Marin Conservatory of Dance founder Melinda Neal, at top right, with her daughter and fellow professional dancer Leilani, along with scenes from classes at the studio at 448 Miller Avenue. Courtesy images.
Melinda Neal gave birth to her daughter Leilani at the age of 15.

A junior at Fairfield High School at the time, that fact radically changed the course of her life.

But instead of a story about unmet personal and professional potential, Neal’s story, through a combination of determination, vision and unwavering family support, is one of unabashed success.

The longtime professional ballet dancer and revered Bay Area ballet instructor opened the Marin Conservatory of Dance on Miller Ave. earlier this year. In doing so, she sought to fill a void for a solely classical ballet-focused conservatory in southern Marin.

PictureLeilani Neal. Courtesy image.

And if Neal ever needs a reminder of how far she and her family have come, she just needs to look across the studio at 448 Miller Ave. as her 25-year-old daughter, a professional dancer and model in her own right, teaches classes at MCD. Or watch her dance in a new music video. Or perform for the Oakland Ballet Company as she once did.

“A lot of these stories don’t get told,” she says. “I was an extremely young mother, but I learned that it’s something that you can overcome. It became a huge positive for our us. It doesn’t always happen that way.”

“To be honest, if it wasn’t for my family, I don’t know where i would be at this point,” she adds.

Neal, a fourth generation San Franciscan whose family moved to Fairfield when she was young, did her early ballet training from Yanina Cwyinska and furthered that training under the tutelage of Oakland Ballet Company founder Ronn Guidi when she was 18. After earning her BA from St. Mary’s College of California LEAP program for professional dancers, Neal danced professionally for 16 years with companies like Oakland Ballet Company and Peninsula Ballet Theatre and was a founding member of Napoles Ballet Theatre and Bay Pointe Ballet.

Neal co-owned “The Dance Network” for nine years in Fairfield and was the artistic director for the organization’s nonprofit youth ballet company. She’s taught in the Bay Area for 19 years at places like Alonzo King Lines Dance Center, Alameda Civic Ballet, SF Arts Education Project, Peninsula Ballet Conservatory and Bay Pointe Ballet.

For more than seven years, Neal was the ballet director at Roco Dance’s studios in Tam Junction and Fairfax.

In 2017, Neal decided to retire after 16 years as a professional dancer. Although she still had a ton going on in terms of her work at Roco and her private coaching sessions and other ventures, she decided to 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. 

In December 2017, Neal decided to heed the requests of parents who’d encouraged her to open a school focused on classical ballet. She put real estate on hold and opened Marin Conservatory of Dance in the small shopping center between Red Dragon Yoga and the 24-7 Fuel station on April 23. MCD offers classes six days a week for both children and adults.

“I made the leap,” she says. “I feel like this is my calling.”

The 411: Marin Conservatory of Dance is at 448 Miller Avenue. MORE INFO. Here’s a video of Melinda Neal teaching some of her students: