Passions are notorious for being put aside. It’s not always on purpose (it’s easy for work and family to become a priority), but in Jacksonville, groups of women are finding the time to dance back into their old passions or ignite new ones.
On Philips Highway past The Avenues mall is DivaDance, the bold pink lettering on its sign welcoming all who enter. There, everyone can learn real dance moves with a variety of music genres to pick from.
“You are actually learning real choreography moves from experienced instructors,” said franchise owner Jasmine Batista. “It’s also a fitness option because it’s cardio. You are moving, you are sweating in there, and you are doing different moves.”
Soon, DivaDance will be celebrating its year anniversary in Jacksonville. While the studio already has a devoted following, it is important for them to recognize the milestone to remind visitors, old and new, they are welcome and that DivaDance is a place to feel free and beautiful.
“Every woman loves someone to hang out and talk with and have a great time,” said Batista. “We want [DivaDance] to be a safe space to let loose and have the OK to be sexy and be sassy, not have to worry about anything.”
Each class begins with participants having the opportunity to learn about the dancers next to them. DivaDance wants everyone walking out the building excited to come back and dance again with their new friends.
And it’s not only women who can dance there.
“We occasionally have men who come in. Sometimes it can be a little intimidating because they will see women coming in, and we whack our hips,” said Jasmine. “But we definitely offer options for the men that come in.”
When learning these choreographed moves, many participants are shocked they’re not as difficult as they thought. DivaDancing is for everyone, not just the experienced.
“Believe it or not, all our classes are [for] all levels. Our routine and our trainers are specifically trained to target every demographic out there,” said Jasmine. “Whether you are a beginner or an advanced, we have options.”
All DivaDance’s instructors can relate to their dancers. They too have once felt out of touch with their passion and got back into it by teaching it.
“I cheered for the Jaguars in 2004 when I was 32 years old, so I was older than your average NFL cheerleader,” said Darlene Clancy. “I was there for three seasons, then I got married and had kids. But I still missed dancing. I had taken some classes [at another studio]—and they were phenomenal—but I wasn’t at that level anymore.”
But when she came to DivaDance, immediately she felt at home.
“When I came here, these were my peers. These are housewives, these are stay-at-home moms, these are women from all walks of life,” said Clancy. “Yeah, I have a dance background, but I still struggle sometimes too. So, I feel like I found my place here. “
DivaDance has become so popular that many are willing to drive the extra mile just to dance specifically there. With so many requests for another location, DivaDance is finally opening a second location across from the Orange Park Mall this summer.
At DivaDance, your age and your background don’t matter. This is a place to let go of everyday problems and to feel fabulous.
“Walking through our doors is being able to provide an outlet, an outlet to escape reality for a little bit and to be who we are. Because as a mother and as a wife, it is who we are, but it’s not specifically our identity. We’re more than that. You’re more than that, to be able to not be judged and to feel sexy,” said Batista.
The 60-minute classes aren’t just about learning dance moves. They remind people of community and self-acceptance. They are changing lives, both mentally and physically.
Every week DivaDance features different songs, choreography and opportunities for Jacksonville dancers. On specific days, members are encouraged to wear heels or boots or use pom-poms. They even host bachelorette events, birthday parties and virtual parties.
Beyond DivaDance classes, dancers go out to shows, concerts, bars and workshops together.
Recently, DivaDance had their own prom while the high schools had theirs. They hired a DJ, a bartender, decorated the studio with balloons and had a pink carpet. All who entered the studio that night wore their best gowns with their plus ones.
“People come from all walks of life, and we welcome them with open arms, and I say you can still dance,” said Batista.
If you love to dance or really want to learn, DivaDance is waiting for you.