Every year at competition there’s a studio that makes the audience (and judges) simply say “Wow.” This year at New York City Dance Alliance, the dancers from Dance Town in Doral, Florida, made jaws drop with their Latin-inspired dances like “The Beat” and “Latin Jackson.” The routines allowed the dancers to show off their technical prowess and Latin groove simultaneously. And it’s no wonder the dancers have the swinging hips to back up their perfectly pointed feet—husband and wife studio owners, Lory and Manuel Castro, met in a ballroom dance class. They opened Dance Town in 2003 and after six years of taking their students to Starpower Nationals, this year they made the trip to New York to compete at NYCDA, where the studio walked away with Mini and Junior Critic Choice Awards. Dancers Brandon Chang and Richard Villaverde were named Outstanding Male Dancer, Mini and Senior, respectively. DT talked with Lory about what makes all 200 of her competing students standouts.

What is the number one thing on your mind when choreographing competition routines for your students?
Entertainment. We’re not a very subtle school, as you can tell from our routines. The kids here have developed a lot of showmanship and versatility. But when choreographing, I really think about what is going to affect the audience. The number has to be mesmerizing. It’s always about theatrical showmanship and getting the audience involved emotionally.

How do you keep your students excited about dancing?
At Dance Town, everyone is allowed to compete. It’s very important that if you’re taking classes, you have something to look forward to, to motivate you and to get excited for. Sometimes children are denied the ability to compete because they’re not at a certain level. But they won’t ever get to that level if you don’t expose them to competition. You don’t wake up one day as a great competitor. It takes time.

How is it that Dance Town boasts such a large number of male dancers?
We have about 30 boys who dance and compete for us. Many of them are brothers of our female dancers and hadn’t ever thought about dancing. When they first come in and take a hip-hop or ballroom class, we also put them into a competition routine. This gives them a taste of the excitement of competing. Boys are highly competitive creatures, so when they’re part of a team, they get excited and thrive.

It was evident seeing your students onstage that they all seem to genuinely like each other. Is life within the Dance Town walls really as happy as it appears?
We’re very blessed that all of our students are just good kids. We don’t have any disciplinary problems here. We have studio parties and everyone genuinely gets along. In order to keep a studio healthy, any animosities that grow need to be stamped out. It’s really important to be harmonious inside the studio walls because when you go to competition, you’re competing against other people. You should never feel like you’re competing within the studio.

What’s been the proudest competition moment in your career?
My 8-year-old son D’Angelo is a dancer, so I get to have proud studio moments and proud mom moments. This year, a number I choreographed and that he was in, “Imagine,” won the Mini Critic’s Choice Award at NYCDA Nationals. He wasn’t nervous and never freaked out, even when we made a major change to the piece right before they went onstage. He just said, “OK, Mom!”
At our studio, Manuel focuses on the teens and seniors and I primarily teach the younger dancers. I really enjoy working with these young kids—maybe because I have children of my own. It’s always sad when the dancers turn 13 and I have to turn them over to my husband. I give our juniors so much attention and they take everything in like little sponges.

Fun Fact
Janette Manrara from Season 5 of “So You Think You Can Dance” is a Dance Town alum. She took class with Lory and Manuel right up until she left for Vegas Week.

—Alison Feller

photo by ProPix, UT; courtesy of Dance Town

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