|Joshua Grant, standing behind dance student, and his partner Christopher E. Montoya, right, inside their new studio, Dance Conservatory Seattle. photo @ Marcia Davis|
It was raining the day I drove down to South Park to visit the newly-opened Dance Conservatory Seattle.
Even without the weather, I might have missed the studio if co-founder Joshua Grant hadn’t told me specifically that its exterior was white and blue. The scruffy industrial building, surrounded by a chain link fence, hardly looks the part of a new arts center. We all know, though, that looks can be deceiving.
Dance Conservatory Seattle occupies more than 6,000 square feet in a former warehouse. Grant, with his husband and business partner, Christopher E. Montoya, found the empty space this past summer.
Somehow they saw magic in the scuffed and stained indoor/outdoor carpeting in the offices, the dinged-up walls and the vast, high-ceiling, cement-floored loading dock. That’s where they installed a sprung dance floor, almost the size of Pacific Northwest Ballet’s largest rehearsal studio.
Stacks of lumber wait for the couple to transform these raw building supplies into risers they hope will provide seating for audiences who attend live performances. When I arrived, a ballet class was just wrapping up, under the watchful eyes of two standard poodles and a tiny dog named Gizmo.
|The family poodles watch Joshua Grant, left, with Christopher E. Montoya |
photo @ Marcia Davis
Grant and Montoya hatched the plan to open their own dance school in the midst of this pandemic. Grant, a PNB soloist, had been sidelined after Governor Inslee ordered a ban on public gatherings in March 2020, part of the effort to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
He and Montoya, who was then director at Dance Fremont, started teaching what they called “rogue ballet classes” for very small groups of dancers at Yaw Theater in Georgetown. Several of their students urged the couple to open their own school. That’s when they started the search for an appropriate, and affordable, space.
The South Park location “reeked of regret and disappointment,” the couple says. Aside from the stained carpeting and walls missing large paint patches, the former tenants had tried to convert an upstairs office—illegally--into a bathroom. A piece of white plastic hose still dangles from the room’s wooden ceiling. But since taking occupancy this summer, Grant and Montoya have been hard at work. In addition to building a dance floor, they’ve spruced up the entryway with new floors, paint, and original artwork on the walls. Devoted students helped build out changing rooms and a little lounge area.
This fall, Dance Conservatory Seattle only offers open classes, for vaccinated adults. Grant teaches ballet; Montoya also offers jazz and modern instruction, and they bring in guest instructors when they can. Ultimately, Montoya says they dream of creating a school that welcomes anyone, regardless of gender identification, race, or body type. They plan to create a curriculum for children as well, once they have wide access to COVID vaccinations.
While both dancers are classically trained, they envision an environment that’s less rigid than what they grew up with.
“We want to train thinkers, not soldiers,” he says.
|Christopher E. Montoya, left, with Joshua Grant performing "Les Sylphides"|
with Les Ballets Trockadero
Beyond that, the couple, who met while performing with the drag troupe Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, are committed to "ungendering" dances. The Trocks are known for a comedic take on classical ballet; Grant and Montoya imagine a future where a trained dancer of any gender could take on roles like Giselle or Swan Lake’s Odette/Odile, without hiding behind the label "drag."
Beyond training students who’ve traditionally had access to arts classes, they couple wants to encourage South Park neighbors who may not have had an opportunity to dance in a professional studio, to come take a class. As Grant says, talent is distributed equally; access has not been as equitable.
If you’re interested in checking out Dance Conservatory Seattle, they’re holding an open house on Sunday, November 14th.