From a young age, Emily Bratmon knew that one day she would become a dance instructor and own a school. Before she was even born, her mother took classes while pregnant at the Collenette School of Dancing in San Marino. “I can say I danced even before I was born,” Bratmon laughed. “When I was three, I would do my homework and practice kicks during my mother’s dance class. As soon as the teacher saw me doing that, she told my mother that I was ready to sign up for my first class.”
Bratmon grew up attending classes three to five days per week at the studio, and eventually went on to attend the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, performed for the Pasadena Dance Theatre, and danced with the Salzburg International Ballet Company in Europe. Upon returning to the United States, she was faced with a unique opportunity—the chance to own the dance studio that she had trained at during her youth. The then 23-year-old jumped at the opportunity and the rest is history.
“Apparently I’ve always wanted to own the place,” explained Bratmon. “When I was a kid, I told my mom that someday I would be a teacher and the owner. Guess I was telling my own fortune! When the studio became available, it just felt right and I didn’t want to see the place go. There’s too much history and I needed to try it. I told myself I’d give it five years for it to work, and I’m still here 13 years later. So I’m doing something right!”
The Collenette School of Dancing was originally founded in 1926 by Beatrice Collenette, who studied under the famous Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova, who is credited with taking ballet into the mainstream in the early 1900s in London and Russia. Collenette toured around the world with Pavlova before settling in California, where she opened her first dance studio in her garage and charged 10 cents per class. As her number of students grew past 300, Collenette moved to a building in Pasadena before ultimately relocating to the school’s current location in 1950.
Collenette’s daughter, Joan, who also became a dancer and appeared in numerous films and Broadway performances in the 1940s, eventually took the reins and ran the studio for another 39 years, carrying on the traditions her mother had started. Then in 2006, she was ready to retire—and Bratmon became the new owner.
“Beatrice died when she was 103,” said Bratmon. “I remember meeting her—that woman was larger than life. Then Joan brought the Broadway and Hollywood aspect to it, which you can still see in some of the dances I teach that are hers and Beatrice’s. We actually have dances from Pavlova, so there really is a great tradition all the way starting back from almost a hundred years. Even with more than 30 years of dance experience, I’m still learning. I attend conferences and I take classes. That’s the greatest thing about dance and also the curse—you’re never done learning.”
Classes are offered daily except for Sunday, when the studio is closed for rehearsal. Bratmon teaches most of the classes herself, but she also has an instructor who teaches Advanced Hip Hop. The most popular class is ballet for six to eight-year-olds, and the average class size is anywhere from six to 15 kids. Other classes offered include Pointe, Jazz, Zumba, and all levels of ballet, in addition to private lessons. Single lessons start at $20 and packages are also available. Classes are an hour-long, and Bratmon trains both genders and all ages—from three-year-olds to silver swans (women who danced when they were younger but want to get back into it). She also offers a ballet bun making class for parents who want to style their kids’ hair for recital or dance class.
“We do dance here for the love of it,” Bratmon said. “It’s a time when you can just ignore the world for an hour and concentrate on yourself and have fun. I make sure that all my students understand that this is the place where you can relax and then afterwards you feel refreshed. Moving your body is good for your brain and soul.”
The Collenette School of Dancing participates in an annual performance that takes place at South Pasadena High School, which Bratmon creates and oversees. The last show was a western-themed ballet and 78 kids participated in the show. This next show, which will take place on May 19, is “Once Upon a Dream” and will be all about princesses. Tickets will cost $15.
“I’m all about creating fun,” Bratmon said. “The kids always have a blast and they come back every year and want to do more. I love when I witness the ‘aha’ moments from my students. That’s when the light bulb goes on and what they’re trying to accomplish works, and then they’ll look at me to make sure I saw it. That’s my absolute favorite part of this job.”
Collenette School of Dancing is located at 922 Huntington Drive in San Marino. It is open Mon. from 3 to 7 p.m., Tues. from 2 to 8 p.m., Weds. from 3 to 7 p.m., Thurs. from 3 to 8 p.m., Fri. from 3 to 7 p.m., Sat. from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and is closed Sun. For more information, call (626) 576-7729 or visit collenettedance.net.
The Center Stage Business Spotlight appeared in the print edition of the South Pasadena Review on 10.12.18. Support Local Business.