Millennium Dance opens first East Coast location in Pittsburgh


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A millennial business owner is changing the face of dance in Pittsburgh -- one drop-in class at a time.

Tawni Darby, 23, is the owner and general manager of the new Millennium Dance Complex Pittsburgh. Dance industry insiders know the name from its high-profile studio in North Hollywood, Calif. It was started at the Moro Landis Studios in January 1992 by co-CEOs AnnMarie Hudson and Robert Baker and has evolved into a go-to studio for classes in ballet, jazz, hip-hop, heels and other genres taught by leading performers and choreographers. It also has become audition and rehearsal space for many recording artists, including Britney Spears, Usher and Justin Timberlake.

Millennium Pittsburgh on East Carson Street, South Side, is the brand’‍s first East Coast franchise. Ms. Darby, a former dancer, saw this as an opportunity to provide the region’‍s dancers -- from beginners to professionals -- with an exhaustive dance education.

When Ms. Darby saw last year that the storied California studio was expanding, she had already been admitted to study law at the University of Pittsburgh. Curious, she inquired through the studio’s website about future franchise locations and was encouraged to draft a business plan for a potential Pittsburgh studio. Two days after submitting it in spring 2013, Ms. Darby was in touch with the franchise advisory board. She deferred her law school admission and learned a few weeks later that her proposal had been approved.

“To get into this business was always a dream,” she says.

Millennium Pittsburgh announced its opening in December with a dance convention at the Sheraton Pittsburgh at Station Square. The studio opened its doors in February and plans to hold a formal grand opening celebration in the fall.

“It’s a totally different energy than what they’re used to,” Ms. Darby says. “It’s something fresh here.”

The facility’s largest “premiere” studio sits on the ground floor with windows that look out onto East Carson Street. Head shots of celebrity choreographers line the stairwell that leads to two smaller studios on the upper level.

Classes in genres such as ballet, contemporary, jazz fusion and hip-hop are offered on a drop-in basis. Offered Monday through Saturday, classes last 45-75 minutes.  Dancers can purchase a single dance class pass at the door for $15. Multi-class cards and student discounts also are available. Advance registration is required for master classes and intensive programs. 

In line with its motto to “Love all, serve all, dance more,” Millennium Pittsburgh welcomes dancers of all levels, although the studio is particularly attractive to students looking to ramp up their training. Reality television shows such as “So You Think You Can Dance” and Lifetime’‍s “Dance Moms,” set at the Abby Lee Dance Company facility in Penn Hills, have been a great source of motivation for young dancers, she says.

“They’re looking at dance from a more professional standpoint.”

Her goal is to make these dancers more marketable. This Sunday, as part of its inaugural two-week summer intensive, the studio will hold a mock audition with talent agents from Bloc NYC. Monthly master classes with guest instructors also expose students to the commercial dance industry. Beyond these events, the studio’‍s comprehensive curriculum challenges students to adapt to new genres and teaching techniques.

“There is so much value in learning from many different people,” Ms. Darby says, adding that many of Pittsburgh’s faculty members are “still working in the business.”

Elisa-Marie Alaio, 22, works with her own modern dance company, FireWALL Dance Theater, when she is not teaching burlesque or contemporary jazz classes at Millennium. A 2013 Point Park University graduate, she says that Millennium Pittsburgh fills a void in the city’s dance community.

“People are hungry to come here and dance.”

Other Millennium franchises are in Tokyo, Japan, and Salt Lake City. Plans to open locations in Texas have been announced, and Ms. Darby says others will open across the nation soon.

Millennium Dance Complex Pittsburgh is at 2504 E. Carson St., South Side. Information: www.mdcpgh.com or 412-315-7900.


Mary Hornak: mhorna@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1494.

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