The longtime professional ballet dancer and revered Bay Area ballet instructor opened her studio on Miller Ave. in 2018, filling a void for a solely classical ballet-focused conservatory in southern Marin. The program grew steadily and organically within its small space at 448 Miller Avenue, and then Covid hit, halting the ability to gather, safely, inside a dance studio.
Now, in the midst of what we all hope is the beginning of the end of the pandemic, Neal is thinking big. She moved her dance school from approximately 1,100-square feet at 448 Miller between Red Dragon Yoga and the 24-7 Fuel station to nearly 3,000 square feet in a pair of spaces at 365-367 Miller Avenue between Tea Fountain and Kitty Charm School.
“We wanted to move into a bigger space to give our dancers a little more room and allow us to maintain social distancing,” Neal says. “We want to think about everyone’s health and safety safety moving forward. I plan to grow this program in an efficient way that maintains our goal of quality instruction.”
Sensing the long-term nature of the crisis, particularly its unpredictability, Neal also bought a stage so her students could dance, safely, outside. She expanded upon her already strict drop-offs and pick-up protocols, prohibiting parents from parking or lingering, having submitted all required paperwork in advance of their child’s classes.
“That’s the ballerina in me,” Neal says. “In our world, everything is always done with strict protocols, and the parents have totally bought into it.”
That policy has additional benefits beyond keeping logistics simple, Neal says. “We get their full focus and attention, especially the younger ones,” she says.
Along with a much-lauded curriculum, those protocols have driven growth for the dance school, and Neal and her daughter Leilani, who runs the school with her, have decided to take the next leap: nearly tripling the square footage of their school,
In December, the Mill Valley Planning Commission unanimously approved Neal’s request for a conditional use permit to move into those two spaces. Now the doors are officially open, with all of the requisite health and safety protocols in place.
Neal, a fourth generation San Franciscan, was the ballet director at Roco Dance’s studios in Tam Junction and Fairfax for more than seven years. In 2017, She decided to retire after 16 years as a professional dancer and get her real estate license. The plan was to teach two days a week and focus on being a real estate agent.
“But the idea of creating my own space – I just couldn’t get it out of my head,” she says, putting real estate on hold and opening Marin Conservatory of Dance. “I made the leap,” she says. “I feel like this is my calling.”