in Upland in March.

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There are dance studios, and there are dance experiences.

While attending UCLA in 1998, dance major Holly Diaz began running a dance program through the city of Santa Clarita's Parks, Recreation and Community Services program.

"But parents wanted more access to a traditional dance program," said co-owner Diaz.

So on the wings of a dream, and a $12,000 loan from her now-husband's former employer, Holly and her husband, Kevin, opened The Dance Experience.

While Diaz would advise anyone starting a business to create a business plan, at the time, the couple did not have anything other than a business agreement for the loan, she said.

“We were young dreamers with a vision and a passion for kids,” Diaz said. “We put expenses for the dance floor on my parents’ Home Depot card.”

Character

Competition is as much a part of the dance world as it is to sports.

Grueling hours learning routines, and practicing to prepare for a show or competition create stress. And then there are the myriad leg cramps that have to be worked out.

The Dance Experience designed a mentoring program, introducing young dancers to commitment, dedication and leadership.

Each older girl serves as a “buddy,” and is paired up with a younger student to mentor.

Former student Chelsea Itaya, now a second-year undergraduate student at UC Berkeley, recalled the reward that came from consoling and coaching a young dancer she was paired with.

“My little buddy was crying, so I went and found her, and took her on a walk,” Itaya said. “I told her about all the times that I had lost, but how I didn’t let it stop me and just stayed with her until she stopped crying.”

In addition to giving back to the community through the arts, The Dance Experience teaches its students community service in other ways, by handing out water at the city’s marathon, performing at Kids Expo, senior homes and at charitable events to benefit cancer patients.

“Our daughter Faith has learned more than just dance skills at The Dance Experience. She’s had the opportunity to grow as a person,” said Bill Bolde, principal of Saugus High School.

Students are given the opportunity to expand their creative expression while cultivating essential components for life, he said.

“I’m very pleased with the emphasis the staff places on character education, building relationships and promoting a strong work ethic,” Bolde said.

“I may not know a lot about dance, but after 27 years in education, I do know something about creating an environment where kids can succeed. The Dance Experience is a great place.”

Studio for all

A studio with classes for all ages, The Dance Experience has proven successful preparing dancers for high school dance teams,” Diaz said. The studio also offers competition teams.

Many graduates are dancing on collegiate teams, professional sports teams and the entertainment industry, Itaya said. Former dancers are now members of the Cal Dance Team, UCLA cheer team, USC Song Girls, the Lakers Girls and Clippers Spirit Dance Team.

The Dance Experience has won national sweepstakes titles seven times, earned top scoring routines and won many choreography awards over the past three years, Diaz said.

Small means big

The independently owned studio is one of the smallest studios in Santa Clarita, Diaz said.

“We have 125 to 150 students per year,” she said. “But the benefit is creating long-lasting relationships with the dancers, siblings and parents.”

Describing the studio experience as a perfect blend of exposure to the arts, family values and teamwork, Itaya said both Holly and Kevin have become second parents and a constant source of inspiration to her.

There is no other studio in the SCV that ingrains such a sense of family, Itaya said. Holly and Kevin attended all of our high school dance shows and our high school graduations.

“I texted Holly the second I found out I made the Cal Dance Team,” Itaya said. “They celebrate all of our daily victories.”

Guest stars

The Dance Experience has built relationships with choreographers Mia Michaels and Justin Giles, who design creative pieces for contestants on the television show “So You Think You Can Dance.”

Mia Michaels visited the studio to watch and critique students’ competition routines and a production number dedicated to her. Michaels also taught a master class while at the studio.

Others in the dance world have visited including Mark Mesimer, choreographer to many stars, and international choreographer Dennis Caspary.

STARS program

Many dance families might be familiar with the STARS dance program, of which the studio is a part.

The members’ only organization consists of competition teams that perform nationally. Members can join other STARS competition programs.

“The director of STARS asked us if we wanted to purchase the program so we now have eight different programs across the western states,” Diaz said.

Passion

The couple never figured out exactly how they’d survive when they first opened the studio, Diaz said.

“It was definitely a journey for sure.”

Fifteen years later, Diaz said she still loves what she does and wouldn’t change anything.

The Dance Experience is located at 26951 Ruether Ave., Unit A in Santa Clarita and can be reached at (661) 251-7460.
jadkins@the-signal.com

 

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