Alumni Biz Spotlight: Studio 4 Dance
Alumna Deandra Clarke(B.S.’02/H&S) started dancing at VCU. A non traditional student of the art form, she found herself in love with the opportunity to try something new. As a radio broadcasting major she learned the skills necessary to become a professional in LA and then start her own Agency and Studio back in Richmond.
How old were you when you started dancing?
I don’t have the cliche dance story, I actually didn’t start dancing until my senior year of college. Growing up, I always danced around the house and, of course, watched Michael and Janet Jackson on TV, so I was always dancing. Formally and professionally trained didn’t happen until I was about 19. I was a student at VCU and joined a recreation dance troupe called ‘Ebony Quest.’ That’s when I fell in love with dance. We were doing performances and I was like this is what I want to do.
Why did you start Studio 4 Dance?
I was a senior radio broadcasting major interning at a radio station in Richmond. I was talking with one of the DJs there and he said why don’t you just start your own dance group. I knew he was right and had a good point. So I started ‘4 The Streets Choreography.’ It was a group of college students that had dance aspirations, but didn’t think they could make it out of Richmond. I just gave them a platform to perform. I basically taught them how to build a resume and how to be professional on set and things like that. This was purely based off of my own experience and what I saw on TV. I had no real world experience outside of college, so I don’t really know why I was teaching people these things. I did that for six years simultaneously while being an on air personality at the radio station.
I went on a random trip to LA to chaperone my little sister. She had just graduated high school and she wanted to be a model. She wanted to hand out her resumes to different agencies, and I was like I’m going to do the same thing with dance agencies. I didn’t think I would get any call backs because I really had no formal training. But I came back from the trip and had three dance agencies ask me to come in for an audition. I was just blown away by how my little college level resume would even be considered. During the interviews they asked if I lived in LA and I said absolutely I’ve been here my whole life. Three days later I flew back to LA for a physical audition and signed to an agency. I lived in LA for a few years and that is where my formal training happened.
When I came back to Richmond I changed 4 the Streets into Studio 4 Dance, and it grew from there.
Why did you start Studio 4 Dance Center and your other entities?
When I was in LA, I got legitimate professional experience, and I saw how agencies are and what you’re supposed to do on set. When I came back to Richmond and wanted to do it the right way, I wanted to take the urbanness out of the name and I wanted to make it more of a household name, so I kept the four and just made Studio 4 Dance Agency. That’s when I started representing people in the same way that I was represented in LA so I wanted to do it more formally. I wanted to stick with the same premise of just showing dancers, that you can have a dance career, no matter what city you’re in. I wanted to show them you don’t have to necessarily move to LA or New York, you can do it wherever you are.
Throughout the past, maybe three years, I founded the RVA dance awards, simply because I’m seeing all of these dancers in the area putting in so much work into their passion and craft. I knew that none of us are getting paid for anything, we’re all just doing it out of our hearts, with a love of dance.I thought a lot of these people deserve awards and trophies.
Between working as a dance agency and with the RVA Dance Awards I’ve met so many people that were like I just wish that we had somewhere for adults and dance teachers to train and continue their education. They are teaching kids, but who’s teaching them and how do they continue to grow in their field. So that’s where Studio 4 Dance Center came from. It is just fulfilling to offer adult classes to instructors who want to continue their craft or who are moms who haven’t taken tap dance since high school and just miss it. I just wanted to create that space and allow adults to reconnect with their passion for dance. Our focus is providing opportunities for adults, however, there are some really advanced kids in Richmond that hit a ceiling at their recital based studios that join our classes.
How did VCU prepare you for this journey?
I learned very early on how to be flexible and how to create my own lane. Radio broadcasting was the lane, and that was the track I was headed to and I never ever would have imagined that I could branch off and do something by myself. At VCU the students on campus are encouraged to participate in different social activities and clubs. They accepted ‘4 the Streets Choreography’ with open arms, so they prepared me in the flexibility, but also in the realm of not being afraid to expand.
What is your favorite part about owning the business?
My favorite part is seeing people’s eyes and hearts light back up and when they are reconnecting with something they didn’t think they could still do. It is the realization when dancers are like “Oh, I never realized that I could keep doing ballet, even though I have three kids.” or “I can still be a professional dancer and perform on the weekends, even though I’m a social worker.” There are a lot of people in Richmond that get stuck in the mindset of this is my career and there are any outside activities I can participate in. I love seeing those Aha moments when people realize they can dance and their dance career is not over.
What are you most proud of?
The thing that I’m most proud of is the RVA Dance Awards. Richmond is a small dance community and to be able to give smaller studios the recognition is so exciting and meaningful..
Small business dance studio owners are the people who put their blood, sweat and tears into making their personal dance company the best. I love being able to let dancers know that your work is not in vain. I love allowing other dancers to celebrate each other, because it’s very rare that we’re all in a room together and we’re all celebrating each other.
In 2020, we did do the event virtually over social media. We had to take away a few categories that weren’t applicable, but we added some new categories too! We had a best pivot award, which went to the studio that was able to pivot the best. The awardees were still able to have their acceptance speech moment. I surprised all of the nominees with a swag bag and their trophy. They said it meant a lot to them, which again warms my heart, so they still had those moments.
Where do you see yourself and Studio 4 dance Center in the next five years?
Hopefully, I would love to open a second location. Right now we’re in Stony Point Fashion Park, but I would love to open a second location, a standalone location downtown or maybe in Scott’s Addition. At the end of that five years, I would love to be opening a third location in the D.C. area for the Agency and the dance center. I would love to represent dancers along the east coast through the agency.