Profile on Diana Castore

Owner of Dance With Me Dance Studios

by Scott Wordsman
@ScottyWords

It’s a thick and humid Friday afternoon in the Broadway Town Center, I notice through my windshield, is oddly quiet for a summer day. I’d never been to Bayonne before, despite living just a couple miles north in Jersey City, so I didn’t know what to expect. What are the restaurants like? Will the regulars know right away I’m not from here? I was early for my meeting with Diana Castore, the co-owner, primary teacher, and engine behind Dance With Me Studios, so I ambled around some, taking in the sights (quaint brick buildings, strips of fog-streaked clouds overhead), and the smells (Italian food, Chinese food; inviting and delicious). I snapped a picture of the Mona Lisa Pizzeria, a reminder for myself to try it later, then headed over to meet Diana.

As I opened the door to the studio, I forgot whatever weather was waiting for me outside. Dance With Me is a warm and welcome space; think lots of wood, lots of mirrors, a constant thrum of energy. After inspecting an impressive wall of parti-colored trophies, I’m ushered

in to meet Diana, who,in spite of keeping a schedule I can imagine as nothing short of chaotic, appears calm and well-rested. We get to talking, and I realize I have many more questions than I thought I’d had. But of course, one thing begets another, and we’re on the topic of Instagram.

“So how many followers do you have?” I ask, more bluntly than I’d wanted to, but a crucial question nonetheless.

“I don’t know,” she replies, laughing. “Really, I don’t.”

Diana navigates the world via two Instagrams: @dancewithmediana is her personal account; @dwmdancestudio is Dance With Me’s account. The former, I later found, has 13.6k followers; her studio’s, over 50k–impressive numbers for someone not keeping tabs.

“I wasn’t interested in social media at all, but one of my mentors said it was a good idea…Now my DM inbox is basically its own email account.” The social realm and the world itself are changing, and any forward-thinking business owner has to recognize this. Diana, in turn, had to hire someone just to oversee her studio’s account, its inbox flooded with messages, approbation, and business inquiries–all for good reason. The @dwmdancestudio page (take a look!) is awash with solid content, from clips of its impassioned young dancers to promotional quotes and behind-the-scenes content. One could easily spend an hour combing through its 900-plus posts.

But there’s more to Diana than just her social media presence. Now in its 14th season, Dance With Me runs like a well-oiled machine, and this is in all parts due to the woman across from me, as well as her sister Gina, the studio’s co-founder. Diana, like any committed instructor of an art, teaches it all on her own terms. Save for ballet, which is taught by another instructor, the syllabi for tap, jazz, acrobatics, contemporary dance are all designed and administered by Ms. Castore.

“So what’s the ethos like?” I find myself asking. “Are your classes for the serious dancer, or the recreational dancer?”

This, Diana tells me, is a question that the studio is still in the process of answering. “A lot of our girls want to go pro now, but this wasn’t always the case.”

A native of Staten Island, Diana began her training from a very young age; at three-years-old, she was dancing in a local, suburban studio; by age eleven, she was training at the prestigious Broadway Dance Center, a Manhattan institution. This is where she would meet her mentor, Chuck Kelly, and where she would develop her lifelong passion for jazz dancing. Having experienced both sides of the coin–the recreational studio and the pre-professional studio–Diana knew that Dance With Me would have to find its niche, starting small but not losing sight of its greater aim: to foster the talents of and to churn out world-class dancers. Sometimes parents, she reveals, aren’t quite sure what goes into becoming a dancer. They want results from their kids, but they aren’t aware of the time and lifestyle constraints which engender those results. This, I recognized, is a universality in highly competitive fields, such as sports and the arts, of which dancing is a composite. But Diana, having danced professional for years, knows that anything is possible–it just takes a lot of effort to get there.

“When I talked about myself, my life, (the students) saw it as something out of reach, but that’s what I wanted to change. The idea of, ‘oh, you can become an accountant, but you can’t really become a dancer.’ That’s not how it is here.”

Diana’s accessibility and passions come through in nearly every aspect of her aura. Chatting, it seems as if I’ve known her from somewhere before: a person I’d walked by a hundred times on the street, or someone with whom I went to college. This modesty, I surmised, is what must make her a hit with her students, who range in age from two to twenty-something. These students, she tells me, are grouped mostly according to age; however, sometimes she’ll mix things up, having young dancers performing with veterans, creating a magical and frenetic dynamic. “The kids are all about energy,” she says, “from the energy they feel from the audience to the vibes they give off to each other.” The girls perform whenever an opportunity arises: from local shows to fundraisers, they’re all about exposure, experience, and joie de vivre.

So how often do you dance? I find myself asking. Maybe a silly question for a dancer, but I feel comfortable here, so I let it ride.

“Honestly, I feel like I’m never not dancing or thinking about dancing,” she replies. “I see choreography in everything. In traffic even. I’ll cross the street and see a cool traffic pattern, and I’m just like, wow, I gotta try that.”

In her free time, Diana enjoys painting, listening to music, and immersing herself in nature. Inspiration, she feels, can come from anywhere and anything, and as an artist, it’s important to expose oneself to other forms of art. She’s even written a book: The Whimsical Secret Reveal of a Fairy Godmother. A trilogy is in the works.

I find myself forming the words for yet another question, one I feel immediately foolish and slightly embarrassed for asking, but I manage to stammer it out: “So what do you do about students who want to go pro…but who you’re not sure can make the cut?”

To this, Diana immediately shakes her head, and now I’m thinking about what she told me earlier, about how her younger sister Gina was twice as athletically inclined, and that it motivated Diana.

“It’s about what’s in here,” she tells me, clutching her heart. “That’s all you need. I mean, that’s really all I ever had and that’s all it really takes.” She looks around the room now, and I follow suit. Out the window, the sun is breaking through the clouds, unbridled, restrained by nothing. I feel a shock of warmth encasing my body, and I shiver in good way. But maybe it’s not from just the sun.

“I’m full of magic and pixie dust,” Diana tells me, turning her head from the window. “If you believe in yourself, I’ll make you fly.”