Manayunk dancer to open first neighborhood studio where ‘dance and fitness merge’

“I don’t have lunch breaks anymore,” laughs Manayunk dancer Christa Campbell, who just last week signed the lease on the space for the brand new Merge Dance Studio at Cresson and Kingsley streets in Manayunk.

With her grand opening slated for July, Campbell was a little late for a studio visit with NewsWorks this week, but you could hardly blame her – still juggling a regular job with getting Merge off the ground, prepping the 1,700-square-foot space, promoting the opening, and distributing flyers. So far, she’s still the only employee.

Campbell’s 30th birthday is coming up next week. A Wisconsin native, has been living in Manayunk for the past eight years, pleased with how safe and affordable the neighborhood has been.

Campbell received her BA in Dance from Point Park University in Pittsburgh, which, in western Pennsylvania, has a reputation similar to Philadelphia’s University of the Arts. She began dancing as a little girl, initially inspired by an older sister who began lessons, but Campbell was the one to turn her passion into a career.

“There’s so much going on here,” she says of her decision to relocate from Wisconsin to the east coast. She began with the Wayne, Pa.-based ContempraDance Theatre in 2004, and since then has added Philadelphia’s Vada Dance Collective, West Chester’s 180 Dance Company, and Melange Contemporary Dance Company of Pottstown to her resume. She has also toured internationally, performing in Poland with ContempraDance in 2006 and Melange in 2010.

Renovations and outreach 

With a broad range of other performance and teaching credits, Artistic Director Campbell feels ready to launch her own studio, whose specialty is a combination of dance and fitness offerings.

“I felt like I had the experience and the knowledge, so I might as well give it a go,” she says. She calls Manayunk a “fun area” with a lot of active adults, but that, so far, lacks a studio that focuses on both dance and fitness. Although dance studios do exist in the area, such as the Society Hill Dance Academy and Jeanette’s School of Dance in Roxborough, Campbell is hoping to add a different option to the scene. 

For now, the upstairs studio has just received a fresh coat of paint, but its mirrors and marley floor have yet to be installed. Campbell is planning to maximize the flexibility of the space by using portable ballet barres. The studio has a spacious bathroom, including a shower, and an adjoining office/dressing room space. The space’s prior history as a tailor’s shop explains the existing dressing-room cubbies, a perfect feature for a dance studio.

Campbell is kicking off Merge’s public presence by opening up the studio from 3 to 5 p.m. during the Manayunk Arts Festival on June 23 and 24. She’s also hosting two open houses on June 26 and June 28 from 5 to 8:30 p.m., where locals will be welcome to stop by and meet Campbell, check out the space, learn about classes, and register for Merge’s inaugural sessions.

Studio services 

Campbell is beginning with a small roster of classes this summer, beginning July 10, and will operate a fuller schedule this fall. Offerings will include beginners’ as well as more advanced classes in ballet and tap, jazz, musical theater, pointe for advanced ballet dancers, hip-hop, and modern/contemporary dance. Classes that meld dance and fitness will include Zumba, and an intense new fitness hybrid called Piloxing, combining boxing, Pilates, and dance.

Campbell emphasizes a range of other services she can provide to the community, including rental of the large studio space when it’s not in use for classes, dance-themed birthday parties at the studio, a Girl Scout dance badge workshop, and her own choreography expertise.

She’s also plotting a flash mob – people of all dance experience levels (or no experience at all) are welcomed to participate: for the secret details, residents can contact Merge through its Facebook page or website.

For the new artistic director, accessibility and a pleasant atmosphere are priorities at the new studio. While Campbell is also offering courses to advanced dancers and fitness enthusiasts, “everyone can walk in the door and take a class,” she says. She’s hoping to cater to all ages, from four year olds up.

“We’re going to keep the drama out,” she says of fostering a positive atmosphere among her pupils.

With all of the work of launching her own studio venture, between renovations, promotions, teaching and running the business, it might seem that Campbell is stretching herself thin. But for a career dancer and instructor, it just feels like a regular day’s work.

“I’ve been running around like this for years for other studios,” she says. “I might as well do it for myself.”

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.