My old dance studio, Karen Hardy Studios, closed down this week. It had been trying to change form for a while, but couldn’t survive 2020.
It was a lovely, complicated place. As with any dance studio it had its fair share of politics, drama, and occasional creepy men. It sometimes muddied the idea of being glamorous with being elite. And the prices could be eye-watering.
But it wasn’t cynical. Karen herself was charismatic, skilled, and put the effort into knowing you. The staff poured their heart and soul into their work. The students had goals, workplans, written histories, and a solid idea of what they were working towards and why. The management continually developed and iterated new ideas, honing in on what worked (big Christmas parties, internal progress medals, almost-daily communications) and what didn’t (Sunday evening social dances, website member areas, complex lesson packages). The events were huge, star-studded, and lingered long in the memory. The studio building had a bar and lounge for chatting long after your lesson had finished, which *I actually did*, and encouraged you to call in when passing. It was a good setup.
And it was great at lifting me out of the world. For a couple of hours a week I was looked after, taught a skill and encouraged – in a little land of sparkles and catharsis. No matter what else was happening in my life, I walked in and felt better. And the ultimate otherworldly experiences were the international dancing competitions. These were whirlwinds of light and terror and camaraderie. I still get a contented glow thinking about them – particularly the Disney trips.
The world of competitive dancing is, like any other niche, full of tradition and social mores that have evolved and tessellated over the decades. It is often charming (infectious enthusiasm for *everything*), regularly idiosyncratic (let’s merge the bronze and gold level couples), and sometimes downright weird (international competition compères). It is regularly confusing even for people who know what they’re doing. At the top level it is run by competing cartels who will have nothing to do with each other, but who control their own domains by a mixture of rules, grandiosity, appeals to tradition, dubious claims to authority, and ever-so-polite ostracism. The big competitions have the not-entirely-unreasonable but not-entirely-reconcilable dual aims of calibrating dance skill while bringing in as much money as possible. The venues are full of competitors who have been dancing since they were 4, know the industry inside out, and who don’t really know what to say to a bunch of amateurs from London there for the teacher/student competitions.
The studio did a good job of filtering out this oddness. We pretty much sailed through it all on a wave of glitter, fear, and punch-drunk elation. Dance. Wait. Cheer. Check timings. Dance. Explore. Did I eat? Eat. Dance. Check timings. Console. Cheer. Food? Check timings. Somehow late. Run. Watch the superhuman professionals. Sleep. Repeat. All while looked after by the ever-excellent teachers.
I was always far more nervous about the social aspects than the dancing, but those competitions gave me huge (and much-needed) boosts in social confidence. Despite my being a bit weird and a lot quiet, I made friends who I would help move mountains to this day. (You weren’t allowed to be proper friends with the teachers or staff, though. You can see the theoretical reasons for this. Thankfully this worked fine and never caused any problems.)
It was a good few years. Ultimately I left the studio and discovered the wider London dance scene. But I fondly remember my time there, and I’m sad it’s gone.
Thank you to all the teachers and staff who ran the place. You were and are appreciated! You did a good thing.