Linda Valentino, founder and President/Studio Director of the Downtown Dance & Movement (DDM) studio has just announced that LA’s choreographer, dancer, producer and educator Kai Hazelwood will take over the position of Artistic Director. I met with Valentino and Hazelwood at the studio for an interview.  Until the LA Dance Platform/American Dance Abroad events this past spring, I did not know this studio existed. Downtown Dance & Movement is the only state of the art dance studio located in the center of downtown Los Angeles. The word is out now and Kai Hazelwood has plans to expand and increase the visibility of this spacious and beautiful dance center.

Valentino, herself a dance instructor, opened Downtown Dance & Movement in 2015 with the idea of providing a rental facility for dance companies and commercial dance choreographers. It is a large space with several studios, dressing rooms, office and lobby and it is expensive to maintain. At a renter’s advice to make a go of her business, Valentino began offering non-professional dance classes that has grown to cover a wide spectrum of styles including Salsa, Tango, Lindy Hop, Hustle, Swing, Tap, Contemporary, Hip Hop, Heels, Jazz Funk, Zumba, Pound!, Cardio Dance, World Beat, Align Ballet Method, and more.

When Valentino found the space, it was a “dirty, filthy warehouse space”. It took seven months for the architect to draw up the plans, seven more months to get permits from the city and another seven months to get the space ready to open the doors. She explained that it also took another several months of finishing up the construction, but at least it was functional enough to rent out the space.

During this time, Valentino was also building her faculty and talking to Kai Hazelwood about what they could do with the studio. Valentino had been teaching Argentine Tango for twenty years, which is how she met Hazelwood. “She’s an amazing teacher!” Hazelwood said.

Over the years Valentino had made many contacts with dance teachers in and around LA. She has always wanted DDM to be a place “where all types of dance could cross-pollinate and to come together underneath one roof.” She enjoys the fact that a student can walk out of one class, peek into another studio and see a Tango or Hip Hop class taking place, and want to try a few classes in that style as well.

Studio 1 (2) Studio 1 (3) Studio 1 Studio 2 Barres 3 Studio 2 Barres Studio 2 Studio 3 & 4 panorama Studio 3 with drapes and Bose speakers Studio 4 with drapes and Bose speakers
Downtown Dance & Movement Studio 3 with drapes and Bose speakers

The DDM was primarily being rented by commercial dance artists, but it was Hazelwood who has reached out to the concert dance community to bring them into the studio for rehearsals and performances.

Kai Hazelwood’s training includes 6 years at the San Francisco Ballet School, summer programs at Dance Theater of Harlem and Alvin Ailey, and training at the Kirov Ballet in Saint Petersburg, Russia. After a contract with the Oakland Ballet Company, Kai relocated to Los Angeles to complete her BFA at UCLA.

Before moving to LA, Hazelwood was on the faculty and Dance Outreach Coordinator at the American Musical & Dramatic Academy (AMDA) College & Conservatory. She has been a guest choreographer with Martz Contemporary Dance Company in Barcelona Spain and toured with Axis Dance Company. Currently Hazelwood is the Resident Choreographer for Theatre Dybbuk, an Artist in Residence for The City of Los Angeles’ Cultural Affairs Department, and the Artistic Director of Kai Hazelwood + Colab. In 2017 she was chosen as an Arts Omi International Arts Center Choreographic Resident, produced two evenings of her work and presented works on the Black Choreographer’s Festival in San Francisco. As a teacher, Hazelwood specializes in contemporary, ballet, improvisation, composition and dance literacy. An admitted workaholic, Hazelwood is also the Dance Director at College Audition LA.

After asking her colleagues in LA what was needed, the answer that she most received was spaces to present works-in-progress. She and Valentino agreed that they had the space, and therefore decided to open DDM up to the professional dance community. It is a space where choreographers can show a work, receive feedback, develop the work further and present it again. This is what can be found in other large cities such as New York and San Francisco, but which is not in abundance in Los Angeles.  Highways and Brockus Projects Studios are two others that offer this possibility. Kai created a series of works-in-progress showings under the title Dance In Progress. So far, DDM has presented six such performances over the past year and a half. Some of the artists who have appeared on Dance In Progress include: WHYTEBERG (Laura Berg and Gracie Whyte-Coad), Shieldwall Dance Co. (Sean Green), WEWOLF (James Gregg and Rauf Yasit), Yusha Sorzano, BB Moves (Bernard Brown), Contemporary Arte in Movement (Laurie Muniz), Palm Dance Collective (Carisa Carroll), and Siza Dance Co. (Lyndsi Zapata).

We discussed the need for dance coverage and promotion in Los Angeles and how people within the dance community are stepping up to fill in that void. There are a lot of people who live in downtown LA, and the performances at DDM have been one way that has helped to expand the audience base for dance. “That is why I am so excited about this space,” Hazelwood said. “It can serve as a kind of hub to create and to develop.”

Contemporary Modern Dance Collective (CMDC) is closing its doors and so rather than letting it disappear, Hazelwood has taken on the project of saving those classes by moving them into DDM beginning on October 12, 2018. The roster at CMDC includes approximately 48 teachers. Just some of the faculty that are moving over to DDM include Laura Karlin (Invertigo Dance Theatre), Becca Lemme (Acts of Matter), Andrew Pearson (Bodies in Play), Kate Hutter (Los Angeles Contemporary Dance Company), Koryn Wicks (Eunoia Dance Experiments), and Robyn O’Dell (Jam Today Dance Theatre). Some of the new faculty will include Brigitte Dunn-Korpela (B. Dunn Movement), Kyle Abraham (Abraham.In.Motion), Bernard Brown (BB Moves), Yusha Sorzano (Ballet), and Sara Silkin (Choreographer/Director/Writer). Hazelwood said that it is an opportunity to develop new teachers, allow students to be exposed to new or different dance styles, and for dancers to be seen by choreographers and possibly hired.

All the planning of what DDM could become and what the possibilities of this beautiful space held, began when Hazelwood returned from Europe. She thought that Valentino had opened a small, storefront studio and was overwhelmed when she walked into the center for the first time. She helped plan and develop the space on a project by project basis before she agreed to take on the position of Artistic Director three months ago.

This is not yet a full-time job for Hazelwood, who is still working with Theatre Dybbuk and Kai Hazelwood + Colab. She hopes to bring CMDC into the Dance In Progress umbrella hub to include performances, artists in residence, international artists in residence and specialty workshops. They have already hosted one artist from the United Kingdom, Neus Gil Cortes of Nua dance company, who choreographed a new work and presented it on the Dance In Progress series.

None of the above will impact the schedule that already exists at the DDM. Valentino said. “I don’t see this new adventure as change, but as growth.” She has always wanted to integrate all forms of dance. The center has become more visible over the past two years because of auditions and rehearsals that occur there. When I arrived for the interview, the TV show So You Think You Can Dance was filming in the larger studio and had been renting it for the entire month. This has helped inform a lot of dancers to the fact that DDM exists for taking class, etc.

I not only wanted to bring in more professional companies in for rehearsals and performances,” Valentino said. “I see this as a place where the commercial dance teachers can come in and create a whole new community.” There is a large potential for this because Los Angeles has an abundance of dance programs that are in close proximity to DDM. Valentino named a few: Colburn School, USC’s Glorya Kauffman School of Dance, Performing Arts High School, and the one on Cal Tech Campus that are within a couple of miles from her center.

I think that all of these kids would love to come and take commercial dance classes at 5:30 or 6 PM.” She added. “They’re already here or very close by.

Although Hazelwood is taking over as Artistic Director, Valentino is not going anywhere. She is staying around to help expand the programs that she launched three years ago. She and Hazelwood are working together in hopes of creating a “home for dance artists in Los Angeles“.

To learn more about Downtown Dance & Movement, click here.

To learn more about Kai Hazelwood, click here.