So Fly Kids dance classes mix fun and discipline to lift even the tiniest of creative spirits
By Stephanie Case
A midst a flurry of tiny ballerinas, 4-year-old Eloise Osorio cavorts and twirls, a smile stretched across her face.
“This is her space to be herself,” says her mom, Ivette Osorio. “She has two brothers at home, so I love that she’s really blossoming into her own person here.”
So Fly Kids Academy of Dance, one of the latest additions to Runway at Playa Vista, is a catalyst for creative spirit. In the freestyle portion of the studio’s Tuesday ballet-jazz-tap class, Eloise’s classmates each don their own style — for one, a princess dress; for another, rainbow butterfly wings — and invent their own routines on the spot.
Despite the unmistakable whimsy in the air, however, these kids mean business.
“This isn’t just dress up. Parents come up to me and say, ‘I can’t believe my 3-year-old knows what an échappé is,’” says Tanya Fishburn, owner and CEO of So Fly Kids.
Fishburn, a Playa Vista mother of two, is a former professional dancer and decades-long student of the arts, dating back to her days taking youth ballet classes in her Hawaii hometown.
“When I think of my teachers back then, they were pretty hardcore,” she says. “My classes weren’t as fun as ours are.”
At So Fly Kids, Fishburn tempers the typical rigidity of dance instruction with opportunities for laughter and imagination. She models classes off of the internationally renowned Royal Dance Academy syllabus, teaching students their changements from their arabesques, but injects her own style.
For foot exercises in her youngest classes, “instead of the traditional ‘flex, arch, point,’ I’ll call out ‘happy toes, sad toes,’” she says, alternating between an exuberant and gloomy inflection.
When Erica Brookhart, Fishburn’s co-founder, leads their stretch routines, instructing each child to contort into the butterfly pose, she’ll ask, “Where is your butterfly flying?”
“They’ll shout out, ‘It’s purple, and it’s flying to Germany,’” she laughs. “They get so excited.”
The balance between fun and discipline is delicate, but when it strikes the right medium it can foster a lifelong passion for dance.
“I still remember my first ballet shoes [at age 2],” says Brookhart. “I wanted to sleep in them, and I never took them off. So when we see the kids come in here and they’re buying their first pair, I know how they feel.”
As a just-finished class spills into the lobby, 10-year-old Ava McNeely, ballet shoes still proudly on her feet, takes me through her positions — ”bras bas, then first, second, third, fourth and fifth” — gracefully lifting her arms into the air. “I love knowing all the moves,” she gushes.
“I catch [Eloise] practicing her moves all the time,” says Osorio. “I have so many videos on my phone where we’re hanging out and she bursts into a routine. Once, we were shopping during the Christmas season, and she was just twirling around Nordstrom.”
For children who don’t catch the ballet bug, So Fly Kids offers a slew of other classes: jazz, hula, breakdancing, musical theater. Once, years ago, Brookhart rushed in to teach a dance class with her hair wet, smelling of chlorine. When Fishburn realized she was a children’s swimming instructor on the side, she quickly added the sport to the So Fly Kids lineup.
“If you’re good with kids, and they trust you, and you have a connection, you can teach them anything,” Fishburn says.
Next, So Fly Kids is hoping to debut adult classes, since the benefits of movement and expression transcend age.
“Dance enhances everything you do in life … even the confidence of carrying myself into a meeting, or meeting new people,” says Fishburn.
She needed that confidence when, after eight years of operating So Fly Kids out of the Centerpointe Club and in schools across the Westside, she decided to take on the arduous process of securing her very first brick-and-mortar studio.
“For two years, she persevered like no one I’ve ever seen in my entire life,” laboring over pitches and setting up meetings, says Brookhart. “She was so sure: ‘This is going to happen.’”
Fishburn finally locked down her piece of real estate — a studio nestled in between Runway’s Panini Cafe and Varnish Lab — this January. With the doors finally open, she’s cemented a space in Playa Vista where the next generation of confident artists can find their footing, step by step.
So Fly Kids is between Panini Café and Varnish Lab on Town Center Drive. Call (310) 341-4475 or visit soflykids.com for more information.