Keeping the Upper East Side in step

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Founder and director of Dance Workshop New York on her new studio


  • Nanci Grasso at her dance studio on East 64th Street. Photo: Dance Workshop New York 

As the daughter of a dance teacher, Nanci Grasso she was born into studio life. At two-and-a-half, she started dancing at her mother’s on Long Island. “And when I wasn’t dancing, I was soaking up every aspect of the business,” she said.

Since dance was an inherent part of her being, she didn’t consider it a future profession, and went on to attend FIT, eventually becoming a celebrity stylist. She did, though, continue to keep a foot on the dance floor, traveling back to Lynbrook to teach for her mother.

Two years ago, she moved to the Upper East Side and fell in love with the neighborhood. But it was lacking something — a dance studio for the neighborhood’s youth. So, last year, she took a leap, and opened Dance Workshop New York on East 64th Street, right off of Lexington. Offering classes in ballet, tap, jazz, modern, hip hop and pointe, the studio’s focus is children. But the studio also hosts tap and ballet classes for adults and Grasso plans to start offering fitness classes as well.

Along with managing the studio, Grasso teaches several hours a day, six to seven days a week. She wouldn’t have it any other way. The 31-year-old spoke of the rewards of watching long-term students grow and getting to play an intimate role in their lives. “That coming of age with them is a one-of-a-kind experience,” she said.

How did your mom get her start in the business?

She is from Brooklyn originally and then migrated to Rosedale, Queens. She grew up dancing at a local studio. And very early on, I would say at around 11 years old, she started working at that studio so she could barter dance classes. And then it grew from there. Probably by the time she was 16, she was really teaching and then started helping with the administrative aspects of this woman’s studio in Queens. And by the time she was 21, she decided to take the plunge and open her own studio and that’s when she opened on Long Island.

Did you ever think you’d have your own studio one day?

I think that studio life was just such a part of my being that I didn’t think about it, really. It was my life and our family business. I didn’t separate it from myself and always aspired to work in fashion, so that was really the goal. However, I danced almost every day all through my childhood, up until high school and college. But I wanted to work in the fashion industry and ended up doing that.

What was your experience like at FIT? Tell us about the career that followed.

I majored in fashion business there. And obviously living in Greenwich Village, I soon realized I needed to start working to support every aspect of city life. I was going to school full time and took a job at Intermix as a salesperson. And that quickly led to my first job as a stylist. At 19, I started working for CBS Watch Magazine. And I was styling celebrities for editorials, cover shoots, red carpets, press junkets and doing that for many years. Simultaneously, I started teaching for my mother on Long Island. I couldn’t really quit either thing; I was really passionate about both.

When did you decide to open your own studio?

I would say probably about five years ago, I decided to fully commit myself to my mom’s business and we became co-directors. And I really started building that business and falling in love with it.

How did you choose the Upper East Side as its location?

I moved to the Upper East Side two years ago and was loving my neighborhood. I started to think, “Wow, we need a dance studio here.” We really needed a neighborhood place for children to call home and report into every week with friendly faces. I would say I signed two leases within six months, my personal lease and then I found a place on 64th Street and it happened at lightning speed. It was probably just meant to be.

As far as your demographic, are there a lot of local students or do they travel to get there?

I would say primarily our base is local, however, because there are so many schools on the Upper East Side, we do have students who go to school up here, take their dance classes after school by us, and then go home and that may be Chelsea or Midtown, it depends.

How involved is your mother in the city studio? What are the pros and cons to working with her?

I would say there are all pros. We are extremely close and I couldn’t imagine doing this without her. She has been my mentor as a woman and as a business owner. And she has loved every second of opening this business, so she’s in the city quite a bit. She’s based on Long Island and still has her studio there, 39 years strong, and I’m still teaching there as well.

You also teach classes to couples who are getting married.

That’s been a really great thing for us. Obviously for a wedding couple, their first dance can be a bit scary. So we try to assist in that respect. So they’ll typically bring in their wedding song and we can choreograph something elaborate for them or just give them the basics to prepare them for dancing in front of 300 people and ease that fear. That’s been such a special thing; to be part of someone’s wedding day is just really wonderful. Any time we have the opportunity to work with a couple, we jump on it, because it’s just priceless.

On your Instagram page, there was a recent post about a partnership with the library. Explain what that entails.

We’re actually going to have our first event in a couple of weeks. We partnered with them and we’ll go back and forth between hosting events at our location and then hosting events at the different satellites of the New York Public Library. And the idea is to increase interest in both our studio and the library and the wonderful, free opportunities that they have. So essentially, we’ll be incorporating some creative movement and dancing to their book readings at their locations and then they’ll be coming to us to do some readings and storytime. And our dancers and friends-this is open to the public as well-will be able to get their library cards. We’re really focusing on kids from 2 to 6 and are just so thrilled to partner with such a great organization and be part of such a special thing.

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