Larkin Dance Studio continues 64-year legacy at new Maplewood location


The Senior Line class strikes a pose in the larger dance space at their new location. Larkin Dance moved to 1400 E. Hwy 36 in Maplewood. (photos by Linda Baumeister/Review)

The Larkin Dance Senior Line students practice their jumps and lifts.

Jody Eastburn teaches a Babies Ballerinas class at Larkin Dance Studio, larger location at 1400 E. Hwy 36 in Maplewood. More classes are offered at the new location.

The Larkin Dance Senior Line

Georgiann sews leotards in the sewing room filled with colorful fabric and threads.

A memorial bench in the entrance pays tribute to Shirley Larkin, founder of Larkin Dance Studio. Daughters Molly and Michele took over ownership when their mother died two years ago.

A fixture in Maplewood, Larkin Dance Studio now has more room to stretch out.

The family-run business, which for decades has pumped out award-winning dancers who’ve made it to national television, Broadway and films, this month relocated to the building that formerly housed Minnesota Granite and Marble at 1400 E. Highway 36.

It’s been more than two years since the death of founder Shirley Larkin, who handed down the business to her two dancing daughters. Following 35 years at the Plaza 3000 retail center near Maplewood Mall, the sisters say they came upon a near-ideal opportunity to move and expand.

“We just outgrew [Plaza 3000],” Molly Larkin said. “The lease my mom signed had ended. It just felt like it was the right time.”

The studio began classes in its renovated building in Maplewood on Jan. 8. Molly, who started working for her mother around 36 years ago, is still getting used to the drastic change.

“It doesn’t feel real being here,” she said.

It has been a long time coming for the Larkins.

“My mom, 25 years ago, thought about doing it, but got scared,” said Molly, a seasoned dancer and choreographer who’s won local and national awards for her tap numbers.

The Larkins continued to be wary of the expense and worried dancers wouldn’t follow them to a new location. Molly said they just weren’t sure they could “really do it.”

But Molly noted the dance studio wasn’t always located in Plaza 3000. Shirley started instruction out of her parents’ restaurant in 1950, and then chasséd from a basement to a school before landing at the retail center in 1979.

It became the place where a 5-year-old needed handholding on her first day of class, where a dancer sat on a hallway bench between classes to munch on crackers and cheese, and where an alumna showed her kids old dance photos hung in the hallway.

Shirley Larkin died on Aug. 10, 2011, and the daughters are set on keeping their mom’s legacy alive, while expanding the studio.

“It’s a dream come true,” said Michele Larkin, an award-winning choreographer who has worked at the studio for around 40 years. “It’s something we’ve always wanted to do.”

A new home

A family friend helped the Larkins find the building, which has been completely rebuilt since it was bought in April. Construction started at the end of September.

The building was a “big dusty mess,” Molly said. Her family scoured the ceilings and floors, making way for new walls and fresh paint.

The place is about 22,000 square feet and has a 1,900-square-foot storage building, all much roomier than the previous total of 12,700 square feet.

Michele said it’s also more secure. In comments on a Facebook post, announcing the studio’s last week at the Plaza 3000, former students reminisced about running around the hallways “like crazy,” and picking up pop, candy and snacks at nearby shops and intermingling with other stores’ customers.

The dancers are now confined to one area in the freestanding building, and don’t have to worry as much about bothering their neighbors.

“We can turn our music up as loud as we want,” Michele said.

But there’s still plenty of room to roam.

Each lesson room has a viewing window to allow people to watch practices, and there’s a snack shack and a retail store that offers outfits and equipment.

The fresh digs include changing rooms, a large gathering space with tables and chairs and even a designated homework room.

Students and teachers aren’t hiding their enthusiasm.

“Everybody’s so excited,” Molly said.

Sitting in the ballet room on Jan. 13, faculty member Ilia Gorev, a ballet dancer from Moscow, said the new practice area “doesn’t even compare” to the previous one.

“I don’t miss it at all,” he said.

Still work to be done

It took more than three months and “lots” of money to transform the building’s interior, according to Molly.

And there’s still work to be done.

In the spring, Molly said the family plans to renovate the parking lot and freshen up the exterior.

The studio plans to host a grand opening most likely in June.

Larkin Dance Studio has more than 900 students, ages 3 to adults, enrolled in tap, ballet, jazz, lyrical, hip hop and pointe classes.

The entrance to the new building’s parking lot is off Cope Avenue.

For more information, visit the studio’s recently refreshed website at www.larkindancestudio.com.

Kaitlyn Roby can be reached at 651-748-7814 and kroby@lillienews.com. Follow her at twitter.com/KRobyNews.
 

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Comments

As a study owner of 6 years now in NYC, I aspire to be able to accomplish what Shirley was able to do and build a studio that lasts for generations. I'm all to familiar with how hard it can be to find a good space for a dance studio. It's near impossible as many Landlords do not like the high volume of traffic that dance studios bring to their buildings and nieghboring business are often less than tolerant of the noise even though most dance studios are mainly active at night. 

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