Toni Todd, owner of the studio, calls out the eight-count as her dancers shimmy across the dance floor during a Dansoleil belly dancing lesson. After an hour of practice, the women execute a new routine to round out the session and celebrate their accomplishment with cheers and applause. The smiles of their faces are what Todd enjoys most about her job.
“I love seeing my dancers get excited when they’ve learned something new,” Todd said. “Belly dancing allows women to get in touch with a deeper part of themselves and express what’s in their hearts. Modern women lose themselves in their daily routines since they juggle so much, but this dance allows them to let go and get in touch with their feminine side.
“It’s like dance therapy. They always seem so much happier after class, and belly dancing isn’t just for girls who look like Barbie dolls. I have women of all ages, shapes and sizes come to my classes and I love working with them and watching them all grow and finding confidence – not just with their dance abilities – but with themselves.”
Todd, who has been dancing all her life, discovered belly dancing 10 years ago and used it as a way to condition her body back to dancing form following surgery. Once she was back in shape, she knew she wanted to teach belly dancing, but finding a space to hold class wasn’t easy.
She taught classes through Brentwood Parks and Recreation and developed a dance troupe that traveled around the Bay Area performing belly dance routines, but she always dreamed of owning her own studio, so when she found the location on First Street and the rent prices came down due to the failing economy, she took the opportunity to make her dream come true.
“I’ve lived here for 22 years, and I’ve wanted to be a part of downtown Brentwood for so long,” Todd said. “When this space opened up, I couldn’t refuse. It was still scary to finally make all of this happen, but my dancers kept encouraging me, and I’m so glad I listened to them. This really is a dream come true. I get to do what I love and share dance. What could be better?”
Todd partnered up with Cozette Hileman, a local dance instructor who was also looking for a place to call her own, and in March they opened Red Door Dance Studio, named for the front doors that were already painted red.
Hileman, a certified dance instructor who specializes in ballroom dancing, taught at other dance studios in the area, but was looking for a more intimate setting to hold her lessons, so the partnership with Todd was ideal.
“I wanted to be involved with a smaller studio, and the location is perfect.,” Hileman said. “It is so wonderful to be a part of historic downtown Brentwood. Together, Toni and I offer a variety of classes, so there is something for everyone.”
While Todd’s belly dancing classes are ongoing and people can join at any time, Hileman’s classes change every four weeks. She also hosts a dance party on the third Saturday of every month, when she gives a dance lesson and then invites people to stay and dance the night away.
“It’s great for people who don’t live in the area,” Hileman said. “Couples can come out to Brentwood and enjoy a nice dinner and then come over to the studio, have a little dance lesson, and then spend the evening dancing. It’s a fun idea for a date night.”
While Red Door is home to Todd and Hileman’s classes, they also rent the studio out to other instructors who teach dance classes as well as dance-inspired fitness classes such as a youth hip hop class and a Zumba fitness class, which incorporates forms of Latin dance such as salsa into a cardio workout. In September, a yoga instructor will join the Red Door team, and Todd says she hopes to expand the dance card and find more instructors to offer as diverse a selection as possible.
In addition to the classes that are held Monday through Saturday, Red Door Dance Studio also hosts a monthly workshop to introduce different dance styles to novice and experienced dancers. This Saturday, Aug. 29, Todd has invited a tribal belly dance instructor to run a workshop on the more primitive style of belly dancing, a style that is quite different from the Americanized version Todd teaches.
“The biggest goal with the classes and the workshops is to share the love of dance,” Todd said. “Dancing is just like anything else you have to learn. It takes practice, and I’ve tried to create the most positive atmosphere possible to foster a learning environment that makes the dancers feel safe. Everyone can dance; they just have to have the patience to find the dancer within.”
Red Door Dance Studio is located at 817 First St. in Brentwood. For more information and a schedule of classes, visit www.reddoordance.com or call 925-516-3667.