Some of the most famous feet in the world have touched its floors.
Whether it’s Michael Jackson, Britney Spears, Jennifer Lopez, Justin Timberlake, Justin Bieber or Prince, they all have held rehearsals or tryouts at the in North Hollywood’s NoHo Arts District on Lankershim Boulevard.
Those celebs are just a short list of the famous feet that have traversed the floors and helped make it the No. 1 central hub of the dance world in Los Angeles. But what makes it such a Mecca for dancers isn’t just the famous celebs that continually use it, it’s the fact that quite literally anyone can walk in off the street and take a class from one of the world’s top choreographers.
“It’s not just a dance school, it’s not just a rehearsal studio, it’s not just for casting. It’s a little bit of everything,” said Millennium’s co-owner and founder, AnnMarie Hudson. “It’s really a cross-section of the dance biz in L.A. and we think that’s what adds to the excitement. It’s everything that a professional dancer needs, or a wanna-be professional dancer, or someone who just likes being around that level and that buzz.”
Millennium is currently celebrating its 20th year in business and recently announced plans to franchise and expand new facilities around the world. When I visited and began my interview with Hudson, excited and awed by all the incredible artists that have been inside its walls and on its floors, I started things off by breaking one of the oldest pieces of Millennium’s history. As we sat down in two wood chairs with metal frames, mine broke. Hudson ran and grabbed another chair, and when we sat back down she said, “Those were the first things that we actually bought when we moved into this building.” I felt real great about that.
After moving from New York in 1991 with her husband, Robert, Hudson took over the Moro Landis Studios in Studio City in 1992, which had been a major dance studio in the 50s, 60s and 70s before falling into financial trouble in the 80s. After turning things around, in August of 1999, shortly after Robert joined her as co-director, they moved north to its current location on Lankershim Boulevard near the intersection with Magnolia Boulevard and re-branded the studio the Millennium Dance Complex.
The NoHo Arts District, which was a Community Redevelopment Agency project area then, was very, very different back in 1999 and did not have as nice of a reputation as it has today. Also, they were leaving the cozy, safe, upscale Ventura Boulevard area.
“It was scary. We were a little afraid. We were on Ventura and Vineland, and it was a little dicey moving here,” Hudson said. “We had no idea that it was in the redevelopment area, we just came here because we made a fast move, and there was a Starbucks. We wanted a place near a Starbucks.”
However, the move to “scary” NoHo was the best move she and Robert could have made.
“When we moved in we thought, 'How is business going to be? Are people going to come to this neighborhood? We were in such a nice location,'” Hudson said. “But business tripled when we moved into North Hollywood because, as it turns out, many of the dancers live around here. And it’s so artsy, it reminds me of New York’s SoHo way back in the day when we lived there. So we were surprised to see it was a true arts neighborhood, even before all of the development happened and sprouted.”
Since the move, the studio's fame around Los Angeles and the world has grown, fueled by many of the famous celebrities that like to use it as rehearsal space. Spears has been a regular visitor to Millennium, not only rehearsing there but also teaching classes. When I was there, Hudson informed me that Justin Bieber’s tour was currently rehearsing in one of the studios.
“They just want to be on the cutting edge. All our teachers, they have to be choreographing for top artists, that’s just where we’re at,” Hudson said when I asked what attracted all the top artists to Millennium.
One of those top choreographers is Devin Jamieson, who basically used Millennium to launch his career in Los Angeles after moving here from Canada in 2007. He immediately began taking classes at Millennium.
“You look at YouTube, or you look at convention teachers that hail from L.A., you realize that this is the spot, that you need to come to Millennium to get the best training,” Jamieson said. “And then you obviously one way or another try to lead yourself to Millennium and start taking classes. After a while I started auditioning. I took the majority of my classes here.”
Eventually, Jamieson was chosen as one of the nine background dancers for Michael Jackson’s ill-fated “This Is It” tour, which was cancelled after the singer unexpectedly passed away on June 25, 2009.
“It was very unexpected and definitely hit us very hard because we went from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows. We were so ready to go to London, we were about eight days away from going to London,” Jamieson said. “So it came as a shock to everybody. But since that day it’s always been a combination of sadness but also you kind of have to count your blessings, because we had about two and a half months with Michael before he passed.”
Jamieson now teaches regular classes at Millennium. I sat in on a one-hour class, which was a truly dizzying experience. At least 30 to 40 dancers crammed into the studio to learn Jamieson’s hip-hop influenced moves. As is common with most of their hip hop classes, this was an open class with anyone welcome to participate. And it’s the openness that seems to be the key to Millennium’s success.
“We don’t want to just be an elite niche studio,” Hudson said. “Beginners are welcome, especially in the hip hop classes. Ballet and jazz, you begin at a beginner level and work your way up. You’ll see a beginner come in, and then two years later they’ve booked their first tour. We’ve seen it. It’s very exciting. And that beginner dancer can be in a class with Justin Timberlake’s choreographer right there. So the beginner doesn’t have to come in and get a beginner teacher, they start right off with the top-level teachers.”
One of those beginners who was in Jamieson’s class was Patrick Cook, who is 18 years old and from Raleigh, North Carolina. While the rest of his classmates were off on spring break in Ft. Lauderdale or Cancun, Cook came to NoHo to take classes all week at Millennium. He is graduating this spring, plans to come to L.A. to pursue a career as a dancer and has been coming to Millennium for years over the summer and on other breaks to get a head start.
“I came to take some awesome classes. The energy is always awesome here. It’s all here, it’s amazing,” Cook said. “(Millennium) has a great reputation. I’m a huge fan of Devin. I wouldn’t miss it.”
It’s the dedication of youngsters like Cook that Jamieson says keeps him sharp.
“More and more the younger kids are getting better and better. Nowadays with Youtube and Facebook, it’s so accessible to find the best teachers or the best movers throughout the world,” Jamieson said. “The caliber is getting higher and higher and a younger and younger age. It almost puts you on your toes a little bit and makes you step up. They have no worries, no self doubt, that young energy to them, which is pretty inspiring to us.”
While it is eager youngsters like Cook that keep Millenium’s classes full, its reputation as a place that celebrities prefer to rehearse doesn’t hurt business, either.
“Jennifer Lopez, Britney Spears, they’re real dancers, so I think they just love being around a real studio because that’s how they grew up,” Hudson said. “So they just love hanging out and blending in. One time, Britney Spears came into a class. No one even batted an eye. It was right after she had had some issues with the paparazzi. And no one even thought twice about it.”
There was only one celeb I couldn’t help but ask about, and that was Prince, because I'm from Minneapolis, where he is revered as someone close to God himself. She said he held tryouts at Millennium, but only attended on the last day.
“So anyway here comes Prince on the last day of rehearsals. And I found out he was coming and I decided to vacate. I just left,” Hudson said. “I got Robert and we went to a restaurant and stayed until he was gone. Because I’m such a big fan, if he did anything to my studios or to my dancers, something nasty, because I’m such a huge fan, I would totally not be able to enjoy him the way I do and all the things I love about him.”
However, she said Prince acted like a complete gentleman when he was there, she was told, said hello to everybody and even went out to the bus stop and offered licks of his lollipop to the people lined up.
Hudson said that after 20 years in business, she now wants to take its reputation and spread it around the world because nearly half their students come from overseas to learn the latest moves.
“We’d like to find a way to spread Millennium out for those that can’t come all the way to L.A. and just keep the same energy and feel. So that’s our main focus, expanding the Millennium name,” Hudson said. “After 20 years, we are ready to expand.”