Dreams Dance Academy
by Heather Turbeville
Growing pains. They aren’t just muscle aches that wake up kids in the middle of the night. Jenny O’Brien’s Dreams Dance Academy experienced growing pains almost from the beginning.
Located in St. Charles, Illinois, Dreams Dance Academy offers classes in ballet, tap, jazz, lyrical, hip-hop, musical theater, contemporary, modern, yoga, and stretching/conditioning to 300 students ages 2 and older. O’Brien founded the school as a traveling studio in 2012, offering classes at community centers in various towns, typically two days a week in each space. She quickly outgrew the community centers and moved into a permanent space in 2013, or so she thought. Within a year and a half, she had outgrown the facility and was searching for a space with room to grow.
In July 2015, O’Brien signed a lease for a new space that required a complete build-out and renovation. “The space I moved into had been empty for eight years,” O’Brien says. “I took two units; one had been an office and still had that office look, but the other unit had been gutted down to the studs—no drywall or anything. I had a blank canvas to work with, which seemed overwhelming at first, but it was a huge positive to start from scratch.”
O’Brien’s landlord handled the construction, and O’Brien worked one on one with a project manager from the building management’s staff for the design.
O’Brien faced a short time frame for the build-out. She sublet her old space to a business that needed it the day summer session ended (in mid-August). “By the time I found a space I felt 110 percent about,” she says, “it was summer and I needed to open in my new location by fall session.
“We were homeless for a few weeks,” O’Brien says, but by then the summer session had ended, and she was able to do administrative work from home. Construction on the new space was supposed to be complete the first week in September. O’Brien rightly suspected that it wouldn’t be done on time.
Fortunately, another dance studio in town had just closed, and O’Brien was able to hold the first few weeks of classes there. (Coincidentally, she had bought ballet barres and other equipment from that studio a few months prior.) “It was rough and extremely stressful as I had a lot of eager parents and dancers waiting for our new home,” O’Brien says, “but October 1 we passed final inspection and held classes in our new space that night. We didn’t have any furniture or much of anything, but all we needed was each other and some music. It was worth the wait and stress.”
The final product
The new 4,100-square-foot space has three classrooms of 540 square feet, 1,000 square feet, and 1,250 square feet each. The classrooms all have StageStep sprung floors and Bluetooth-enabled stereo systems.
“We don’t have viewing windows into the classrooms,” O’Brien says. “I have taught at studios that have them, and it is often distracting for the dancers. However, each studio door has a glass window so parents can see in.”
Other amenities include a dancer den—which has a refrigerator, a table to eat at, and desks for doing homework—and a combination storage room/staff lounge.
O’Brien says that she consistently gets compliments on the decor and design of the studio. The color scheme is pink, black, and white with silver and gold accents. The colors continue outside with a pink stencil on the glass door and a pink chair just outside the entrance.
The lobby in particular sports bold design choices, such as black ceilings and chairs upholstered in fabric with a black-and-white zigzag pattern. A modern chandelier adds a touch of luxury. But the space is practical—there are also cubbies for students to store their things.
All of the exterior walls are brick, and each classroom has an exposed brick wall. “It gives such a cool city vibe to our suburban studio,” O’Brien says.
“Everywhere you look, whether it is framed artwork or [a] wall decal, there are positive quotes,” O’Brien says. There is an inspiration wall in one of the classrooms full of these quotes. According to O’Brien, “It really does help to maintain the positive atmosphere my staff and I work so hard to have.”
For studio owners who are considering a move or a remodel, O’Brien recommends checking out other studios that would be open to you visiting, and looking on Pinterest. “For a few years I had a Dream Studio board on Pinterest with ideas. Getting those visuals really helps in the decorating process,” O’Brien says. “Your lobby is the first thing people see when they walk in; make it bright, unique, and inviting.”
DSL copy editor Heather Turbeville holds an MFA in creative writing and literature from Emerson College. She lives in San Francisco, where she writes fiction, studies belly dance, and performs with The Zakiyya Dancers.