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First Person: Bill Brown's 32-year love affair with dance

by Kristen Lepore, Steve Proffitt, and Maya Sugarman | First Person

First Person: Bill Brown
In 1982, jazz dancer Bill Brown opened Studio A Dance in Silverlake. The 61-year-old has inspired students young and old, beginner and experienced. Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Bill Brown has been doing what he loves for over three decades: teaching dance classes almost every day at Studio A in Silver Lake. 

"I stay youthful by keeping a good spirit and moving every day," says the 61-year-old Brown. "Dancing offers spirituality, physicality, and it also gets you thinking a lot too — just memorizing choreography."

On a recent morning, he's dressed in his usual head-to-toe black getup and dripping in sweat. "Let's get funky," he yells to the class as the song "That's Not My Name" by the Ting Tings begins.

The class is called The Gamut; it starts with slow stretching and progresses to hardcore cardio before ending in yoga and meditation. The most impressive part? Bill is among the youngest in the class. The oldest dancer this day is 81.

"The students in The Gamut are mostly ladies of the community who are a little older than what you'd expect for a class that's so hardcore," he says. "But they've been coming here for years — so they've kept up with me."

Brown's students are his friends. And his studio doesn't cultivate a competitive vibe.

"One of my favorite projects is Dance Spot and that's where I turn the large studio into a theater," he said. "I open it for Los Angeles choreographers to give them a space to show their work without having to pay for a space."

Brown started Studio A in 1982. He moved to the current Silver Lake location on Hyperion Avenue in 1989. In 2013, his landlord almost sold the building to a group of investors. Brown pleaded that he be allowed to keep it. 

"Well, magic happened and two weeks later, she said she pulled out of escrow — and that's when panic set in," he says.

Brown told his dancers what was happening. "I said, 'I don't know what to do.' And people said, 'I'll contribute to a down payment.'" About 45 of them contributed to the down payment of the property, he says. "And as a result, today I own the building. Or I should say, the community owns the building."

In addition to The Gamut, Brown teaches traditional jazz dance and ballet with students ranging from teenagers to senior citizens. Also on the Studio A schedule is Ashtanga yoga, ballroom, fencing and capoeira, a Brazilian martial art. There really is something for everyone — regardless of your age. 

Want to dance with Bill Brown? See Studio A's schedule here. You can channel his energy with this Spotify playlist of his favorite dance songs below.  

DANCE! Bill Brown's top 10 songs

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