Studio Spotlight - Project 21
Tune in to the full podcast interview with Molly Long of P21 now! Listen and Subscribe on Apple Podcasts and Spotify!
Season three of Making the Impact: A Dance Competition Podcast is finally here! This week, Courtney and Lesley kicked off the new season with the first-ever Studio Spotlight Feature, sitting down with none other than the fabulous Molly Long of Project 21. Whether you’re a competition dancer, dance parent, or studio owner/teacher, you’re probably privy to Molly’s success, from her eclectic, award-winning choreography to the founding of her studio, Project 21, in Orange County, CA, which is heading into its seventh season.
Given Molly’s major standing in the industry, you’re probably wondering how Project 21 (P21) came to be and how the dancers train and rehearse to achieve such great success. Molly grew up in a dance family--her parents owned a studio that eventually merged with another studio where she grew up dancing. At 16, Molly started teaching the mini age class to fund her own driving to the studio, and this was when she fell in love with teaching and hit her stride as a choreographer with her first viral video, My Boyfriend’s Back. She continued teaching at the studio until she was 21, and then spent a year traveling and teaching all over the world. Throughout her travels, she noticed that she was missing the strong, consistent bond that she had with her weekly studio dancers, and while in Australia, she had students in California texting her to ask if she was planning to open her own program. Thus, Project 21 was born--from the opposite hemisphere! So what’s the significance of the name? Molly’s birthday is on the 21st and she loves the idea of her studio being a “project.”
In only six seasons (2021-22 is lucky number seven!), P21 has become a staple on the competition circuit, garnering multiple prestigious awards and a cover feature in Dance Spirit magazine. So what makes these dancers so successful? Molly says that it’s all about the training. All P21 dancers are required to take a minimum of five to six hours of ballet classes per week outside of their P21 training. Molly has established a strong working relationship with her studio’s neighbors, Yorba Linda Academy of Ballet (YLAB) where the training is top notch and the schedule is perfectly coordinated around the P21 schedule. Beyond their robust ballet training, P21 dancers of all levels spend an average of two and a half hours in the studio on weekdays training across styles, including conditioning, with the incomparable P21 faculty. An important element of their training is that P21 dancers never learn or rehearse their group choreography during the week.
Teachers and studio owners are often shocked when they learn that these dancers only rehearse on weekends, wondering how the pieces are so clean if they’re barely running them. Molly explains that it’s because of P21’s emphasis on training--when dancers spend so many hours training effectively and together, they end up dancing similarly. She notes that even in the early stages of setting choreography, the dances are usually pretty clean.
Another way that P21 emphasizes the importance of training is that they only attend competitions that also include conventions. Each season, they attend four regionals and one nationals, all with conventions. Some dancers also attend optional conventions to compete their solos due to solo caps at the larger events.
In addition to technical excellence, P21 is also well known for their versatility and striking style. Molly emphasizes the importance of patience when it comes to unlocking kids’ potential. Some dancers might take longer to hit their stride and that’s okay! Parents especially need to realize that there is no such thing as instant gratification when it comes to dance training. Molly leaves us with excellent advice that applies to dance and truly any field beyond, “Make sure that whatever you do, you do it with passion, because that ultimately is what’s going to drive you to success.”
Be sure to tune into the full episode to hear more about P21 and gain even more valuable insight from Molly Long!
Thanks to Molly Long for joining on this week's episode! Be sure to follow Molly and P21 on Instagram @mollylong21 and @project21official!
Maddie Kurtz is an IDA staff writer/admin, choreographer, judge, and dance educator. Check out her other articles on the IDA Blog, visit her website, and follow her @maddiekurtz92.