In 20 years Dance Studio 111 has gone from a small studio employing several of the first ever Suns Dancers to a flourishing business with a focus and passion for the Ahwatukee Foothills community.
Kimberly Lewis moved from Los Angeles to Phoenix in 1990. She had always been a dancer and choreographer, but opportunities for dancers in Phoenix were rare.
While watching a basketball game on TV and considering career opportunities, Lewis realized the Lakers had Laker Girls but the Phoenix Suns only had the Gorilla. She decided to call the organization and offer to start a dance team for them. It took several calls to several different people before someone took her seriously.
Before the start of the season Lewis spent three months teaching the Suns Gorilla a dance and forming a dance team to dance with him.
At the season opener she dressed up the Suns Gorilla in an MC Hammer costume and choreographed a dance for a team of girls to dance around him to “Can’t Touch This.”
“Mr. Colangelo called the next morning and said, ‘Congratulations, we have a new dance team and you’re the new director,’” Lewis said.
The next problem Lewis ran into was finding time for her team of dancers to practice. Many of them had school or jobs teaching at studios across the Valley and the only time they were available for practice was beginning at 10 p.m. and going until 1 a.m.
“It was late nights,” Lewis said. “I was teaching these girls what I knew and my different styles and they were taking it and incorporating it into what they were teaching at other studios. It kind of made sense for me to open a studio and have the girls work for me. That way I could control their schedule and we could work more closely. That’s what I did.”
Lewis stopped working with the Phoenix Suns 10 years later when the organization wanted to move in a slightly different direction and the Kimberly Lewis School of Dance was growing quickly.
In 2009, Lewis moved to a new location and changed the name of the studio to Dance Studio 111, named after their address at 4910 E. Chandler Blvd., Suite 111. At that time she also made the studio a complete performing arts center with voice lessons, piano, guitar and drums lessons. Since the move, Lewis said the studio continues to grow at a rapid pace.
“We’ve had great years and when the economy crashed we had bad years,” she said. “When I took the chance to move to this location, which is double in size, I wanted a fresh start and a brand new name. I decided to go for it even though it wasn’t really the time to go for it. I took that risk and now it’s paying off.”
The secret to Lewis’ success, she says, is her dedicated staff and the family atmosphere they create. Many staff members have been with the studio for years. Artistic Director Carrie Matheus-Anders was part of Lewis’ original Suns Dance Team and has been with her ever since.
“Kimberly is a great woman to work for,” Matheus-Anders said. “She’s a great person and a great business person… She goes above and beyond as studio owner and takes the time to make it a fun family atmosphere… She makes it a warm personal experience. People feel at home and want to stay a part of it for many years.”
Dance Studio 111 is celebrating 20 years in business this week. Lewis said she has already celebrated with her staff and she has special guests flying in to teach special classes. Her favorite thing about being in business 20 years is seeing the kids who have danced at her studio now grown up and bringing their kids in for lessons.
“The next generation is coming through,” she said. “That’s neat to see… Whenever children grew up in the studio and had a happy experience and now they’re bringing their children back here, that says a lot.”
Lewis said she has been told by past clients that their experience at Dance Studio 111 gave them confidence in many aspects of their life. Those stories are stories she treasures.
“I wouldn’t be here for 20 years without the Ahwatukee community,” Lewis said. “I’m so grateful to all the people who have sent their children here, their grandchildren or nieces and nephews. It’s very surreal to look back. When I opened the first studio I was single with little kids of my own and had to take out my first business loan. That was the scariest thing… I remember saying, ‘You have to believe in yourself.’ That’s exactly what I did. Here we are 20 years later.”
Dance Studio 111 is located at 4910 E. Chandler Blvd., Suite 111. For more information, visit www.dancestudio111.com.
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