Linda Green knows a thing or two about rhythm. The longtime dance instructor and choreographer has built her life blending body and beat.
But over the years, one rhythm has seemed unrelenting, tugging at Green’s heels as she watched hundreds of students pass through The Art of Dance Studio, one of only a few predominantly black dance studios in the Twin Cities.
A crossroads looms. The studio’s recent move from Minneapolis to Brooklyn Park dealt a body blow to enrollment numbers. Green now has about 60 students and hopes to rally back to 100. Rising rent and the desire for a more visible site drove her from the urban core, leaving the woman whose studio once drew the support of Prince’s foundation fighting to start over in a new location.
“I’m getting older,” said Green, 56. “It got me thinking, how do I want to continue on?”
To weather turnover during summer break, she has even set up a GoFundMe page to help sponsor students for her summer dance camp. She’s also raising money for a new marquee sign. It’s part of her dogged effort to press forward, all while the dancers she has mentored from the studio’s founding grow up and say goodbye.
Many leave for college. Others keep dancing, going on to perform for professional sports teams and popular artists like Gwen Stefani and Pharrell.
Such sea changes come with the territory of owning a successful dance studio, Green says. And they make moments like this weekend, which marks her 15th annual recital, both buoyant and bittersweet, she adds.
What’s more, this year’s batch of graduating dancers includes her youngest daughter, Malia Green, whose age cohort has been with Green since she founded the studio in Minneapolis in 2002.
“What am I going to do without them? They are the studio,” Green said.
Green’s studio has made a name for itself in the dance community through vibrant recitals, competition groups and high-profile performances, including multiple invitations to Paisley Park before and after Prince’s death.
But her upcoming recital, with performances Friday and Saturday at Brooklyn Center High School, may be among her toughest hurdles yet.
“It’s a 15-year milestone, but it’s the end of something, too,” Green said.
‘We bring the power’
Students travel from around the metro to attend The Art of Dance, which offers classes for 3-year-old students to adults in a variety of genres, including hip-hop, jazz, ballet, musical theater and tap.
Its diverse offerings set Green’s operation apart from other black studios, said Angel Adams, a longtime instructor.
“With most African-American studios, you think they’re just going to do hip-hop, but we have lyrical and tap and contemporary,” Adams said.
The studio also is known for its emphasis on classical technique, students say.
“When we go to competitions, we are definitely in peoples’ mouths because we bring the power,” said 17-year-old Myah Ashley-Staple.
Parents say the studio is like a family.
“My daughter didn’t care if they had moved to the moon. We would have come here,” said Sherriet Campbell, an Oakdale mom. “This is her life.”
While classes, competitions and costumes can be a big financial ask, several groups over the years have helped Green and her team bring dance to young people who may otherwise go without. The Ann Bancroft Foundation, which provides grants of up to $500 to Minnesota girls for various activities, has awarded more than $15,000 to 32 girls training at The Art of Dance.
“Linda Green has an enthusiasm for her work that is contagious,” said Sara Fenlason, the foundation’s executive director.
Before its move last year, the studio also worked with several Minneapolis parks to put on summer dance camps through a partnership with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.
The studio has come a long way from its early days in North High School. Prince’s “Love 4 One Another” charity helped Green secure and renovate the studio’s first Minneapolis location in the Warehouse District.
Prince will be featured this year along with other artists in the annual recital, which has a theme of “15 & Fabulous with the Icons.” During recent rehearsals, Green coached students through routines, pushing for energy and precision.
For those like Waswa Kalema, this weekend brings a sense of finality.
“Once I do the recital, my dancing career here is kind of over,” said Kalema, who is graduating from high school. “But the studio made me who I am.”
Green’s daughter Malia can say the same.
“I grew up here,” said Malia, 17. “It’s my life.”
Soon, Malia will be heading to North Dakota State University, where she has already made the dance team. The void she leaves behind has made Green wonder where to go from here. Moving forward, Green says she may focus more on the production side of recitals and step away from other responsibilities.
Regardless, she says she’ll keep dancing.
“I love it so much, so I pick myself right back up,” Green said. “I wouldn’t want to do anything else.”