Former South St. mecca for artists now hosting dance classes

At 40,000 square feet over four floors, the Pearl Art and Craft supplies store on South Street was one of the largest in Philadelphia. After it closed down, the mecca for area artists sat vacant for three years.

“This building is terrifying,” said Lori Long after not sleeping for three days to ready the building’s debut as a dance center. “It is 40,000 square feet. It’s a lot. But I see the dancers and everybody today — they’re happy and excited.”

On Black Friday, hundreds came to the soft opening of Millennium Dance Complex Philadelphia, a local franchise of a Los Angeles-based company that offers dance classes with some of the most sought-after choreographers in the industry — people who work with pop music stars and TV shows. The company is not shy about throwing around names like Timberlake, Spears, and Usher.

Millennium’s stock in trade is the drop-in class, offering twenty-five classes a day, seven days a week, on a one-time basis. Students with some dance experience can come in cold, learn an entire routine in 90 minutes, and go home with no commitment.

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“I hope we can support whatever studio in the community where dancers train, and we can enhance their curriculum,” said Long, a former forensic scientist whose teenage daughter inspired her to undertake this dance venture.

Several months ago, she posted an announcement on Facebook about her coming dance studio and received thousands of applications to teach. Working professionals in New York were willing to teach several classes per day-trip to Philadelphia.

The classes are geared for people with basic dance experience who want to learn cool new routines – a teenage ballerina smitten by Beyonce or someone who danced electively in college before getting busy with his career.

“When you’re 18, there’s no where for you to go,” said Long. “Unless you’re a professional dancer in college to become a dancer, the average Joe who loves to dance and is good at it just has nowhere to go.”

In a previous career as a graphic designer, Long spent many hours in the aisles of the old Pearl art supply store. She retains a soft spot for the building’s former life. Each letter of the original Pearl sign – still on the outside of the building – will ultimately be used inside to demarcate the five ground-floor dance studios.

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