Sunday, September 29, 2013

The DSD Odyssey

Well, it's almost here.. the day I turn the keys in to 1520 W. Warner. Or was it 1430? No one ever really knew. It's been nine years now and some days it seems like yesterday, and other days it seems like an eternity. :)

My crazy buddy Jim McCarter - I miss him
Here's the back story in case you've never heard it..... I used to work at a dance studio on Guadalupe and Cooper called Bridgette McCarter Dance Academy. A bunch of us did. It was a great place to work and I spent 6 great years there from 1996 to 2002. Then the owner passed away and everything changed. (RIP James L. McCarter) I was let go and many people resigned. We were heartbroken but..... the show must go on.  I was in the middle of working on a show called "3-D: Dances, Dreams, and Decades." It had a themed story line and we were putting a lot of work in to it. A parent came to me (Julie Collins - I gotta credit her and her enthusiasm!) and asked if we could find a place to rehearse and continue on to do the show.  I agreed. We found a local health club that had some free hours in it's aerobics room and thus Desert Star Dance was born. I formed an LLC and we started classes and rehearsals. 
A photo from our first show -
that's Lucy with Austin in the background!

We did that show with 45 kids. It was very ambitious and was a full hour and a half long. Those kids were changing their clothes like mad and gasping for air between numbers, but they pulled it off beautifully in front of and audience of over 500! The audience was not only comprised of parents and friends, but I think there were people who just wanted to see what we were going to do. Well, of course we put on an amazing show! I think it was a fabulous start to what is now a 10 year odyssey and soon to be an institution in the East Valley.

After the show, the gym closed down. I had to scramble for a new location but found one. We moved
to another health club and to my surprise we grew to over 75 students. I started thinking I was on to something here and this was what I was destined to do. So I began looking for a permanent home. We looked all over the Chandler and Gilbert area and found the location on the NE corner of McQueen and Warner. There was no anchor store and the space was between a mortgage company and a neighborhood bar. Not optimum but affordable and sufficient. We secured the lease and opened around September of 2004 with just 2 rooms.

1520 W. Warner Rd. in Gilbert
After a few years, the mortgage company closed and we had grown to 150 students and were in desperate need of a lunch room and more space. We used to eat at the deck in the back and were always squished in the tiny lobby areas. Our main goal when we designed the original space was to provide as much space as possible for dance! So we secured a new lease that included the former mortgage company and created a third dance room and a cafeteria. Gary Leach did the build out (a parent here at DSD) and we began our second growth spurt.

As the next few years went by, we grew to over 200 students. The Goodwill moved in to the anchor space and the town of Gilbert passed a smoking ordinance that moved the bar patrons outside for their cigarettes. It started to become a little uncomfortable but with the help of parents and staff, we continued to provide a safe environment for our kids.

After last year, the shopping center went in to bankruptcy and it became clear to me that it was time to move on. We were busting at the seams with 250 kids taking dance! I decided to hire a broker this time to find me a space within a mile that would provide room to grow and all the things we needed in a more appropriate shopping center. It took a few tries. I attempted renegotiations with our current center to move to the east end but they just didn't put together anything attractive. I looked across the street at the empty building behind CVS but they seemed to want to design something for themselves that they could sell to a new owner rather than a lease for a building to suit our needs.

Finally we started serious talks with our future home at 1020 E. Ray Road in the Safeway at the Provinces Center. This process was something I had never experienced before. I was learning new things daily and talking to brokers, lawyers, advisors, etc. Every day was a new challenge! After over 6 months of negotiations and approvals, I was able to sign a new lease with ample tenant improvement provisions in June of 2013. Right about the time of recital.... isn't THAT nice. But I made it!!!

1020 E. Ray Rd. in Chandler
Now on to the business of creating the space. I spent the summer wrangling with contractors and architects. We finally settled on a set of drawings and decided on a time schedule for building out the space. We ran in to many a snag along the way but I think we have created a beautiful state of the art facility that the students and families of Desert Star Dance deserve. It is spacious and lovely and the dance rooms are BIG! The front desk is big enough to accommodate several people at once with a back office for me and my staff. That phase proved to be daunting with the hundreds of decisions I had to make regarding how the studio would be set up, the colors, the materials, the floors, and more. It was sometimes difficult to make these choices knowing we would have to live with them for a while. I soldiered on! We've still got a few tasks to complete but will be ready for dancing on our opening day. Our sign is up and wait til you see it! It's impressive.

The shopping center is anchored by Safeway which has an awesome deli and of course a Starbucks. (woo hoo!) Rosati's pizza is right across from us and we tried out their amazing pizza yesterday! Yummy! Sorry Nicantoni's... :( we hope you will all continue to patronize Nicantoni's. They have been wonderful to us and our names are covering their walls. They have served us well. There is also a chinese restaurant and a chiropractor office directly across from us. In the center is a Water 'n Ice, Dollar Store, Wells Fargo, and more! Super convenient and a perfect environment for busy DSD families. We look forward to seeing you all this week and hope you enjoy our new facility!

To find out more about Desert Star Dance see our website at

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Austin Brue - Desert Star Dance Alumni completes EDGE PAC scholarship

On August 23, 2013 the Edge Performing Arts Center in Hollywood California celebrated another graduation for the scholarship students in it’s professional program. 

The program has been in place for 25 years. It was developed by Randy Allaire and Bill Prudich in 1988 to prepare dancers for a career as a commercial or concert professional dancer. The intensive one-year program requires up to 38 hours per week of classes, closed scholarship sessions and work apprenticeship. After a year of intense study, participants are well on their way to becoming professionals.  The scholarship runs from September through August of the following year. Every August, an audition is held and up to twenty people are accepted into the program and awarded a scholarship. 
Last August, Austin Brue (an alumni of Desert Star Dance) made the journey to LA to audition and was awarded one of the coveted spots. He was selected out of hundreds of talented dancers from around the country. The scholarship is worth over $17,000 and is a prestigious and sought after award for young dancers hoping to make a name for themselves in the dance industry. I wrote to Austin recently and asked him about his personal experience and what it was like during his year as a “scholy”. Here’s some of the things I learned from him about his year long odyssey. 
Austin spent a year taking classes from many of the top choreographers and instructors in Los Angeles as well as developing his look and learning about the audition process for dancers. Austin told me in addition to regular classes he was required to work at the front desk at the studio, participate in choreography projects, and have regular body and fitness evaluations. After 8 months of training, the scholarship students started focusing on the end of year showcase. In 5 weeks, they learned and polished 9 numbers. Major choreographers and directors from the entertainment industry attend this annual show, and after the performance, the dancers get a chance to auditions with many of the major dance agents and industry professionals in LA.
Austin felt that living in Los Angeles and being in the program was extremely intimidating at first. He "was like a tiny fish in a huge pond", but over the course of the program he matured as a person and a dancer. The program is grueling and they push hard, but the time spent at the Edge gave Austin a solid confidence boost. The training encourages dancers to be strong and versatile. He now feels totally prepared to go out and work as a professional dancer. 

Austin and fellow scholarship students at EDGE PAC
Austin went on to tell me that students in the professional program are required to take ballet 5 days a week. He went from hating ballet to enjoying it over the course of the year. He was expected to know what every ballet term meant, and be ready to demonstrate the combination if asked. He also had to know the differences between French, Russian, and Cecchetti ballet technique. Some of his teachers were extremely strict, and “weren't afraid to attack the ego”, while others were more free and contemporary. Austin also trained in voice and comedy improv throughout the year. 

Austin’s favorite teacher while on scholarship was Helene Phillips. She taught him how to be, in her words, a "bitchin'" dancer! She emphasized being human and knowing your gender. She really taught him how to perform like a powerful man. He says he owes a huge portion of his growth to her. His fellow scholarship students were a big influence on him as well. He enjoyed having healthy competition with them, which consistently pushed and inspired Austin to be his best. As a former scholarship student myself at Dupree Dance Academy, I still have incredible bonds with the dancers that I spent that intense year of study with, and that was 30 years ago! There is a special connection created during programs like these and friendships that tend to last a lifetime. 

Austin is now represented by Mcdonald Selznick Associates - one of the top agencies in Los Angeles for dancers. His ultimate goal is to tour with a major artist. He’d love to travel the world and perform in stadiums in front of thousands of people. Austin is a loyal Britney Spears fan and has always said he had a dream of one day performing with her. He told me recently that he may be getting a chance to audition for her soon! Perhaps that dream will soon become a reality for him. Austin would also like to work in tv and film, but as he put it ,”nothing compares to live performance” (a man after my own heart!). He loves living in Los Angeles and hopes to make a permanent home there. 

I am proud to have been one of Austin’s teachers during his childhood. I have been a dance educator for over 20 years and there are only a handful of students in one’s teaching life who go on to become professionals. It’s an incredible source of pride to see someone you knew as a little guy in your weekly dance classes blossom in to a talented and skilled professional. I know all of his teachers here at DSD couldn’t be more proud. Austin was always enthusiastic, hungry for knowledge and fun to work with. There was never any doubt that Austin would do well with whatever he decided to do in life.  We at Desert Star Dance could not be more proud that he chose to pursue dance as a career. We know this is only the beginning of an exciting life in the world of dance for Austin Brue.  

To find out more about Desert Star Dance, visit our website at or call us at (480) 813-7827.