JEFFERSON PARK — A new dance studio in Jefferson Park is filling two long-vacant storefronts with people moving to the beat of salsa, hip-hop and classical music.
ABC Dance Academy moved from Portage Park to 4444-46 N. Milwaukee Ave. on Aug. 1, and owner Alina Kruk-Velazquez is relieved classes for aspiring ballerinas and hip-hop stars are up and running.
"It's been nerve wracking," Kruk-Velazquez said, recounting a long list of trials and tribulations that included red-tape involving her city licenses, as well as a fire that destroyed the convenience store next door and left her still-under construction second studio smelling of smoke.
Kruk-Velazquez is also waiting for a $50,000 Small Business Improvement Fund loan from the Portage Park tax increment financing district to begin renovating the second storefront, which will include a second studio, a restroom accessible to wheelchairs and a waiting room for parents.
"The loan is a blessing," said Kruk-Velazquez, who began taking classes at the dance studio in 1996 and soon began helping to teach them. "We hope to start work as soon as possible."
In 2007, she took over the dance studio after the owners moved out of the area — just in time for the recession to hit, leaving her new business hanging on by a thread.
"For a year it was a struggle," said Kruk-Velazquez, who was born in Poland. "We just had seven students."
Today, the studio has 150 students — and is looking to hire more teachers, Kruk-Velazquez said.
But the studio's success has meant long hours for Kruk-Velazquez, who often finds herself working on paperwork and promoting the studio on Facebook well after midnight most days.
The school offers ballet, Latin dance, break dancing, hip-hop, salsa, tap, and bachata classes to adults and children. Private lessons are available, and the studio also hosts birthday parties.
"I'd like to add more classes for children under 3," Kruk-Velazquez said, noting that the number of tykes in Portage Park and Jefferson Park is booming.
The dance academy's students are scheduled to perform at the Taste of Polonia, which begins Aug. 30 and runs through Sept. 2.