As highly sought-after dancers and choreographers, Keone and Mari Madrid had a full schedule at the beginning of 2020, including choreographing and directing the Broadway-bound Britney Spears musical Once Upon a One More Time and performing in the off-Broadway run of their Beyond Babel show.
Their resumé is packed with the kind of career highlights other dance artists only dream of: With over 2 billion views on their YouTube videos, thanks in part to the fame they've gotten for dancing in and choreographing Justin Bieber's "Love Yourself" music video, the couple have won numerous dance-competition championships, worked with brands like Nike, Beats by Dre, Nordstrom and Hyundai, and received nominations for best choreography at the MTV Video Music Awards.
But recently, the pair added a new undertaking—in the middle of a pandemic, no less. The Madrids are now owners of a dance-studio space, inside a gym, and an intensive online training curriculum.
The Madrids have long been in-demand teachers, but they've always found it challenging during master classes to provide personalized feedback due to the sheer numbers of students. That's what led them to first open an appointment-only studio space called Building Block in 2014, located on the first floor of their San Diego live-work loft complex. "We were traveling and teaching internationally, but we kept getting requests from dancers who wanted to train with us," Keone says. "We weren't teaching anywhere weekly, so we weren't really accessible. That's why we developed an intimate space."
But as demand grew, especially among pre-professional students, the Madrids started renting space from an existing studio in nearby Carlsbad. The space continued to operate even while the Madrids took a break from teaching while their attention was required on some high-profile creative projects.
By early 2020, several of those projects—including Beyond Babel—were open and receiving rave reviews. But then the pandemic halted everything, including the Madrids, who battled the virus themselves. "We were robbed of our Broadway ventures, but as soon as we got home to San Diego, two of the tenants that had been in Coach Nghia's building vacated and there was extra space," Keone says. "So we thought: Now is the time."
The Coach and the Space
Nghia Pham is the founder of Optimum Training and Performance in San Diego, and has been coaching the Madrids for five years, helping them with cross-training and plyometric training to aid their balance, stability and power. The Madrids knew they wanted their students to benefit from functional, performance-based workouts as well, so the trio had been talking about opening a dance space inside of a gym.
However, any potential sites they found always fell through—until the tenants occupying the space vacated in the middle of Pham's training center in early March. "When he called to tell us, I think our mindset was 'We're going to take the leap because the door is open and we're going to find a way to make it work," Mari says. "We love our connection to the dance community and to teaching, and this is our next chapter."
Since Pham's business specializes in customizing sport-specific training, it was a natural fit to combine forces with the Madrids, whose students will be able to utilize Pham's facilities once the pandemic ends. "When the opportunity to collaborate with Building Block and Keone and Mari came up, it made perfect sense since our vision is very much in alignment," Pham says. "Since the very beginning, Keone and Mari have understood that dancers are athletes, and the knowledge of the proper training, nutrition and lifestyle will only enhance and prolong their career."
The 1,100-square-foot space, which was previously used as a spin studio, initially had just four walls and no ceiling. It's inside a warehouse, nestled between Optimum Training and Performance and a volleyball facility. Conveniently, the Madrids' physical therapists are also located in the same building, so Building Block students will have the option of using therapists who are familiar with dancers' needs.
It took a solid two months to build out the space with flooring repurposed from a basketball court and the Carlsbad studio, white walls, and professional lighting rigged to a 25-foot, trussed ceiling so the space can double as a film studio. "It was a lot of money up front for Mari and me, but we were able to get a small business loan, which bought us some time to comfortably invest in the space, hire our teachers and have some immediate cushioning," Keone says. In the new space, they launched Building Block Academy, a program that provides eight-week sessions of dance development, education and mentorship for students ages 3 to 19.
The Online Curriculum
Since social distancing still requires reduced enrollment in the Academy program, the Madrids were laser focused on launching BB360, their new, on-demand video curriculum. It was something they had always wanted to do but just didn't have the time or the urgency, until the pandemic. "We were very conscious of being able to film as soon as we possibly could because we had to go online. It was the only way to survive," Keone says. "But if we are going to go online, it has to be something that's helpful and not for the sake of just going online."
The BB360 curriculum embraces their mission of providing mentorship while teaching dancers that they are both athletes and artists. Video lessons involve drills, workouts, stretching, choreography and courses (directing, creative process, mental health, purpose and history) from various choreographers, teachers and athletic trainers. Subscribers get unlimited access for $14.99 a month (or $69.99 if you sign up for a year); for those who want personalized feedback there is the BB360+ option: For $199 a month, subscribers can upload up to two videos a week of themselves dancing to a piece learned from the BB360 library for personalized feedback from one of the instructors.
The Building Block team—which consists of the Madrids and 14 part-time employees, including a BB360 product marketer, a BB360 customer-service head and a marketing team—filmed the first BB360 videos over Memorial Day weekend, and the program debuted August 18 with over 100 videos. One month later, the Madrids had recouped their initial investment in the space and rentals on video production equipment, and today, subscribers have access to more than 200 videos from over 40 instructors. "It makes me happy that people are interacting with our classes and are able to get education and connection at a time when it's really difficult to have that," Mari says.
Once the pandemic ends, the Madrids anticipate additional revenue will come from private lessons and Building Block Dance Space rentals—either for rehearsals, classes or video/photo shoots. "The studio feels good where it is at right now. If things pick up in a normal way, it will be like flipping a switch and inviting dancers into the space," Mari says.
The Madrids, in fact, are already thinking about their next ventures, so it's good that the team they've built to run Building Block can operate without them if need be. "If we had a traditional structure of a regular studio, we wouldn't have the freedom to do what we need to do," Keone says. "We feel we can trust the ship will stay its course when we're not physically there."