Esther Kang

South Bay’s School of Dance and Music soars from humble beginnings

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Avalon Stone, 10, shows off a break-dance move inside the Manhattan Beach School of Dance and Music. Photo by Esther Kang

Avalon Stone, 10, shows off a break-dance move inside the Manhattan Beach School of Dance and Music. Photo by Esther Kang

Liliana Somma was supposed to go to med school.

She had just earned her bachelor’s degree in biology from Loyola Marymount University and was interning at local hospitals. It had been the expectation of her parents, who immigrated from extreme poverty in Italy before her birth.

But Somma’s heart was somewhere else: dance. More specifically, teaching dance to children. She told her parents she was taking a break from hospitals and focusing on dancing professionally and teaching. In Hermosa Beach, she rented out a 800 sq. ft. studio, which would become the first of three School of Dance and Music locations.

Liliana Somma, lifelong dancer and founder of School of Dance and Music. All photos courtesy of SDM

Liliana Somma, lifelong dancer and founder of School of Dance and Music. Photo courtesy of SDM

Fifteen years later, the School of Dance and Music is celebrating a milestone. With presence also in Redondo Beach and most recently Manhattan Beach, the school has taught more than 15,000 students to date. The studios offer a wide array of dance classes — ballet, hip hop, jazz, ballroom included— and teaches private lessons in vocals, piano, guitar, songwriting and the like. With 50 teachers, close to 3,000 students are enrolled today. She and her husband Dan Galitzen, a guitarist who is an engineer by trade, manage the business together.

“This temporary idea just kept growing and growing,” Somma, now 37, said.

She’s had an entrepreneurial spirit from a young age. As a senior at an all-girls catholic school on the westside, Somma launched her first business. It was called Lil’Dancers, a children’s dance program she spontaneously started at the Manhattan Beach Country Club, where she’d been working part-time. Not long after, the program began expanding in schools across the Los Angeles County. By the time she was a freshman at Loyola, she was managing a number of dance teachers.

She began dancing at 4 years old; there’s footage of her very first dance class, where she sat on her mother’s lap crying, Somma said laughing.

As a painfully shy kid growing up (she was voted “most likely to become a nun” at her middle school), she said she grew into herself through dance.

“The tunnel-minded vision of dance being dance and music being music, it’s bigger than that,” Somma said. “The confidence I got out of it was so huge. It really changed my whole life. I don’t think I’d even be here today.”

School of Dance and Music owner Liliana Somma (far right) with students Allee Stone, 12, Avalon Stone, 10, Spencer Stone, 6, and Ava Garfield, 4. Photo by Esther Kang

School of Dance and Music owner Liliana Somma (far right) with students Allee Stone, 12, Avalon Stone, 10, Spencer Stone, 6, and Ava Garfield, 4. Photo by Esther Kang

She sees the same resolve emerging in her 6-year-old son Mateo, who’s taking hip hop dance classes at the studio. A natural confidence is beginning to spill out of him, whether he’s giving a book report to the class or showing his mother his latest routines.

Eden Godin, a toddler student at School of Dance and Music.

Eden Godin, a toddler student at School of Dance and Music. Photo courtesy of SDM

“We actually have more boys now than we’ve ever had,” she said. “They’re not gonna bust out a choreographed hip hop number at their high school dance, but they are gonna have a different comfortableness in their bodies so they can at least feel good about their social engagement. I see it right and left.”

Allee Stone, a sixth grader at Manhattan Beach Middle School, spends six hours a week at the School of Dance and Music for hip hop, jazz and contemporary classes. She hopes to join the Mira Costa dance team when the time comes. Her sister Avalon, 10, is taking hip hop and her brother Spencer, 6, is learning piano.

There are no plans to open a fourth location — the expansions sprung organically when demand trumped supply, Somma noted — but she said in her business’s 15 years of existence, there hasn’t been a year without growth.

“I think people just feel it,” she said. “If you’re doing something that you really believe in, things just grow naturally.”

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