Studio Owners

Former San Diego Charger Girl Nicole Lucia Leads a Tour of Her Dance Facility

Photo by Jim Carmody

Nicole Lucia leans against her desk in Danceology, the 14,000-square-foot performing arts campus she owns north of San Diego, and stretches her arms. She pulls the sleeves of her stylish athletic shirt down over her hands. Her neon-orange nail polish perfectly matches a tank top that peeks out at her hips. Over her head, a monitor displays a closed-circuit video of dance rooms, and behind her is a poster-size image of a glamorous cheerleader.

“Yes, that's me as a Charger Girl, right out of Academy of Our Lady of Peace," she says with a smile. “And now I'm in charge of all this," gesturing to indicate the studio that she founded in 2002. She raises her voice to be heard over the rumbling sound of dancing feet and looks up to the ceiling. “It's noisy like this all the time. It's a happy sound—glad we have solid floors."

Lucia often talks about the floors in her two-story space, and with good reason. She has invested between $15,000 and $20,000 in equipment for each of the seven dance rooms that comprise Danceology: sprung flooring covered with marley or wood, mirrors, viewing glass and state-of-the-art sound and video systems.

During the tour, we pass two maintenance men. “They wash the glass and floors every day," Lucia says. “We keep this place spotless. Tap dancing is hard on floors. We have those done in regular rotation, that's about $1,500 every year or two. Gouging is worst near the stairs where little dancers stand."

The Danceology logo is large in the lobby. Receptionists sign people in and out. Some dancers arrive after school every day and stay until 9 pm. Those who dance on the competition team train 25 to 30 hours a week and rehearse or travel to competitions on weekends.

Lucia employs 26 instructors, four program directors, an operations manager and six administrative people. Photo by Jim Carmody.

Hallways painted purple are lined with photographs of master teachers and star students. Each image is wrapped on a frame like a painting. The tiny-tot areas have painted murals and one-way mirrored glass. There are shelves for bags and books, desks and Wi-Fi, multiple restrooms and a shower.

Students and parents can watch closed-circuit dance action on flat-screen TVs in the Snack Barre lounge. Parents help serve food and drinks from a simple kitchen, but Lucia says all other operations are done by paid staff.

After Lucia outgrew her first 2,000-square-foot studio, she partnered with her mother, Jeanne Lucia, to build a modern campus in a plain industrial park. “It was an empty warehouse," she says, “which was terrifying and exciting at the same time. We wanted spacious dance rooms and modern common areas. We were in a new area full of growing families. Fourteen years later I teach some of the same dancers who were in my first tiny-tot class.

“We've had some tough years. We finished our build-out in 2008 as the economy dived. The toll was devastating in 2010 because families were scaling back.

“We recovered. It's invaluable to have a strong program for ages 3 to 8 because they train and develop through the years. Balancing the budget isn't easy. We operate on a tight margin, but I'm committed to paying my staff and giving clients value. I want this to be open and affordable to everyone."

"We have some tough years. We finished our build-out in 2008 as the economy dived. The toll was devastating." Photo by Jim Carmody.

TEAM EFFORT

Lucia says she was always athletic, and she danced growing up. She auditioned for the San Diego Chargers cheerleaders on a whim and stayed for three seasons.

“I worked up to captain and was chosen to be the Charger rep at the Pro Bowl," she says. “I learned leadership skills and how to interact with many types of people. I am grateful."

Now she has a team of 26 instructors on staff. She also has four program directors, one operations manager and six administrative employees. A color-coded schedule shows classes: all levels of ballet, tap, technique, jazz/lyrical, acrobatics, contemporary, hip hop, stretch turns and leaps, legs and feet. There is also an adaptive dance program for dancers with special needs, ages 4 to 8. It introduces ballet, tap and creative movement and offers performance opportunities.

“Total enrollment is 800, and about 180 students are in competition," she says. “Annual revenue is about $1.2 million. We have many programs to support that enrollment: a holiday show, a full Nutcracker and a showcase for every dancer in June. We have more than 100 classes per week, not including rehearsals or private lessons. Multiple times a year, I fly in guests for master classes and workshops."

ALWAYS PROFESSIONAL

It's a balance of “discipline and nurture, and some fun," Lucia says, as groups of students hop out of her way in a corridor. During a dance demonstration, she divides students into groups. The waiting group scrambles to the side and hugs the wall to make more room.

Natural light shines through big windows on the second floor, and Lucia takes a seat on a black leather sofa near a line of desks that she calls the homework area. We can hear muffled sounds from a class down the hall. Three mothers waiting outside a studio comfort a young girl who has a broken toe and needs help taping it.

Coaching dancers is Lucia's passion. To get results, she uses discipline tempered with inspiration. “I am not interested in being their friend," she says. “There is time to laugh, but there are boundaries. Kids listen and do as I say because they understand what is expected of them. Expectations are set and never change."

“We are a professional team, not volunteers," says Lucia. “We coach minds and teach bodies. We support dance competition, and we prepare young people for success on a stage and in life, the wins and losses. There's discipline and team bonding, and we help with scholarships and college. There are many opportunities, and we work as a team to find the right chemistry for a college education or other direction."

Photo by Jim Carmody

Emma York, 13, trains in multiple styles at Danceology six days a week. Wearing a sky-blue leotard and winning smile, she takes a break to talk about competition and TV appearances. She attended the Joffrey Ballet School Summer Intensive in San Francisco on scholarship and performed on “Dancing with the Stars." “You can find us on YouTube," York says of her duet with dance partner Joey German. “We danced the younger roles of Julianne and Derek Hough. I hope to attend Juilliard."

Sophia Lucia, Nicole Lucia's young cousin, also trained here. She has danced on television and holds the Guinness World Record for 55 consecutive pirouettes.

Competing in a sport is expensive, and Lucia says it's the same for dance. Classes, conventions, hotels, flights, costumes and entry fees add up.

“We know it's tough to participate at that level," Lucia says. “That's why we offer a program for dancers who want a smaller commitment. It's less rigorous and more feasible for families. We welcome any dancer, beginner or advanced. Anyone can take a technique class for $20. We're inclusive."

“In 14 years I've used skills from working with the NFL and smart professional teachers, and my family," Lucia says. “I don't ask people to work for free. I try to hire the best and provide a nurturing environment here."

She pulls out drawers filled with pink ballet shoes, tap shoes and clothes. “This is our lost-and-found," she says, laughing. “I could open a store. Some kids come back for them, but most are left here. Kids who do the trial week can use these shoes if they need to. Shoes are expensive."

Dance Teachers Trending
Rising Waters, by Gianna Reisen. Photo by Josh Rose, courtesy of L.A. Dance Project

For Gianna Reisen, a classically trained ballet dancer who now performs with L.A. Dance Project, the process of finding music for her choreography is everything. "If I'm not 100 percent inspired by the music, the movement just doesn't come out," she says. Following this natural creative spirit, though, wasn't always the driving force behind her artistry.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips

2019 has been rife with fantastic holiday songs that are simply BEGGING to be choreographed to. From Pentatonix to Kacey Musgraves, these bangers are the perfect match for your upcoming holiday-themed jazz class. Use each song for different elements of class (warm-up, across the floor, combo, etc.), or have your students get in groups and assign each one a different song from the list to choreograph to. The options are endless, but the general feeling of joy will be the same.

YOU'RE WELCOME! And happy holidays, everyone!

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Alvin Ailey surrounded by the Company, 1978. Photography by Jack Mitchell, © Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation, Inc. and Smithsonian Institution, all rights reserved

From 1961 to 1994, legendary photographer Jack Mitchell captured thousands of moments with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Now, this treasure trove of dance history is available to the public for viewing via the online archives of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture.

The collection includes both color and black-and-white images of Ailey's repertoire, as well as private photo sessions with company members and Ailey himself. Altogether, the archive tracks the career development of many beloved Ailey dancers, including Masazumi Chaya, Judith Jamison, Sylvia Waters, Donna Wood and Dudley Williams—and even a young Desmond Richardson. And there's no shortage of photos of iconic pieces like Blues Suite (Ailey's first piece of choreography), Cry and Revelations.

We couldn't resist sharing a few of our favorites below. Search the collection for more gems here.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Photo by CJ Harris, courtesy of PHILADANCO

Each anniversary celebration of a dance company might also be considered a lesson in dance history and a study of endurance and perseverance. Thus the 50th anniversary of PHILADANCO is an opportunity to celebrate the remarkable legacy of founder and artistic director Joan Myers Brown as a source of inspiration for students, dancers and colleagues nationwide.

PHILADANCO is a resident company at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia and kicked off its 50th season on October 5. Brown and the company will participate in the International Association of Blacks in Dance's 32nd annual conference, January 14–19, in Philadelphia. And you can catch the company throughout the U.S. in 2020, including February performances in Massachusetts and New Jersey.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Getty Images

Q: My 13-year-old daughter has always been flexible, but last year she suffered an acute injury to her hip flexor from an overstretch position. Since then I have told her not to participate in over-splits or other extreme positions. Is that the right thing to do?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Jacqueline Chang, courtesy of Ailey Extension

Marshall Davis Jr.'s introduction to tap dance began at 10 years old at African Heritage Cultural Arts Center, where his father is director, in Miami, Florida. Training began in sneakers and dress shoes that Davis Jr. did his best to get sound out of. "My father was reluctant to invest in tap shoes, because he thought it was likely I would change my mind about dancing," he says. But it didn't take long before Davis Jr.'s passion for tap became undeniable, and his father bought him his first pair of tap shoes. Just one year later, Davis Jr. became the 1989 Florida winner for the Tri-Star Pictures Tap Day contest, a promotion for the movie Tap, starring Gregory Hines and Sammy Davis Jr. Through that experience, a new tap-dancing future was opened.

Keep reading... Show less
Getty Images

Q: Are there good sources to find replacement dance teachers? When I go through standard employment services, I get people who are not properly trained or lack experience.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Courtesy of Susan Jaffe

Throughout Susan Jaffe's performance career at American Ballet Theatre, there was something special, even magical, about her dancing. Lauded as "America's quintessential American ballerina" by The New York Times, Jaffe has continued to shine in her postperformance career, most recently as the dean of dance at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. She credits the "magic" to her meditation practice, which she began in the 1990s at the height of her career. We sat down with Jaffe to learn more about her practice and how it has helped her both on and off the stage.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Reviewing a simple recording of your voice when you're teaching can help you hear how you sound to your students. Taking the time to play back your instructions, corrections and compliments throughout class will help you find any weak spots as well as recognize some of your strengths. It's a great technique to help you evaluate your instructional ability and make improvements, and pat yourself on the back for things you are doing well. Plus, it's super-easy to do!

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Including ballet competition standout Alina Taratorin (photo by Oliver Endahl, courtesy Taratorin)

Congratulations to the 39 talented dancers just named 2020 YoungArts award winners! This year's group of awardees includes several familiar faces from the competition scene.

Keep reading... Show less
To Share With Students
Photo by Brian Babineau, courtesy Burghardt

When Alicia Burghardt entered Dean College in Massachusetts as a freshman dance major, it hadn't occurred to her that the Boston Celtics had a dance team. A competition kid with aspirations for Broadway, Burghardt never imagined herself as an NBA dancer. But by the time she was finishing her senior year, she'd not only joined the Celtics Dancers, she was choreographing a number for a major playoff game. And after finishing her rookie year, surrounded on that TD Garden parquet floor by uproarious fans, she couldn't help but stay for another. "It's unbelievable performing for Boston fans," she says. "They're so loyal to their team. It could be third quarter, down 20 points, and they're still cheering."

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
"The Greatest Show on Earth." Photo by Brenda Rueb, courtesy of Vona Dance

Your year-end recital is your studio's pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Not only is it the time for your dancers to celebrate what they've accomplished during the year, it's your opportunity to demonstrate to parents firsthand the value of a dance education. A successful recital can also grant your school an influential role in the local community. Whether a prominent conservatory or a small-town studio, and whether your dancers win competitions or take classes once a week, your year-end recital is the chance for your dancers—and your program—to shine.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox