One of Durham’s best new businesses and dance studios, All in Dance Academy sees early success despite opening amid the pandemic
By Isabella Reilly | Photography by John Michael Simpson
Sierra Riddle didn’t begin her dance career believing that one day she’d have a studio of her own. She graduated with a bachelor’s in dance studies and psychology from Meredith College in 2015 and started providing lessons full time at a private studio in Cary.
“I thought I was actually going to go back to graduate school,” Sierra says. “But I fell in love with teaching, like everyone said I would … it’s something that was just naturally fitting for me.”
After five years of instruction in Cary, Sierra decided it was time to work for herself and find a space where she could offer dance lessons. “I wanted to open a place where we could openly say, ‘This is a place for everyone,’” Sierra says. “We want to do as much as we can to make sure everyone who walks in this door feels welcome.”
The name she chose for her studio reflects that aspiration: All in Dance Academy, which opened in July 2021 in the Sutton Station shopping center. “We ask for pronouns on our registration,” Sierra says. “We have gender-neutral signs on our bathrooms. … We wanted to make sure that everybody feels represented.”
She co-owns the business alongside her husband, Joey DeVito, who works full time in the marketing department for software company Keen Decision Systems. “The second he gets off work, he’s working our front desk, taking kids’ temperatures, doing our marketing and building our website,” Sierra says.
The couple initially set their sights on a location in Chapel Hill. But when Sierra, who grew up attending Nina’s School of Dance – heard about a space in Durham, she decided to pursue it.
“My husband and I just immediately fell in love with [Durham],” Sierra says. “My mom, Susan Pearce, grew up in this area – our family actually had land on Riddle Road – [and she] thinks it’s full circle that we’re back [here]. It truly fell in our lap, and we couldn’t be happier we’re in this location.”
The studio focuses its instruction on dancers from ages 2 to 18 years old and provides a variety of lessons in styles including tap, jazz, ballet, hip-hop and acro dance, which combines classical dance techniques with acrobatics. Classes take place Monday through Friday, with some Saturday classes available. All-day summer programs are also offered this year, which Sierra says allows dancers to get “a little taste of everything.”
Emily Minick, who joined as an instructor in December 2021 and teaches two acro jazz classes, recommends that prospective students sign up for trial classes, which allow them to sample a session before fully committing. She adds that she’s greatly enjoyed watching the studio’s fast success.
“One of the dance classes, I literally had one girl [in attendance],” Emily says. “Then, about two weeks later, all our classes were full. It was crazy how fast it grew.”
Still, opening amid the middle of a pandemic was not without obstacles – Sierra, while optimistic that she could maintain in-person instruction, remained cautious and implemented a handful of safety measures.
“I got this reputation of, ‘We know Sierra’s going to do everything she can to keep our kids safe, because she worries about those things and has a similar concern,’” Sierra says. Sha’Ronn Brown, whose daughter, Erin Brown, 16, has taken lessons at the studio since its inception, says Sierra made her feel at ease.
“Sierra made sure the dancers were in a safe environment,” Sha’Ronn says. “Masks were required 100% of the time, and class sizes were small to allow for distance among dancers.”
Sierra adds that she is grateful she could rely on the city’s mandates in an effort to keep the studio’s mask requirement as long as possible.
“We felt like our community was always in agreement with us,” Sierra says. “It was nice to be in a place where we felt like we could do this safely.”
Erin, for her part, says she believes Sierra has always fostered a safe, comfortable and open environment.
“She’s willing to listen to us, and she challenges us while also being a positive influence,” Erin says. “She’s always willing to trust us.”
Sierra says she hopes to double the size of her studio within the next year, opening up the second room of her space to students. She also plans to welcome a new instructor and offer additional classes.
“In the future, we’re looking to keep growing and keep motivating people,” Sierra says. “You can be an inclusive environment for everybody, but also be a serious, competitive dance studio.”
She’ll also keep her eye on the bigger picture.
“I’ve always known there’s so much more to dance,” Sierra says. “I’ve worked with kids who I know that this saved their life, because they’ve gone through experiences where dance was the only thing they had. I’ve literally had a student tell me that it’s the reason she’s here today. … We’re trying to help make more people feel accepted.”