By Julie Shapiro
TRIBECA — A pair of TriBeCa moms with seven children between them took on one more responsibility this week with the opening of a new dance studio for children, the Downtown Dance Factory.
Hanne Larsen and Melanie Zrihen dreamed up the idea of a comprehensive dance studio two years ago, after their children became friends while attending Park Preschool on Greenwich Street.
"We both felt this yearn to work, but we didn’t want to be away from our kids," Zrihen said Tuesday afternoon, as her staff rushed put the finishing touches on the new 6,300-square-foot space at Broadway and Reade Streets.
A dance studio seemed like a good fit because Larsen, 40, had already founded a dance school in her native Australia, and Zrihen, 39, is a former ballerina with a background in business. And they both had trouble finding jazz and hip-hop classes downtown for their young children.
"We looked at each other and said, ‘I’ll do it if you do it,’" Zrihen recalled with a laugh.
Downtown Dance Factory was launched last fall in a rented studio at Tribeca Health & Fitness. The children’s classes quickly sold out, and after last spring’s recital attracted more than 800 audience members, Zrihen said her phone was ringing off the hook.
The school’s new space, on the fifth floor of a corner office building, includes three light-filled studios, a waiting area and an entire room for stroller parking. The design, courtesy of TriBeCa mom Ghislaine Vinas, is modern and fun, with black and white stripes and polka dots and splashes of color.
The reception area has already become a community center of sorts, with local families greeting each other and arranging playdates amid the chaos of children changing in and out of leotards and tap shoes.
"It’s beautiful," said Laurel Walker, 29, a TriBeCa resident who was bringing her 6-year-old daughter Avery to a jazz/hip-hop class on Tuesday. "I’m really impressed. Compared to other places she’s taken dance in the past, this is much more spacious."
The studio offers 53 classes per week, almost all for children, and they cost $615 to $640 per semester. That does not include the mandatory uniform, which runs about $50 including shoes.
All seven of Zrihen and Larsen’s children — who range in age from 2 to 9 — take classes at the studio, along with many of their friends.
"We can’t walk around the neighborhood without seeing a few of our students, and kids are running up to us in the schoolyard" of P.S. 234, Zrihen said.
Zrihen added that she hasn’t quite figured out how to balance work, children and sleep, recalling the warning of another TriBeCa mother who started her own business, who told her she would never get to sleep before midnight.
"I’m up way past midnight," Zrihen said with a smile.