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Brother, can you spare a studio?

Local dance studio may be losing its home



San Luis Obispo’s population of homeless artists may grow significantly in February, adding dozens of dancers to the ranks of this sad demographic. The cause? World Rhythm and Motion Studio, which has called the eye-catching purple structure adjacent to the Greyhound station home for nearly five years, will soon have no such residence. And if the lone dance studio that focuses its classes on adults and multi-cultured genres of dance closes, SLO’s performing arts community will be greatly diminished.

At the beginning of June, Jenna Mitchell, the owner of World Rhythm and Motion Studio, received an e-mail from a real estate agent who wanted to discuss her plans for the studio since Greyhound would not be renewing its lease the following February. She was stunned; until then she hadn’t received any notice that Greyhound was even considering leaving the building it had occupied since the 1960s, and if the company that she subleased from was leaving there was little doubt that her studio would have to relocate as well.

Mitchell quickly scheduled a meeting with the building’s owner, only to learn that he expected to rent the space at market

THEY ARE FAMILY :  (l-r, above) Tahitian dance teacher Leilani Torres, Irish Claddagh School dancer Grace Price, African dance instructor Marsha Butler, Middle Eastern dance instructor Jenna Mitchell (l-r, below) Middle Eastern dance teacher Janet Phillips, Tahitian dance s - PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • THEY ARE FAMILY : (l-r, above) Tahitian dance teacher Leilani Torres, Irish Claddagh School dancer Grace Price, African dance instructor Marsha Butler, Middle Eastern dance instructor Jenna Mitchell (l-r, below) Middle Eastern dance teacher Janet Phillips, Tahitian dance s
value, more than four times what the studio is currently paying. Mitchell clings to the hope that the space might not rent immediately when it is scheduled to become available, in February, and she might continue paying her current rent until the owner locates a new tenant. But rumors that the building might require repairs could mean that the studio will have to abandon its current space earlier rather than later.

When she first received the missive, Mitchell met with the various instructors that lease studio space from her, discussing their various options. Because she considers the studio a community, it was important for everyone to provide input. They agreed to remain at their current location for as long as possible. But the performing arts collective had already been cut out of the information loop, placing the studio—and Mitchell—in a state of limbo while they await any definite information. The experience is frustratingly familiar for many of the dance instructors, who have already survived several moves with the studio.

Mitchell first began renting the space from the Greyhound station in 2004. She got a good deal on the rent on the condition that the studio would accept the space as is. Originally Greyhound used the space as a cafeteria. Then, Center Point Theater transformed the various rooms into an underground theater venue. According to Mitchell, the theater group was responsible for painting the exterior purple—without Greyhound’s permission.

When Mitchell assumed responsibility for the studio—around 1999—it existed as a dance venue titled In Motion, occupying a small single-studio warehouse space on Francis Street. Despite the fact that she already bore the responsibilities of full-time employment, Mitchell agreed to co-purchase the studio with another local dance instructor. Within a year, however, she found herself the sole owner.

Discontented with the warehouse dance space with the roll-up entrance, Mitchell relocated the group to a beautiful space downtown, which had previously been occupied by the yoga center. But within a couple of months the restaurant beneath the studio—Gigi’s—was sold to new owners who didn’t appreciate the movement taking place above.

When that second space closed the various dance instructors scattered; for her part, Mitchell worked under the wing of Central Coast Gymnastics.

“We were kind of dispersed but with the idea of getting back together,” explained Mitchell. “Before the studio opened there was no home for multi-cultural or modern dance, some of the fringe dance movements.”

After two years of wandering and back and forth in communication with the corporate Greyhound base in Texas, Mitchell received the green light to move into the new space. The venue had been empty for two years and the “as is” contingency of the rental agreement covered a host of evils, from water damage to electricity and plumbing issues. And Mitchell wasn’t a particular fan of the black paint that covered every inch of her studio, from top to bottom. In addition to the time she spent making dumpster runs and scraping the floors, Mitchell estimates that she has invested at least $30,000 in the studio.

Today, the primary dance space consists of a 34-foot-by-30-foot floor with one wall of mirrors, six masks lining the wall above the mirrors and various wall hangings lending the space a touch of the exotic. Mitchell installed new lighting, making the studio performance-ready. A second smaller studio resides in the middle of the building, also lined with masks that Mitchell acquired during her travels. She teaches Middle Eastern Dance at the studio, and wants the space to have a multi-cultural atmosphere that compliments the diversity of dance styles—like hula, belly dance, Irish, Tahitian, African, and modern—that have found a home at World Rhythm and Motion Studio. And Studio 3, the proverbial baby dance space, is a 15-foot-by-14-foot recent addition.

Despite all the work, World Rhythm and Motion Studio is by no means polished and sparkling. Mitchell is the first to acknowledge that the performance venue remains a work in progress, but the investments she has already made were intended to be long-term.

“We were trying to make the capital improvements because we thought that we could stay here for a long time,” she explained. “Each time you move you have to start over. Only in the last couple of months we’ve finally got to the point where we can start to pay ourselves back for the thousands that we put into it.”

Over the last couple of weeks, Mitchell has been searching for alternative space. But so far, the only performance venues within her price range are single-studio roll-top warehouses like the one the group utilized nearly 10 years ago.

The worst possible conclusion to Mitchell’s tale—and the community’s as well, given that Mitchell regards World Rhythm and Motion studio as communal property—is for the studio to close and various dance instructors to scatter. It’s not the loss of the floor and mirrors that Mitchell regrets, but the loss of a home, and an alternative to the dance studios that exclusively offer ballet, jazz, and tap.

“This has been a great place for adults to try new things,” she concluded. “Parents are looking for alternatives for their kids to get exposed to new cultures. You can just fall in love with something from another culture and it widens your horizons and this community needs that so much.”


INFOBOX: Got rhythm?

World Rhythm and Motion Studio is located at 150 South Street in SLO. For more information visit or call 596-0609.

Arts Editor Ashley Schwellenbach dances mental jigs every day of her life. Send hard cider to


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