Longtime dance studio owner retires after 48 years in the business

DD’s Dance is now DanceXcel

Dianne Martin

is one of the founding mothers of dance in the south metro.

When she started teaching 48 years ago in her parents’ basement, it was just a dream to dance the whole way to retirement.

It was a time when ballroom dancing and Fred Astaire were all the rage. At that time, websites were decades from going online and business was done on paper.

Martin has had studios in West St. Paul and Mendota Heights before opening DD’s Dance in Eagan 14 years ago.

As a owner, director, teacher and choreographer, Martin has gone through the break-dancing craze, and watched it evolve into hip-hop. She’s helped children from 2 years old to 18 learn to tap along with the styles of jazz, ballet and contemporary. She’s seen dancers receive scholarships and dance on many prestigious stages.

“I love working with the kids,” Martin said. “I have five of my own and seven grandkids. I’ve watched thousands of children grow, build confidence and self esteem in dance. That’s what was so rewarding. Being able to get up in front of an audience and compete on their own, it’s quite an accomplishment for them and for me.”

She’s seen thousands of dancers blossom to adults. She still keeps in contact with some of her first dancers via Facebook.

“I started with 13 children and four of them I could tell you what they’re up to now,” Martin said. “It’s an extended family.”

She still loves teaching the younger “little muchkins” the best, she said.

It will be hard phasing that out of her life, but she’s been thinking about retiring for a few years.

DD’s Dance is now doing business as DanceXcel as of July 1.

DD’s Dance has turned into DanceXcel in the same location. It is now owned by former Eastview High School student Gena Buckley. Photo submitted

Martin wasn’t comfortable with turning over the gym to just anyone.

A friend introduced her to Gena Buckley about nine months ago and eventually Martin gave Buckley the keys.

“This is a dream come true for me,” Buckley said.

Dance has always been an outlet for Buckley.

“It’s what makes me happy,” Buckley said. “I love being able to share that passion with the kids and see them grow and reach their full potential.”

Buckley has been dancing since she was 3. She was a member of the Eastview dance team, and she was a Minnesota Vikings cheerleader for four years right out of high school.

“I was one of the youngest to ever make it,” Buckley said.

Between the rewarding charity experiences and dancing in front of thousands, cheering for the Vikings was an “incredible experience,” Buckley said.

“I made friends that last a lifetime, but it got to the point where I wanted to focus on teaching,” Buckley said.

Buckley taught dance in Chaska for 15 years and was a coach for the Lakeville North dance team for 10 years. But as a mother of two young boys, she has to budget her time appropriately.

It’s been a smooth transition since taking over the studio.

It was important to Martin for Buckley to continue designating a scholarship in memory of Maryah Therese Tift, who died from cancer at the age of 16 seven years ago.

DanceXcel has kept DD’s teachers and made only minor modifications to the schedule.

Buckley plans on adding a few pom classes because that’s her specialty. She’s looking to add more adult fitness/dance classes, and foster her connection to area high school dance teams.

She’s also going to add online registration, and she’s working on an updated website.

With her connections to Vikings cheerleaders and with the DanceXcel being so close to the new Vikings headquarters, Buckley is hoping to encourage a few to visit.

The gym continues to offer classes for those ages 2 to 18 for both recreation and competitive dance. She would like to build the recreation program because she feels some other studios overlook that side of the business.

It was tough to retire, but Martin hopes her message of “being kind to each other. Strive to be the best. Embrace your differences. Continue to grow in your love of dance and life,” stays with everyone.

Martin is still going to be involved in the studio. She’s helping plan a Disney trip in 2018, something she’s done every three or four years.

She plans to do some volunteer work with younger children and helping at the Little Sisters of the Poor in St. Paul, which she said is near and dear to her heart.

“I think she’s made a huge impact on a lot of people in the community,” Buckley said. “What she’s been able to do is amazing.”

The new business website is www.dancexcel.dance.

Contact Andy Rogers at [email protected]

  • mdt

    Our girls danced at DD’s for some time. Dianne is so lovely. We wish her the best in her retirement!

  • Cliff Volkmann

    Dance must have been good for this lady as she looks way too young to retire.