A good dancer is recognizable in any setting. Whether it’s the star of a big-budget musical or a hungry artist performing on the street, most people instinctively know a talented dancer when they see one. The setting of the performance, however, and what it says in tandem with the music and the choreography, tends to get ignored; it’s a rather puzzling, undeserved snub for such an integral element to the artform.
Not so at the Viva Dance studio. Situated on the top floor of a repurposed factory, the atmosphere is strikingly different from most studios. “A lot of studios are boxes, you know?” observes Parker Amsel, co-owner and dance instructor at Viva Dance Studios. “This studio is—well, I don’t even know how to describe this.” Shani Mayer, a world-renowned Zouk and Kizomba dancer, gave the studio some high praise after a visit: “She said this is the dopest studio she’s ever seen,” beamed Amsel.
“Industrial elegance,” as Amsel whimsically put it, actually describes the space quite nicely. Bare brick walls and remnants of heavy machinery give the wide, high-ceilinged room a distinctly Cleveland feel, not to mention the absolutely stunning view of downtown through a windowed wall that spans an entire section of the studio. The space is truly remarkable and is the main reason Amsel and his co-owners, Heriberto Perez and Rebecca Sweet, decided to open the studio there.
Amsel first encountered the space while he was exploring the halls outside of Negative Space gallery, where a friend was hosting an open mic night. “I saw these big glass doors that were unlocked, so I walked in and checked it out,” he recalls, “and it was this huge, beautiful place with this amazing view of downtown.” He quickly contacted Perez and Sweet, both of whom were already successful dance instructors, and they too fell in love with the place upon seeing it.
Since overcoming the initial challenging task of building out the space from a vacant, cavernous space to the stylish dance studio it is now, Viva Dance has been holding dance classes with a wide range of styles. “We have instructors for all different styles, whatever you are looking for,” Amsel points out, and you don’t have to have a background in dance to join in, either. “We have progressive group classes. All of our level one progressive classes are complete beginner [classes].”
“We really focus on lead and follow, and not just patterns, so you can go out and dance with anybody and have it work,” Amsel explains. “Some places just focus on patterns and you can really only dance with other people from that type of studio.” That’s handy, because in addition to the classes, Viva Dance regularly hosts parties and performances for dancers of all skill levels. Their popular weekly events have a much different feel than events at other studios: “Most studio parties feel like a dance studio practice session,” Amsel explains. “Well, our parties really feel like you’re no longer at a studio. You’re at a club.”
West Siders tend to view the East Side as some sort of impenetrable labyrinth that begins as soon as the numbered street signs change from “W.” to “E.” However, located at 1541 E. 38th St. in the Asian Town Center building, the studio is more than easily accessible. “It’s actually not that far to get to, because we’re right off the freeway,” explains Amsel. “You can get here from East, South, West, you know? It’s really easy to get here, actually.”
Wherever you’re from and whether or not dancing is your thing, Viva Dance is a stunning location worth seeing for any Clevelander. And if you can somehow manage not to have a good time dancing in a room like that, I’m sure there’s something good on television tonight, too.