For more than 10 years, the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles has been home to Ryan Heffington's The Sweat Spot. Built on Heffington's joy-inducing, ecstatic energy, his studio became a haven for dance professionals and neophytes alike. But despite The Sweat Spot's glowing reputation and Heffington's celebrity status, the studio was left in dire straits following the nationwide stay-at-home orders necessitated by COVID-19 and has since shuttered its brick-and-mortar establishment entirely.
According to Heffington and his team, the decision behind the closure was not solely due to the pandemic. In 2021, the owners of the buildings housing the studio and surrounding businesses intend to begin construction to develop the area into condos and retail spaces. Pre-COVID, The Sweat Spot had planned to move locations at the start of the new year. But after the pandemic placed in-person gatherings on indefinite hiatus, purchasing or leasing a new location was too big of a financial risk. Even if The Sweat Spot had been permitted to open again, local authorities would likely have only allowed limited-capacity attendance, which would not have generated enough revenue to sustain a lease.
The Sweat Spot is not the only major studio that has been forced to make big changes. EDGE Performing Arts Center, a longtime mainstay in the Los Angeles commercial dance scene, is faced with a dilemma similar to The Sweat Spot's, dealing with the realities of a terminated lease as its building comes under new ownership. As of press time, the dance community has rallied around the studio, but EDGE's future remains uncertain. Newer spaces in Los Angeles, like Pacific Arts Center & Dance Studios, we live in space and Pieter Performance Space have also had to let go of their physical locations or permanently close, and studios across the country are facing similar challenges.
Heffington taught his final class via Instagram Live.
Brandy Menefee, Courtesy Menefee
"When I taught my last class at The Sweat Spot, of course it was emotional, but it felt like the right timing," Heffington says. "I know I made the right choice and something else will grow. I'm just thankful I was able to give L.A. this space for the last 10 years."
Heffington's pioneering livestreamed dance classes have continued to garner attention and praise since their introduction at the beginning of stay-at-home orders in March. Though The Sweat Spot was using his growing online following to gather donations aimed at sustaining the studio, Heffington ultimately felt that holding on to a physical space was not feasible. Whether a return to an in-person setting is in the cards remains to be seen, but the studio has continued to host online classes through Instagram.
"The Sweat Spot was this giant fire," says instructor Danny Dolan, "and all of us are the embers, and we get to go land somewhere else and ignite a fire in that other space. We now get to take that energy and that feeling and grow elsewhere with The Sweat Spot inside of us."