I can still picture the window - it would catch my attention with a breathtaking view that both symbolized how far I’d come and inspired me to work for more. In the corner of a dance studio filled with professional choreographers and dancers, that window at EDGE Performing Arts Center’s original studio perfectly framed the Hollywood sign famously nestled in the hills of Los Angeles, a beacon for many young performers in the city of dreams. Malia Baker, an EDGE scholarship student turned faculty member, remembers the same view fondly, from when she would spend her school breaks visiting LA to take classes at the prominent studio. “To know that you were right in the middle of Hollywood training with these incredible dancers always felt so special,” she says.
When Baker began her year as a scholarship student at EDGE after high school, the studio had moved to a new building within the Television Center next to its original space. While the view of the Hollywood hills may have been gone, the new studios were Hollywood-quality, with large, sprung floors, natural light, and plenty of communal space. Like most young professional dancers in Los Angeles, I also attended classes, rehearsals, and auditions at the ‘new EDGE’ frequently, always grateful for their easy parking and spacious studios. When the pandemic hit last year, many people continued to support the studio by taking classes online, donating to their GoFundMe, and patiently waiting for it to return, as owners Bill Prudich and Randall Allaire had announced, to a new building in North Hollywood. Then, came the bombshell. Just as other landmark studios like Ryan Heffington’s The Sweat Spot, Debbie Reynolds’s Legacy Studios, and Movement Lifestyle had before it, EDGE would also be permanently closing its doors after 29 years, due to the financial impact of the pandemic.
"To know that you were right in the middle of Hollywood training with these incredible dancers always felt so special." - Malia Baker
The announcement of another long-standing institution for dance education closing for good feels personal to the dance industry in Los Angeles. EDGE’s social media announcements drew hundreds of comments from dancers, teachers, and choreographers alike, who shared how the studio had affected their lives and careers. “EDGE really valued training, and people traveled from everywhere to train [there],” Baker says, “From the students to the teachers, everyone was there because they loved dance, they wanted to be pushed, and really train. It felt like a really safe space to grow and explore.”
EDGE’s well-established scholarship program may be one of the biggest losses for LA’s dance industry, as former scholarship student Kristina Garrett says, “it changed the trajectory of my life as a dancer.” The program served as a year-long training ground preparing dancers for a career in dance with classes and workshops, providing opportunities to be seen by some of LA’s top choreographers and agencies, and became a launchpad for the careers of many professional dancers and choreographers. Liana Blackburn made the big move to LA from Florida for the renowned training program and eventually, amidst many professional jobs including tours with Kylie Minogue and Selena Gomez, was invited by the studio to teach. “EDGE always has and always will be my idea of what training as a professional dancer in LA is,” Blackburn says, “EDGE maintained a standard of quality dance education and training that was unparalleled. Although my 18-year-old self was intimidated to walk into the space, knowing she was surrounded by the best of the best, she also walked in knowing she was welcomed, she belonged, and she had work to do.”
Along with the scholarship program, EDGE’s abundance of both professional and recreational open classes, and impressive, often long-standing faculty “gave many types of dancers a home,” says Denise Leitner, who taught at EDGE for 25 years, sometimes up to six times a week. “The students were really what kept me there,” Leitner says, “The students that were dedicated to your class and willing to train, willing to do the hard work. And of course, the camaraderie with the faculty. We were all a family, and I always appreciated [EDGE owners] Bill and Randy keeping the older faculty around because they appreciated what we had to bring.”
"When you walked in you knew that there was serious dance training happening here." - Denise Leitner
A mix of new and old school classes and faculty was unique to EDGE’s ethos, which Leitner says is partly why its reputation was one of “sophistication, keeping the technical level of dance to a high standard. When you walked in you knew that there was serious dance training happening here.” Current and aspiring professionals weren’t the only dancers who appreciated this fact, as Leitner had students in class who ranged from doctors to secretaries, there to enjoy the hard work of dance training and inviting atmosphere of the studio’s variety of class levels.
Without this pinnacle of dance training in LA, where does the torch get passed to next? Since the studio closed, “all of us [EDGE faculty] are finding other homes and we’re getting speckled around the city,” says Leitner, who is now teaching at Hama’s Dance Center in Studio City, “The training is still there, you just have to seek it out. It may not be all under one roof, but it’s not gone.” Keeping up with where teachers and classes are moving may be the biggest challenge for dancers looking to train in LA now, making the need to use social media for awareness even more apparent.
"It is up to those of us who experienced the magic of the EDGE community to continue to pass on the legacy in the ways that mean the most to us" - Liana Blackburn
In fact, one silver lining from losing such major studios may be that more choreographers take matters into their own hands and rent space to teach at, using social media to gain students, rather than relying on a studio name. Not having to work for years to get a slot teaching at a major dance studio could also lead to more teachers and training opportunities in the city. Garrett sees an opportunity now for current working dancers and choreographers to “give back to their community,” even without the usual studio environments to, “share knowledge with the those who are hungry for it and educate them on the do’s and don’t of the industry, cultivate workshops tailored to specific things like free styling, how to stand out in an audition, class etiquette, etc.” No doubt, dancers will be able to seek out the training they appreciated from studios like EDGE, as faculty from these institutions will most likely continue to share their knowledge elsewhere and in their own unique formats. “It is up to those of us who experienced the magic of the EDGE community to continue to pass on the legacy in the ways that mean the most to us,” Blackburn says, “It will look different through the lens of each individual, and I look forward to seeing how everyone spreads that magic all over the city of LA.”
Indeed, there has already been the flicker of a new fire of professional studios in the city, and as these new spaces and those that survived the past year continue on, it will be exciting to see how they evolve their programs to fill the voids that iconic training centers like EDGE have left behind, growing them into what dancers need now. While this is a moment for us to lament the loss of such institutions, if we know anything about dancers it is that we are resilient, and the dance community will find new and innovative ways to offer the high quality training and atmosphere that studios like EDGE did. As Baker says, “I feel very sad to have lost such tremendous pillars in our community. But I do believe that the community is not the building but the people. We saw in quarantine how much we all needed dance. Dance was hit hard, but we won't crumble.”