Passion for dance a longtime motivator for studio owner

Studio’s students performed well in recent national dance competition


Gabriella Carter began dancing at 3 years old and by age 11 she was dancing professionally, appearing in such productions as “Annie,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “42nd Street” and “Thoroughly Modern Millie.”

Gabriella Carter
Gabriella Carter
(Courtesy of GC Dance Company)

But it wasn’t until she was a teenager and taught her first dance class that she found her true calling.

“That’s when I really fell in love with it,” said Carter, founder and owner of GC Dance Company in Solana Beach.

In all, Carter has been teaching and coaching dancers for 25 years now, the last five from her own studio. Her passion for dance, and helping boys and girls develop their own passion for movement, has kept her going even during the difficult times of the coronavirus pandemic, when she had to shut down her studio for six months.

“It was very challenging, teachers had to relearn how to teach,” she said, as classes shifted from in-person to Zoom. The studio also took a financial hit as it lost 60 percent of its student base.

Now that the studio has reopened to in-person lessons, students have returned, with about 125 youths currently enrolled at the program.

The studio teaches boys and girls from 18 months to 18 years old, and offers classes in a variety of dance styles including jazz, tap, lyrical, contemporary, acrobatic, hip-hop and musical theater, along with acting classes, said Carter.

One of the highlights of the summer came when the studio and its dancers participated in a national dance competition held in San Diego. Many of the students performed well in the competition and one 10-year-old beat out the entire field in her age group, Carter said.

Competing in person was a thrill for the students, as they met dancers from other studios and even out of state, and drew inspiration from watching others perform. One of the best things about the event was performing in front of a live audience.

“It was fantastic. They felt good, you could see their smiles coming back,” Carter said.

While competitions are fun and help dancers improve their skills, Carter said the studio has an even bigger, over-arching goal – laying the groundwork for life skills the students will need, whether it’s independence, self-confidence or a desire to help others.

“We’re teaching them to be good human beings and setting them up for the future,” Carter said.

Students participate based on their own interests and level of commitment, she said, from those who attend one class a week to those who are at the studio four days or more per week for several hours at a time.

“We’re like a family,” she said. “It’s so much more than just dancing.”

Currently, the studio has nine teachers, and Carter would like to open a second location in the San Elijo area, a move now in the planning stages.

Carter said the studio supports all students whether they are dancing for fun or want to pursue a professional career. To that end, some of the studio’s dancers have performed in movies and TV commercials. Such experience “helps broaden their resumes,” she said.

The studio has had to get creative this past year due to COVID-related concerns. Rather than holding an in-person recital, Carter opted to film students’ performances at various locations around Solana Beach to create a recital movie for the family and friends. The students enjoyed performing for cameras and learned a lot in the process.

When she’s not teaching or running her business, Carter enjoys hiking, sewing and attending all types of artistic performances, from concerts to ballet and opera. She’s also a travel buff and makes sure to attend dance performances when visiting a new place.

After watching flamenco dancers in Spain and salsa and ballroom dancers in Puerto Rico, she was inspired to learn more about those genres of dance and even offer new classes at the studio.

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