The red wall is iconic. Visitors come from every corner of the earth to pay their respects. Some never leave. Topped with a towering sign that reads “Unity Is Diversity,” the studio wall is the centerpiece of Los Angeles’s Millennium Dance Complex, a six-room building in Studio City that has become not only the world’s most famous dance-training center but an unlikely hub of inclusivity and social justice. On Millennium’s social media accounts—its obsessed-over Instagram feed and YouTube channel, in particular—this red wall is a constant, powerful reminder that for the past 28 years, legendary dancers, choreographers, and pop superstars have honed their craft in front of it. The photos of famous patrons wallpapering the entrance are only the start: Janet Jackson trained here. So did Jennifer Lopez, Prince, Britney Spears, and Ariana Grande. And on a February afternoon, five of the best dancers in the world—Charlize Glass, Delaney Glazer, Stevie Doré, Dana Alexa, and Natalie Bebko—take position at the wall to shimmy their hips, ripple their spines, and toss their elbows with the percussive swag of drum soloists. There has never been a better time to be a woman working in the world of commercial dance—and Millennium is unparalleled in its ability to foster women’s careers.
Millennium hosts its fair share of competitive classes, but hip-hop is the studio’s bread and butter—the genre that most of its dancers and choreographers are?asked for. In 1991, when Millennium founder Ann Marie Hudson—then a 28-year-old fresh off the plane from New York—took over the bankrupt Moro Landis Studios building, hip-hop was considered, in the dance community, a passing trend at best. “Finding hip-hop teachers was delightful, because there was no place for them to teach,” remembers Hudson. Her hiring criteria were simple: “Good people, good vibe, and pure talent—even if they’re a nobody off of a bus.” She was irreverent about résumés and intolerant of attitudes. She took a chance on first-timers, including a 12-year-old named Wade Robson, the wunderkind who would later work with ’NSync and Spears, and gave as much weight to Martha Graham as she did to House of Xtravaganza. She placed a sign reading “No racism, no sexism, just dance” on the door of the building to drive home her message.
“It really worked,” says Hudson, remembering the first time her studios were filled with celebrities rehearsing major projects and performances for awards shows. “It was on fire,” adds choreographer Laurieann Gibson, whose illustrious career includes collaborations with everyone from Missy Elliott and Lady Gaga to Sean “Diddy” Combs and Katy Perry. “It had the energy of you’ve made it.”