Ramona/Julian Academy of Dance celebrates 25th anniversary

Kristi Durbin-Griffin and her first dance class 25 years ago at the Ramona/Julian Academy of Dance.  Courtesy photo
Kristi Durbin-Griffin and her first dance class 25 years ago at the Ramona/Julian Academy of Dance. Courtesy photo

By Karen Brainard

“25 and We Still Shine” is the theme for the Ramona/Julian Academy of Dance’s annual recital that will mark the 25th anniversary of Kristi Durbin-Griffin’s business.

The recital is planned for June 30, with performances at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. in the Poway Performing Arts Center, 15498 Espola Road in Poway.

Griffin is especially excited for this year’s event because her 89-year-old father is flying in from Texas to dance with her in the Daddy/Daughter Dance at the 3 p.m. recital.

“Most special to my heart is our Daddy/Daughter Dance,” Griffin said.

This year she will have 75 fathers dancing with their daughters in the opening number, “Fathers and Daughters.”

What started off with seven brave dads in 2003 has grown and become a favorite of the recital.

“There’s not a dry eye in the place,” said Griffin.

This year the dads began coming once a week, begining in April, to learn the dances with their daughters.

Assistant Director Gwen Hernandez teaches the dads.

“It’s so fun to get new ones because they’re scared to death,” she laughed.

At the recital, Griffin is dedicating a performance to the music of “To Where You Are” in memory of  Rene Nolan, mother of dance student Mackenzie Nolan, and of Griffin’s  brother, Richard Durbin, who died of cancer.

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Kristi Durbin-Griffin, right, owner of Ramona/Julian Academy of Dance, works closely with Office Manager Lorrie Onder, left, and Assistant Director Gwen Hernandez, center.

“He’s the reason we have the Daddy/Daughter Dance,” Griffin said, explaining that he encouraged her to add the dance to the annual recital.

Griffin opened Ramona/Julian Academy of Dance, formerly the Julian School of Ballet, in 1987 with about 15 students. Today she has over 400 students, and some are the children of those who were in her first-year classes.

Over the years, Griffin said many of her students have incorporated their dance lessons into their activities and careers.

“It builds a lot of confidence,” Griffin noted.

Many of the girls who have won the Miss Ramona and Miss Teen Ramona contests have been her students, including this year’s Miss Ramona Kilyaahwii Linton and Miss Teen Ramona Chersten Sandvik.

Griffin’s 29-year-old daughter, Katie Griffin, lives in San Francisco, where she dances with the Modern Dance Company. Aimee Garten, one of Griffin’s first students, was in the movie “Titanic.”

Former student Austin Anderson “is now in Hollywood and is getting quite well known,” Griffin said. He has been on a Nickolodeon show and other TV shows, she added.

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A group of ballerinas pose with instructor Rachel Hernandez before a competition. Sentinel photo/Lynn Sampson

Griffin’s studio offers lessons in a variety of dance styles including classical ballet, jazz, tap, modern, hip hop, and lyrical. She also has acro dance competition and performing groups. The dance studio has 17 instructors teaching over 100 classes per week,  according to Griffin.

“We offer so much,” she said. “I’ve got a lot of teachers who dance in other places.

At the dance studio, Griffin also owns Dancin’ Feet Boutique, which sells dance shoes and apparel along with other dance items.

Griffin is originally from St. Louis where she received dance training. She also received dance training in New York and San Diego. She was a soloist for 10 years in a ballet company in St. Louis, worked as a professional dancer/singer, and has been a choreographer for musical theater.

Artistic family genes are evident as Griffin runs through the talents of her five siblings. One brother is a jazz pianist, another is a tool designer, her late brother, Rick, was a drummer, and her sister and another brother are also musical.

Of her father, Griffin said: “He and my mom, believe it or not, took up tap dancing in their seventies.”

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Fathers and daughters practice their routines for the recital’s Daddy/Daughter Dance. Sentinel photo/Karen Brainard

Thirty members of her family, many of them traveling long distances, are coming to see Griffin’s recital this year.

Always busy, Griffin said she puts in 12 to 14 hours per day at her business, but added, “I Iove it. This is who I am.”

Tickets for the recital are available at the door of the Poway Center for Performing Arts on June 30 or call the center at 858-748-0505.

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One of the many recitals the Ramona/Julian Academy of Dance has held at the Poway Center for Performing Arts. Courtesy photo
   
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