For the Diaz sisters, dance isn’t just a family business — it’s a way of life
By Brian Marks
It’s not difficult to find images of dance studios in popular culture. Film and television abound with portrayals that feature grubby, poorly-lit studios run by grizzled and domineering former ballerinas.
That’s not the case with the Diaz Studio of Dance. Founded by four sisters, Diaz Studio maintains a bright, clean, state-of-the-art setting in Culver City for dancers to work on their form and learn some new moves. Students of the budding dance school show off some of those moves on Sunday with an 11 a.m. mini-performance at the Mar Vista Farmers’ Market.
The Diaz sisters — Rhiana, Kira, Jade and Paige — have been dancing only slightly less time than they’ve been standing upright. Born and raised in Chicago, the four young girls were the beneficiaries of parents who instilled the joys of dancing from an early age.
“Our mom was born and raised in the heart of Chicago,” explains Kira. “She always said that when she was a little girl she would have loved to have been in dance classes, but growing up in the city it wasn’t really an option. So she always thought, ‘If I ever have little girls, I’m going to put them in dance lessons.’”
Rhiana, the eldest daughter, was the first to start dance lessons at age 2, but her younger sister Kira wasn’t far behind.
“I was in dance class as a really little girl, and here’s Kira,” says Rhiana. “They didn’t even make tap shoes small enough for her, so my mom bought little patent leather shoes and put taps on the bottom for her because she wanted to do tap. So she was dancing before she was even in a class!”
The sisters’ professional training spans years of practicing ballet, tap, jazz, hip hop and musical theater. Teachers include famed dance luminaries Joel Hall and Avnun Yakubov as well as Roland Dupree, a dancer in the classic Hollywood era whose movements formed the template for the eponymous character in Walt Disney’s “Peter Pan.”
The Diaz girls would go on to work as dancers and choreographers for an impressive list of the country’s largest media companies and organizations: ABC, NBC, CBS, MTV, Apple, Radio Disney, Nickelodeon and Walt Disney World, just to name a few.
They’ve dabbled in other careers beyond dancing as well. Rhiana and Kira have both worked in advertising for much of the past decade, and Jade has worked in production for MTV Networks and Viacom in the last few years. Working in the entertainment industry necessitated a move to California, which made Culver City a logical choice when Jade first pitched the idea of a dance studio to her sisters. The proximity to neighborhood schools, as well as major entertainment companies, made it an attractive location for both young students and adult dancers when it opened in April.
Visitors to the Diaz Studio of Dance enter through glass panels into a tastefully minimalist white waiting room, which transitions into the studio’s dance space. The studio area features colored lighting that responds to the music, giving dancers the feeling of being onstage in a professional production.
The studio’s floor is designed to absorb shock and extend the working life of a dancer. The floor is given a special spring through the weaving of wooden battens. Foam and rubber, as well as a vinyl topping, create a soft material that helps to cut down on the wear and tear dancers suffer over their lifetime from dancing on hard, unforgiving surfaces.
The studio’s slogan, “Build Confidence Through Dance,” adorns the walls and underlines the sisters’ mission to help amateur dancers excel. One of its most popular classes, “Music Video Pop,” is a kind of introduction to jazz dance through a more recent vernacular.
“Not everybody’s familiar with the term ‘jazz,’” clarifies Jade. “It’s not quite hip hop, not quite jazz, kind of a jazz-funk hybrid. But you feel like a backup dancer for a pop star.”
Even though all four Diaz sisters have worked for some of the most impressive media companies in the country, it’s their new studio and the ability to work with each other that brings them the most pride.
“To be honest, this has been the best work project I’ve ever experienced,” says Paige. “I love working with my sisters, who are also my best friends, and it’s what we’re truly passionate about. So this means more to me than anything else I’ve ever worked on.”
The Diaz Studio of Dance (3816 Culver Center Drive, Culver City) performs at 11 a.m. on Sunday (Aug. 19) at the Mar Vista Farmers Market, 3826 Grand View Blvd., Mar Vista. Call (424) 603-4650 or visit diazstudioofdance.com.