Will Someone Please Save Debbie Reynolds Dance Studio?
Updated: Jun 9, 2020
When you talk to dancers and choreographers about Debbie Reynolds Dance Studio the words you often here are “home,” “welcoming” and “nostalgic.” That all might be a thing of the past because the studio in North Hollywood, California, along with Reynolds’ Creston, California ranch, is up for auction on Oct. 7-9 at auction house, Profiles in History.
Todd Fisher, Reynolds’ son with Eddie Fisher, originally stated to TMZ in February that the studio would be turned into a museum to house some of the performer’s costume collection. When Dance Dish visited the studio in late September, one of the studios was already taken over for the memorabilia and was no longer being used for dance classes.
It looks like those plans have now changed and saving the studio from the hands of developers has become an urgent matter.
By putting the studio on the auction block for a starting price in the $6 million range, it opens up the property to a developer who might not be interested in the Hollywood history of the location. It might be more attractive as a lot for new construction — this would be a huge loss to the dance community.
Margie Duncan, manager of Debbie Reynolds Dance Studio since 1979, took Dance Dish on a tour of the facility and gave insight on why this studio and Reynolds was so special.
The space was originally opened as a professional rehearsal studio and then they added classes later on. Their very first celebrity who rehearsed in the space was Ben Vereen in Studio C, which was the original studio. The rest of the complex was built out as the business grew.
“We built in an additional studio for the film The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, but they never wound up rehearsing here,” laughed Duncan. “We then went on to have Charo, Sid Caesar, Lesley Ann Warren, Bonnie Franklin and even Sid Charisse rehearsed here. And oh yes, The Village People!”
While Reynolds mostly spent time in the studio when she was rehearsing for one of her acts, it is Duncan who has carried on the legacy of the studio before and after Reynolds’ passing in December 2016.
“Debbie learned to dance for the movies. She didn’t learn to dance like we all did — going to class every day. She was going to be a gym teacher, but she went into the Miss Burbank contest because you got a silk blouse and she never owned a silk blouse before. She mouthed a playback to a Betty Hutton record — “I’m Just A Square In A Social Circle” — and she won the contest with a hole in the bottom of her bathing suit. She got a contract with Warner Brothers for $65 a week.”
There are other legends who passed through Debbie Reynolds Dance Studio including Michael Jackson, who rehearsed “Thriller” in Studio D. If you watch the Making of Thriller documentary, not only are the studios seen in the film, so is legendary director/choreographer Vincent Paterson.
Duncan shared some of Reynolds’ costume collection that house everything from costumes from Unsinkable Molly Brown and the “Dream of You” wardrobe from Singin' In the Rain to her Oscar dress. The studio even houses some of Carrie Fisher’s wardrobe like her wedding dress from her marriage to Paul Simon and an orange pantsuit from her days performing with her mother in Las Vegas.
With the looming auction, Duncan knew there were financial issues at hand, but she was blindsided by the fact that the information was made public about the sale.
“I knew there was a [financial] problem what it might have to be sold, but I didn’t know the urgency of it,” Duncan explained, “I also didn’t know that they were going to put [the information about the sale] out. We thought they weren’t going to make it so public and tell the press.”
No matter what happens to the studio, no one will ever replace the friendship Duncan had with Reynolds. They were friends for over 60 years and fought like sisters.
“We were never mad at each other for more than a minute,” Duncan laughed.
She’s also happy to dish on Madonna, who rehearsed her Blonde Ambition Tour at the studio. Madonna wasn’t “warm and fuzzy,” most likely because she was going through a divorce with her first husband, Sean Penn. Penn was sending flowers daily to his ex in hopes of reconciling, but Madonna wasn’t interested.
“So I enjoyed all of those beautiful flowers in my office,” reminisced Duncan.
It’s not only Duncan’s memories that are everlasting, it’s the same for Gustavo Vargas, who teaches his popular Salsa classes at the studio.
“What I’m feeling right now is that I’m kind of sad. I’ve been there for years training and then to become a faculty member — it’s like my second home because I am there every week,” said Vargas to Dance Dish at September’s Club Jeté event. “To hear what might possibly happen is sad. I don’t want it to go away.”
For Vargas, the place is steeped in the history of performers who came before him.
“One of my favorite memories is seeing all of the headshots of dancers who rehearsed there. Michael Jackson rehearsed “Thriller” there. There’s so much history, it’s such a beautiful thing. It needs to stay.”
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