Village Arts Center Celebrated
One of the most joyful places to be mornings is the Village Arts Center, located in the Atrium Building at 860 Via de la Paz.
The sun shines through the southern windows as children (and infants) are allowed to explore, create and move through art, music and dance lessons.
“There’s a power and beauty of a child that’s not overstimulated,” said Stephanie Shuken, founder of Village Arts Center and the mother of two children. “This is a sacred place.”
Since opening in 2005, the Center has been one of the most popular places in Pacific Palisades for pre-ballet and ballet class, messy art and just a chance for socialization for kids.
Because so many celebrities’ kids have attended and still attend classes, Shuken purposely tries “to keep things low key.”
“I believe every child needs to be shielded [from unwanted attention and stimulation],” said Shuken, who has started a new morning class that’s held on Tuesday and Thursday from 9:15 to 11:15 a.m.
The class is open to the community, and a parent and child (ages 10 months and up) can just drop in and participate in Circle Time, which includes art, music and dance.
“You get here when you get here,” Shuken said, stressing that this was not about the anxiety of having to be at a place on time. “Come anytime, leave anytime. It’s a great place for socialization and for a child to expend energy.”
The morning schedule has different offerings that might include “Messy Art & Movement” for two- to three-year-olds or maybe the popular Boys Class.
Afternoons are mostly filled with pre-ballet and ballet I & II.
“I’m known for my ballet programs,” Shuken said. “I make ballet fun and imaginative.
“I think there’s a need for a place where a child can go one day a week and take ballet, but not be forced into multiple times a week. [But] as the child gets older, we add more days.
In her classes, regardless of the age, “We speak to them as if they are dancing for the Royal Academy,” said Shuken, who grew up in Maryland and received her bachelor’s degree in fine arts in dance performance from SUNY Purchase.
She danced in New York City before moving to Los Angeles in 2004. In addition to dancing, Shuken had a variety of jobs, such as teaching dance and working as a massage therapist.
She had just gone to Hawaii for a month-long costume job when a friend, who had a massage client in Pacific Palisades, called and told her there was a perfect business for sale in Pacific Palisades that she ought to pursue.
Arthur Mortell and his wife, who had operated a theater-based company for kids, were selling.
Shuken had received a small amount of money from her grandparents.
“What I had left was the exact amount they were asking,” said Shuken, who purchased the business the week before Thanksgiving, sight unseen, while still in Hawaii.
Her studio was originally located above Wells Fargo on Sunset, but noise from the children had her looking for a new space. Losing her studio was serendipitous for her love life.
The father of one of her students sent his colleague to help her find a new space. “He [Michael Shuken] came on a Saturday morning, and I was finger painting at a table,” she said, and when she looked up, “I knew instantly ‘That’s my husband.’”
Michael told her, “I don’t know who you are, but my boss said I had to make your problems go away.”
The couple were married in 2009.
In addition to classes, camps are offered when schools are closed, and the space is available for birthday parties.
Laura Ganz offers a musical improv workshop in the afternoon for ages 8 to 10 years. Starting in January, there will be hip-hop classes for kids four to eight years old.
Shuken is also looking for ways to utilize the space, such as finding other women who want to shift to community events. One example is Chudney Ross, who comes to the Center with “Books and Cookies.”
Visit: villageartscenter.com or call (310) 454-4245.