This post is about the wonderful time I had at Studio 429 last week and is based off of the Q&A portion of “The Choreo Cookies Experience” where the Cookies fielded questions on cleaning & blocking as well as more general ones on what it’s like to be a Cookie. Afterwards, I immediately ran home and typed up a bunch of notes, hesitating when I became aware that I had an alarming amount of information on how Choreo Cookies puts their sets together. Upon further contemplation I realized that divulging this information wouldn’t really put the Cookies at a disadvantage. Their methods are surprisingly simple and seem like common sense; there’s no witchcraft or top secret formula for the Cookies’ highly successful sets. They’re just really damn good at what they do.
“We’re a family” – this is something you hear a lot of dance crews say, but I had never personally gotten a chance to verify such statements before. From what I witnessed this week, I would say this is 100% true. Most people probably know Choreo Cookies as Keone and Mari Madrid’s competition team and won’t be able to name any other members. However during the Q&A, it wasn’t Keone and Mari answering questions, but the rest of the Cookies as well. It was a bit surreal, sitting there listening and watching… I had never attended such a well run Q&A before in my life. Keone served as moderator, but was largely invisible, simply selecting people to answer various questions. There were no interruptions or disagreements, just an overwhelming calm filling the room.
“Once a Cookie, always a Cookie.”
Membership is by invitation only, and this is largely to preserve the safety of the Cookies dynamic. They don’t really care about how amazing your dance resumé is; what they want is someone who has the same values as they do. The Cookies have a huge respect for one another, which brings a real sense of maturity to their team. Just like blood-families, brother-sister relationships can’t always be pretty, but at the end of the day, they all do really love and support each other. When asked how they managed to build such a deep respect for each other, one Cookie noted that “spending so much time together outside of the studio made [him] realize that everyone’s got something else going on. [The Cookies] don’t get paid to do this, they don’t have to do it, and most of [them] don’t dance full-time, or if they do they work really hard at it, but a lot of people work full-time, or are still going to school… just knowing that everyone has so much going on outside of Cookies made [him] respect them more.” He’s right, I thought while recalling Dom Byrd walking into the studio still wearing his Discount Tires uniform, bummed that he was late to class because of the $100 deal they were having at work for Labor Day weekend.
Out of that mutual respect comes support, which extends into the way Cookies run classes at 429. As I was putting on my shoes in Studio 429’s lobby, my friend was chatting to a girl next to us. “Yeah, I guess it’s weird that I drive all the way up here for classes when I live directly between two other studios,” she said “but I really like the atmosphere here.” Last summer, I spent my entire time driving to one of the studios that this girl lives next to instead of going to 429, even though the drive was at least twice as long with no traffic. I was intimidated by the amazing lineup of teachers at 429 and decided that I’d try 429 out once I improved a bit at the other studio. By the end of that summer, I hadn’t visited 429 once and suffered from a complete lack of self-confidence. While that other studio offered a bunch of intro classes, the atmosphere just kinda… sucked. The classes were always overcrowded and no matter how peppy the teachers were, I always left class feeling worthless.
However, all of that has been the complete opposite of my experience at 429. Even though I have more difficulty with the choreography, the teachers and students support each other unconditionally. One of the first things I thought when I took class at 429 was everyone is just SO nice. People I had never seen before introduced themselves to me and we would chat about random things until class started. Most of the teachers at 429 are also Cookies and one of their biggest priorities is making sure that 429 is a safe and fun place for anyone to dance. For example, Mari Madrid emphasized the importance of supporting one another in her “Heartbreak Hotel” class, “I don’t want you guys to finish the choreo and walk off thinking ‘I don’t know if I did ok…’, NO! YOU DID AWESOME! It’s important to cheer each other on because it’s good for you and it’s good for our community.”
During our blocking project, the Cookies were forbidden from helping us, and yet they kept wandering over to the other side of the studio to “use the bathroom.” When a Cookie realized the bathroom was occupied, he or she would hide around the corner, and whispered to us “Hey! How are you guys doing? Do you have any questions? I mean… I’m not supposed to help you, but are you guys okay?” The way they hovered around us and peered in from the lobby like worried parents was so adorable. When it came down to performance time, I swear I was having flashbacks to elementary school rec soccer; the Cookies sat in front of the mirror and were shouting and cheering even before the music started. I couldn’t help but smile as I thought to myself – okay, well they’re going to cheer for me no matter what so I might as well just go for it – and guess what? Best run, hands down. If I messed up, I didn’t know because I was enjoying myself the whole time.
Check out the footage from Day 1 of Opening Week, especially Tracy Seiler peering into the class all excitedly at 0:56.