ARTS: Despite adversity, dancer lands on her feet
She revolved in and out of 22 foster homes within three years, attended 13 high schools and got pregnant at 15. After aging out of the system at 17, she lived on the streets at one point and cleaned motels for $8 an hour.
“My life was chaos,” said MacLean, 32. “I carried so much baggage.”
Today, as the owner of a growing business at 3579 University Ave. called Room to Dance, MacLean’s life is hectic by design. “I get agitated when I’m not working,” she said.
Since opening Riverside’s first adult-only studio in July 2011, enrollment has more than quadrupled to 960 dance students and increased its roster of non-traditional classes.
Like many of them, Gloria Doran, 26, packs in as many classes as she can afford and squeeze into her week, including contemporary, swing and ballroom. “April has created a great family atmosphere,” Doran said.
Michael Recon, 29, of Moreno Valley, a daily dance addict, said: “I lo0
……………e the fact that there’s no competition or cliques. We’re all here to have fun and improve.”
The classes are so popular that MacLean joined with business partner/teacher, Julie Simon. Simon, whom MacLean calls her “inspiration and soul mate,” encouraged her expand to a second location a block away at City Gym, 3485 University Ave. Called World to Dance, the satellite will open Jan. 5 and offer a smorgasbord of international genres, (including West African, Brazilian, Caribbean, Latin and drumming) as well as master classes and workshops.
Through an online social networking campaign, the duo raised $6,000 for the second startup, renovation of the 1,000-square-foot room, incorporation, insurance and equipment for both studios.
Simon, 43, an international dancer who has lived abroad, said she and MacLean complement each other as a business team.
“April is one of the smartest people I know,” Simon said. “A lot of people talk about doing things, but she actually does them. She’s a steamroller. She’s built her career on brilliance.”
Simon, whom her worshipful students call “Mama Love,” is the warm fuzzy of the pair, building her career on nurturing relationships with students, a connection MacLean appreciates and emulates.
“You’re not just teaching dance, you’re ministering to people who thank you so much,” MacLean said.
After a rocky road, MacLean has found love and stability with her husband of three years, David MacLean, 32, a hospital corpsman in the U.S. Navy. The two live in Riverside and share custody of April’s two daughters.
Still, it’s not easy to erase scars from an abusive family that landed MacLean in foster care at age 14. Three months was the longest she ever stayed in one home. She got married, had a second daughter, and then got divorced.
“I took a huge break between high school and college,” MacLean said.
Despite misgivings about her intelligence, she enrolled in Riverside Community College in 2004, where she benefited from mentoring and tough love professors. “They said, ‘You’re done here, move on’,” MacLean remembers. “I couldn’t think long term. But they really helped me grow.”
Her dancing flourished, as did her self-esteem, after MacLean started UC Riverside at the end of 2006 with the help of a huge student loan. She never did graduate because of a problem transferring some community-college credits.
Instead, she moved on, launching her career with Intersect Dance Theater in Riverside and mentored high-risk teens through a Youth Opportunity Center. By 2011, MacLean had scraped together $5,000, enough to open Room to Dance for those 18 and older in an upstairs former yoga studio.
“The problem is that adults’ minds and bodies are different and don’t learn or process information the same way as younger people,” she said. Classes taken with children and teens can inhibit and frustrate older folks.
Charging $8 for the first class and giving various discounts for packages and membership deals, MacLean offers 22 types of dances, including tap, salsa, hip hop, jazz, Zumba and strength training.
“This is my stress relief,” said Nestor Tenorio, 28, an Air Force reservist who lives in Moreno Valley. “This is the only place I can be silly.” Three classes a week have also slimmed him down and improved his heart and lungs.
MacLean has become a role model and confidante to many of her students. “She lets you speak your mind and reminds you to ask for help when you need it,” said Amanda Ridder, 21, a college student.
When asked how she’s triumphed over a sad childhood and turned things around, MacLean doesn’t waver: “My faith,” she said. “I have a very strong relationship with God.”