Tucked away prominently on MLK Drive, just a block north of North Ave., an indistinguishable single-story building with minimal signage is home to an abundance of talent and a homeowner with a heart of gold. Salute Society Dance Studio, run solely by owner and creative director Tony Carter, could very well be one of the best-kept secrets in the Milwaukee dance community.
Step inside and the unassuming facade transforms into a studio carefully designed to stand out. From the Instagram video clips of the classes, one could easily assume that the mood lighting, 3D walls, and chandeliers that rise from the ceiling of this ornate studio can be found anywhere except in Milwaukee. “The goal was to have an elite feel to the black community… bring the vibe of LA to Milwaukee,” Carter explains how lacking in visual appeal the interior designs of some small businesses are. He adds, “If you look good, you feel good. “
Besides style, Salute Society offers an array of dance classes ranging from fashion to traditional, including heels, hip hop, contemporary, K-Pop, jazz fusion, and bachata. It also hosts workshops with well-known choreographers, such as Peter Pinnock, who choreographs for the Millennium Tour with a star line-up including R&B singing sensations Omarion and Ashanti. Pinnock found out about the Salute Society and contacted Carter to teach a class when the tour stopped in Milwaukee.
This is the type of community building Carter was hoping for when he opened the studio. “The goal is to create a platform for artists to showcase their talent,” says Carter. “Everyone thinks you have to leave Milwaukee to be successful, my goal is to keep them here.
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“We welcome everyone,” Carter adds. “It’s a diverse studio from style to running …” To dance teachers too! Carter offers the opportunity to teach everyone, from newbies like Savannah Faith and Jaz Pearl to seasoned choreographers like Christopher Gilbert and Chrissy Morrison.
The irony of Carter’s story is that he’s not a dancer; his day job is a diamontologist, but his real vocation is entrepreneurship. In 2012, with event planning as a long-standing side activity, he decided to bypass expensive space rentals and rent the MLK building as an event space for himself and other like-minded creatives, in the heart of Bronzeville. Eventually, the space turned into the Salute Society Dance Studio, three years later. Richard Brasfield, dancer, choreographer and founder of the local dance group Revamped, helped help Carter find the first team of dance teachers.
Always an outsider
Regardless of the impressive set-up and skillful instructors, Carter, who has never received any loans or grants for the studio, has seen no profit from his personal investment, and believes the studio is not getting the recognition he is getting. needs and deserves, “I came as an underdog, and I’m still struggling to get out of it.
Carter continues, “It’s tough being a black-owned business, especially with questions like, ‘Is the neighborhood safe? “”, He admits. “And when people see me for the first time, they don’t show respect until they find out that I’m the owner.”
Despite these challenges, Carter remains hopeful, sticking to his philosophy of investing first in people and his community, believing the money will come later, “I wish this was a creative benchmark for. Milwaukee, ”Carter said. “My goal is always to help others to be able to flourish. “