Royal Dance Academy continues to grow, now offers additional programs

By Karen Billing

Is Royal Dance Academy the strict ballet studio or the fun, recreational dance place? The answer is it’s both.

Since 2001, owner Francine Garton has tried to create the best dance experience to suit each individual dancer’s needs — whether they want to dance once a week, train seriously on pointe on the Royal Academy of Dance track, compete on a “hardcore” competitive team or compete for fun because they just love to perform.

“We’ve just continued to grow and offer more programs for the children,” Garton said, listing their offerings of ballet, tap, hip hop, jazz, lyrical, modern/contemporary and acro.

The four-studio Piazza Carmel location in Carmel Valley is “jam-packed with activity” nearly every day of the week — on a quiet Friday morning in which school was cancelled due to the recent wildfires, a young dancer showed up and surprised Garton — she had taken advantage of the day off to schedule a private lesson.

As busy as Royal Dance Academy’s schedule of offerings is, the private lesson is proof that her students can’t get enough dance and Garton is determined to give it to them.

New this year, Garton is starting a junior ballet company as well as a hip hop dance company called Young Royalty.

Royal Dance has also grown to have 26 competitive dance teams and even those cater to different types of dancers — teams exist for dancers who want to compete for fun and for those who want to be professional dancers, travel more and go to national conventions.

Teams have been to five competitions this year, with excellent results.

“The results have been unbelievable,” Garton said. “It’s only our third year competing and already some of our kids are making names for themselves in the industry.”

Royal Dance Academy has students as young as 11 years old auditioning for the best schools in the country, such as the Joffrey Ballet and American Ballet Theatre, and have been accepted into summer programs such as the Bolshoi Academy in Moscow and the Kirov Ballet in St. Petersburg, Russia.

“There’s just so much talent and it’s so exciting,” Garton said.

As a teacher and parent to four children now, Garton said it’s hard to imagine herself at 14 years old leaving her Liverpool home to attend the Legat School of Dance in London before receiving a dance teaching degree and touring the world as a professional dancer.

She said she encourages her young students to take advantage of those opportunities to go and experience classes in different places with master teachers, get out of their comfort zone, excel in other areas and come back and apply what they absorbed.

Garton does whatever she can to make Royal Dance Academy feel like a second home for her dancers. She realizes that there can be a lot of pressure today, especially on her high school students, to find balance between their schoolwork and extracurricular activities. She wants the studio to be a place where they can leave their worries at the door.

“I give them a hug and tell them to pour all their emotions into dance class, that’s their release,” Garton said.

Additionally, she has begun offering a new class at RDA called Teen Esteem Yoga, giving teens and pre-teens the skills and tools to manage everyday stresses, feel more empowered and give them confidence.

Garton is always looking at ways to grow and offer more — recently exploring the option of adding a ballroom class. It all goes to her goal of becoming a complete performing arts academy where students can take dance, Pilates reformer classes, yoga, and singing and acting classes.

“My dream is to have a performing arts campus,” Garton said. “I know that’s what I want to create because there are so many talented kids and I want to give them a place for every one of their dreams.”

This summer, the academy will offer a full slate of summer camps and Garton said the most anticipated is their “Frozen” camp.

Based on the ultra-popular Disney movie, the camp will feature dance as well as arts and crafts, acting out scenes of the movie and singing the most-loved songs.

Royal Dance Academy is also gearing up for its big recital in June, which will feature over 600 kids in four nights of shows at the Mandeville Theater at UC San Diego. The recitals will be held on June 20 at 6:30 p.m., June 21 at 2 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., and June 22 at 5 p.m. The shows are guaranteed to sell out, so purchase tickets online early.

For more information on summer camps or classes, visit