BALTIMORE — When the pandemic forced all the dance-loving children in Harford County, Maryland, to hang up their tutus and put away their jazz shoes, Danielle Forgione and Melissa DeSantis knew they had to do something.
Not only were their own daughters distraught at unexpectedly losing an activity — and contact with friends — they loved, Forgione and DeSantis were hearing from other dance moms struggling to console their own children.
The two longtime friends began to take seriously the idle talk they’d indulged in over the years about combining DeSantis’ business background with Forgione’s teaching expertise to open their own studio.
“There were some kids I’d been teaching for 15 years,” Forgione said. “My heart hurt so bad for them. I didn’t want to leave them hanging when they were already dealing with this huge mess of COVID-19.”
The pair, who met seven years ago when their daughters attended the same preschool, tested the waters by offering free dances via Zoom in May 2020. Last summer, they offered outdoor classes at the pavilions at Bel Air’s Liriodendron Mansion.
The response was overwhelming.
“I went to Home Depot and found some boards, and we would tap dance in the parking lot,” Forgione said. “It was just crazy.”
Meanwhile, they were hunting for a space they could convert to indoor studios they could operate year-round, and eventually located garages near the Stack & Store storage facility off Baltimore Pike. They hired 13 part-time instructors who could teach everything from lyrical dance to hip-hop to ballet. After two months of renovation, Raise the Barre opened in November.
“My daughter is shy, but she really comes out of her shell when she dances,” DeSantis said. “I didn’t want to have to find a new studio for her because I was afraid that if she couldn’t be with her familiar teachers and all her friends that she wouldn’t want to dance anymore. I think a lot of parents felt the same way.”
Less than a year later, Raise the Barre has about 200 students from 3-year-olds through high school and has plans to launch a competitive dance team. Grown-ups can take classes in yoga or full body blast (a high-intensity form of interval training) while their kids learn the five ballet positions or how to make jazz hands.
On a recent weeknight, Forgione led eight girls aged 5 to 7 through an introductory jazz class.
Waverly Sokolov, 6, and Lilly Lynch, 5, hung on to Forgione’s every word. When Forgione said, “make a rainbow with your arms,” they curved their arms over their heads. When Forgione told them to sashay across the dance floor, away they leapt, their faces shining.
“This is a phenomenal studio,” Lilly’s mom, Britany Lynch, said. “You can just tell the passion for teaching runs through their veins.”