There is a clicking down the hallway at the Royal Academy of Performing Arts (RAPA) as little tap dancers pass miniature ballerinas in pink leotards. It’s the busy afternoon time and parents shuttle kids in and out of classes while owner Francine Garton gracefully works her way through, offering hugs and greetings to all.
RAPA is the fulfillment of a dream for Garton, who opened up the new enhanced, state-of-the-art studio in Sorrento Valley in October 2014.
Royal Dance Academy had been in Piazza Carmel in Carmel Valley since 2001, a dance studio that steadily grew until it had outgrown its space. Once she opened the Sorrento Valley studio, Garton had planned to keep both spaces open until her lease was up in October 2016.
“It was too hard to be in both places at once,” said Garton, who closed the doors for good on the Piazza Carmel location in May 2015. “I love everyone being under one roof...there are so many more opportunities being in this location and I love being one big dance RAPA family. It’s been unbelievable. It’s been one of the best things I could’ve done.”
As soon as the full move was complete, Garton said it didn’t take long for the personality of the studio to come alive: a family-friendly happy place that is frequently buzzing with activity.
The new space is a huge upgrade from the old location, going from 6,000 square feet to 15,000 square feet. RAPA now has five large dance studios, an acting studio complete with a green screen, a Pilates studio with reformers and gyrotonic equipment, and music and voice studios where students’ lessons can be professionally recorded in voice, piano and guitar.
Performances can be held in the biggest of the five dance studios, where there is room for 200 seats.
Dancers have their own dressing room and a quiet study room to catch up on homework before or between classes. The studio also has its own retail shop with dance accessories as well as snacks and beverages — parents can wait in a comfortable lounge and view all of the classes underway on flat-screen TVs.
Garton and staff finally have the office space they never had and a conference room offers a space for her to bring in nutritionist or injury-prevention specialists for special presentations for dancers and parents.
“We’re able to offer more in terms of dance,” Garton said. “There’s a choice for every child.”
Kids can opt to dance more recreationally, coming one to two times a week, or they can get on a more serious, competitive track and dance 10 to 20 hours a week. RAPA offers the Royal Academy of Dance ballet program with training and ballet examinations, as well as a pre-professional Ballet Academy program for students who want to pursue ballet as a potential career.
Kids can train to be a “triple-threat,” pairing dance classes with voice and acting lessons and adults can get in on the action too with adult ballet, tap, Pilates and Zumba classes.
Dancers can learn about competition and teamwork through RAPA’s dance teams, which are offered on levels of both more recreational and more competitive. Depending on the dancers’ level of ability and commitment they can join teams in ballet, contemporary, jazz, tap, lyrical, hip-hop and musical theater.
“It’s really important to me that we don’t just have elite teams with the best of the best,” Garton said. “I want to give every child who has the desire and wants to experience being part of a team to have the chance to dance and perform.”
Currently RAPA dancers are preparing for their 15th annual Dance Recital, this year held at the California Center for the Arts in Escondido on June 15, 16 and 17 at 7 p.m. At the recital, dancers from age 3 to 18 will take the stage.
Most meaningful to Garton is that this year’s oldest students, the graduating class of 2016, have been with her since she first opened her studio in Piazza Carmel 15 years ago. They are dancing to “I Dream A Dream” and rehearsals have already driven both Garton and the dancers to tears.
“RAPA is not only about dance,” Garton said, noting how much the studio becomes a family for dancers. “They do really call it their second home.”
Registration day is coming up on Sunday, May 21 for all fall classes. Competition team auditions will also be held on that day and auditions for the fifth annual performance of “The Nutcracker” will be held on June 5. Spots are also open for RAPA Summer Camps, everything from Disney Dance Camp to an audition-only Bolshoi Intensive camp with teachers from the Bolshoi Academy in Russia.
For more information, visit rapasd.com. The studio is located at 11494 Sorrento Valley Rd., suite A., San Diego, 92121; 858-259-7272.