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Athletic Garage Dance Center Introduces Everyone to The Magical World of Dance

By Pamela Sosnowski

When Sandy Portaro founded Athletic Garage Dance Center of Pasadena in 1999, she intended it to be a dance studio for the community, and where all members of a family could dance and get fit together. Today the studio features its own competitive dance team, hosts recurring salsa nights, and performs professionally at three annual themed dance shows.

"The Athletic Garage was founded in 1999 to give the community a way to stay fit through dance and dance fitness," she explains. "I am a retired RN, and I wanted to focus more on wellness, and dance is an exceptional way to stay healthy and fit. Originally an adult studio, Athletic Garage has now become a studio for all ages 7 and up. Over the years it has developed into a dance center where we instruct dancers of all levels and ages in most every style of dance from classical dance, ballet, and contemporary to hip hop, jazz funk, and Latin dance."

Classes include Kids Hip Hop, Jazz Funk, Contemporary, Core Conditioning & Stretch, and more. One-hour classes cost only $15 to attend (and are $10 on Fridays) and discounted pricing is available for those that wish to commit to a series of classes.

All of Athletic Garage Dance Center's instructors have extensive dance training and experience; many have performed on television, on the stage, and in music videos. Several also work as choreographers and directors. When asked what sets the studio apart from so many others, Portaro responds "with heart."

"The Athletic Garage Dance Center puts the student first; it nurtures the dancer of all ages and all levels in an non-judgmental and non-intimidating environment. It's one big family here. One instructor calls it a 'black hole of love'; an alumni scholarship student said it's her 'sanctuary'. We have over 24 top choreographers who are from all over L.A., the country, and the world, with two requirements: that they teach for the student and they leave out the competitive attitude. We want dance to be fun, cathartic, and expressive."

One of the studio's favorite community events is its salsa night, which Portaro began three years ago with Desi Jevon, a noted salsa choreographer and teacher. Portaro and her husband purchased a 6,000 square-foot warehouse right next to the dance studio, and transformed it by adding a 2,500 square-foot sprung dance floor, and wall insulation.

"My hope was 'build it and they will come'", she explains. "Salsa night was inspired because so many salsa clubs are so small you can barely dance, and Pasadena needed a fun salsa club. We transform the warehouse into a dance club with cloth covered tables, photo area, and a lounge area. We bring in a fabulous live band, Daniel y La Guajira, and our salsa company, Calle Caliente Dance Company, gives a short performance every event." Salsa Nights Pasadena are held every other month on Fridays from 8 PM to midnight. Admission is $15 to attend the lesson beforehand; $10 for just the dance and festivities. This month features a Halloween dress-up dance party.

Every spring, summer, and holiday season the studio's students and professional instructors perform for the public. Each show begins with a short play that Portaro's husband writes to set the theme for the night. "The World of dance Showcase" is held in the spring, the steamy "Calle Caliente" celebrates the summer, and "Mistletoes" gets attendees into the holiday spirit, using all styles of dance to entertain.

No matter which genre of dance students are learning, Portaro wants everyone to leave a lesson feeling happy and uplifted. "They are so much fun that you leave exhausted but always with a smile," she says. "That's the goal of all my instructors (and students); to forget about life for an hour or so and just dance!"

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