Fairfax location of RoCo Dance plans imminent closure

Senior+Stella+Cosgrove+arches+backwards+in+contemporary+class+at+Fairfax+RoCo+studio.

Naomi Betz

Senior Stella Cosgrove arches backwards in contemporary class at Fairfax RoCo studio.

Nestled in with the spunky boutiques and lively restaurants of downtown Fairfax is RoCo Dance, an extension of the original RoCo studio in Mill Valley. After 12 years of service to Fairfax’s dance community, the Fairfax location of RoCo Dance will close due to the termination of the building’s lease. RoCo Fairfax will officially close Feb. 1, 2022.

RoCo Founder and Director Annie Rosenthal Parr, who established the original Mill Valley RoCo studio in 1993, pondered the possibility of expanding RoCo into a franchisable dance studio. When Dance Theatre 7 announced its plans to close, Parr seized the opportunity to materialize her dream by opening up RoCo Fairfax on 56 Bolinas Road, back in Feb. 2010.

“There really are very few franchise dance studios that exist where there’s, like, a brand name attached to a dance studio,” Parr said. “Most towns have their own ‘Mom and Pop’ dance shop… My ideas were big when I first decided about opening RoCo Fairfax, and it was an experiment to see, ‘What does it feel like to have two locations, is it manageable to go beyond those two locations into a much bigger idea?’”

Despite having opened a second location, Parr now realizes that the distance between the Fairfax and Mill Valley studios was not large enough to have the wide-reaching impact for which she had originally envisioned.

“In retrospect, I don’t think it is far enough away. I think that the studios were a bit too close together and that we were sharing students and instructors and management… it needed more separation, I felt like, to be more successful,” Parr said.

After 60 years of owning 56 Bolinas, the proprietors decided to sell the building, shocking the RoCo community. RoCo students were informed of their dance studio’s closure on Nov. 15, 2021.

Many Fairfax dancers, like AWHS junior Lili Cusick, felt emotionally affected by the news of the closure.

“It was really just frustrating to me, and sad, to hear the news because literally I’ve been there since I was two, going there every single day after school, every single time, just in that space… it’s so sad,” Lili said.

Parr never intended to close RoCo Fairfax, but she allowed the building’s lease to lapse during the COVID-19 pandemic.

When the building owners said they were selling, I had to then evaluate whether or not it made sense to even keep it, because whoever buys this building was not likely going to be able to match the rent that I’m receiving now which has made it a sustainable business,” Parr said.

If RoCo planned to buy back 56 Bolinas when the lease ends in Feb. 2022, the new owners could increase the building’s rent, which would pose financial problems for RoCo.

New building owners may not want to purchase a building that has tenants with long-term leases,” Parr said.

After weeks of deliberation, Parr decided that it would be most advantageous for the business if RoCo Fairfax finished out the current session at 56 Bolinas and then closed. This decision was not easy for Parr, as she has a feeling of sentimentality towards 56 Bolinas. Parr, a Mill Valley native, grew up spending time with friends at the Sleeping Lady Cafe, which once inhabited 56 Bolinas as well. 

“I think it’s a beautiful space to dance in with the high ceilings and the openness of it… Being in downtown Fairfax is special because it feels more part of the community, and Tam Valley just doesn’t have the same kind of specialness when it comes to that,” Parr said.

I think it’s a beautiful space to dance in with the high ceilings and the openness of it… Being in downtown Fairfax is special because it feels more part of the community, and Tam Valley just doesn’t have the same kind of specialness when it comes to that,”

— Annie Rosenthal Parr

Carhart, who has served as the Fairfax studio’s manager for seven years, says that RoCo Fairfax is the most special of all the five dance studios at which she has worked in her life.

“I really think it’s because of the community and the families that I’ve gotten so close to these past seven years. I think being on Bolinas Road and having a storefront right on the main road has been an amazing interaction, just with people walking by and looking in our windows and seeing those 3-year-olds just mesmerized by these kids,” Carhart said.

Like Carhart, the Fairfax RoCo dancers felt saddened by the news of the studio’s closure. Stella Cosgrove, AWHS senior and member of the Fairfax RoCo advanced company Fairfax (FX) in Motion, reflects on the quirky nature of RoCo Fairfax.

“The Fairfax community does kind of merge with RoCo… Because the windows are so big, you see everyone walking by… We had a guy the other day walk by playing the bagpipes. It’s kind of normal at this point,” Stella said.

Dylann Cullinane, AWHS senior and Fairfax company member, has danced at 56 Bolinas Road for 14 years – even under the previous management of Dance Theatre 7. Even after RoCo closes, Dylann hopes that another local dance studio will blossom in the same location to provide opportunities for some West Marin dancers who cannot commute to RoCo Mill Valley.

“I’m really hoping that whoever buys [56 Bolinas] maybe can keep it as a dance studio because I think that would be really cool to have a dance studio that’s local to us… otherwise the closest one would be Just Dance in San Rafael… for valley kids, and for Fairfax and San Anselmo, I think it would be good to still have a dance studio, even if it’s under different management,” Dylann said.

According to Carhart, there are no known plans of replacing RoCo with another dance studio in Fairfax. Instead, Carhart and Parr encourage Fairfax RoCo dancers to transition over to dancing at Mill Valley RoCo. Given that the venue change will cause a longer commute for some students, Parr says that dance classes will start later in order to accommodate dancers who live farther away.

Despite the increase in projected commute time, many Fairfax dancers, such as AWHS sophomore Ana Vidinsky, plan on continuing to dance with RoCo at the Mill Valley location.

“I’ll have to be relying on figuring out a carpool system… it adds another layer of stress, but I definitely think it would be worth it to drive up to Mill Valley because there are a lot more opportunities up there,” Ana said.

With RoCo Fairfax’s impending closure, FX in Motion prepares to join Body Language, Mill Valley RoCo’s advanced company. Although the groups have performed together in the past, FX in Motion dancers describe feeling a recognizable division between the two groups, and that RoCo favored Body Language over FX in Motion. Carhart anticipates that the union of the groups will bolster the quality and creativity of their dancing.

“I think it’s going to ‘up’ our program. I think it’s going to heighten it, because it’s our strongest two groups of dancers… It’s just going to bring more inspiration to other kids… We don’t make our program grow, the kids do,” Carhart said.

The sign outside of the current Fairfax RoCo on 56 Bolinas Road, which plans to close on Feb. 1, 2022.

AWHS senior and FX in Motion dancer, Ben de Andrade, grieves the loss of RoCo Fairfax, but looks forward to joining Body Language.

“There are so many good dancers [in Mill Valley], and I think it would be really fun to dance with them,” Ben said.

Parr also celebrates the joining of FX in Motion and Body Language, as she thinks the two groups will function well together. 

“I know it’s a little more bittersweet for the Fairfax group for some, but the Mill Valley group is unanimously excited about joining forces with FX in Motion,” Parr said.

Between the end of the winter 2021 session and the start of the spring 2022 session on Jan. 3, the music will finally stop emanating from RoCo Fairfax at 56 Bolinas, and dancers will leap into a new experience at RoCo Mill Valley.