Contemporary dance studio hopes to go with the flow Downtown


Natalia Portillo (far right) a client in Sound + Vision's contemporary class Photo credit: Renee Malooly

EL PASO – The desert sun blasting through the clear glass windows and bouncing on the gleaming wood floors followed the graceful movements of the dancers to the slow beat of the music.


Natalia Portillo (far right) a client in Sound + Vision’s contemporary class Photo credit: Renee Malooly

Located on the fifth floor of the historical Abdou Building in Downtown El Paso, Sound and VisionStudios opened its doors to lovers of contemporary dance in late August.

“Right now we are trying to find a niche,” said Jennifer Burton, 33, co-owner of the studio, which has become a unique place for clients to practice the art of contemporary dance.

Burton co-owns the studio with her husband, Justin Leeah. She lived in the downtown studio for 15 years when it was just her apartment, moving out in January 2014 to turn it into a dance studio.

Contemporary dance has flourished across the world as a style that incorporates many types of dance elements ranging from ballet to jazz. It is a style embedded in each of the six instructors teaching at Sound and Vision.

Client Natalia Portillo takes the contemporary class offered on Saturdays and said that the type of dance offered is not like the ballroom dance styles seen on competitive television shows.

“It’s very inventive and experimental,” Portillo said as she stretched her legs across the wooden floor of the 500-square-foot room. “We don’t get too much contemporary in El Paso.”

Portillo said she appreciates that the class is not about displaying a picturesque image.

“This is really about movement rather than ‘let’s make pretty lines,’” Portillo said.


The Abdou Building where Sound + Vision Studios is located Photo credit: Renee Malooly

A Veterans Day Parade caused many cancellations for clients the day of the interview. However, Portillo made sure her boyfriend dropped her off in time for her to make it to class.

“For the most part I find parking nearby,” Portillo said.

Burton said the issue of clients not showing up to class can be stressful, but said it is not just an El Paso problem.

“The difference is that in a large city you have such a large population that is into so many diverse activities,” Burton said. “When people are not going, there is always someone there.”

Burton said her target audience is people who work downtown and are able to attend her first class every Tuesday and Thursday at 5:30 p.m. That way, clients who already work downtown do not have to face the issue of finding a parking space. However, she hopes to appeal to a wider range soon.

“It’s an open class schedule,” Burton said. “We need to appeal to as wide of an audience as possible.”

Dancers must be 14 or over and anyone under 18 must have parental consent to take classes. This is due to the beautiful glass windows being fully functional. The stairs in the building are marble and they are also not ideal for children. Burton said she enjoys having adult students.

“There is enthusiasm and they really want to be there,” Burton said.

Burton approaches ballet instruction as someone who loves modern and contemporary dance. She said with this approach, body issues are more widely accepted in contrast to strict ballet studios that require a specific clientele . She said her classes admit anyone from beginners to experts.

“My dream for this class is having women in their sixties being my clients because it is such good stretching and is so good for the body,” Burton said.

Another class offered at the studio is yoga and meditation taught by Jazmin Ortega who, along with Burton, is a University of Texas at El Paso dance major. Ortega enjoys the drop-in policy that the studio offers because she sees new faces every session.

“I adapt to whoever is there,” Ortega said.

Ortega takes advantage of working one on one with each client so she can help them establish what they need to work on. Ortega said she feels the studio classes are based on movement, a contemporary approach that helps clients gain more flexibility.

“For the first classes you just get to know what you can do, where you are, and how your body works,” Ortega said.

Portillo also said she likes having a drop in rate as a client in contrast to a membership fee.

“In big cities that’s usually how studios go about,” Portillo said.

Burton stressed the importance of language in any form of dance in order to understand your body and health. She compared dance to eating nutritious oatmeal.

“It’s warm and it’s nourishing,” Burton said. “It’s high in fiber and it’s just good for you.”

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