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A Passionate Step That's Paying Off

Entrepreneur Realizes Her Ambitions as Dance Studio Builds a Following

By Ylan Q. Mui
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 24, 2005; Page HO12

Becky Funk was two years out of college and trying her best to be a grown-up.

She had all the trappings of adulthood: a loving husband, a house and a steady job as a health educator for an insurance company. But something was missing.

Dancing in Hip Hop Class
Dancing in Hip Hop Class
Taylor Good, from left, Madison Adams, Arissa Falat and Sylvia Lagas practice their routine during a hip hop class at the B. Funk Dance Company in Ellicott City. (Michael Temchine - For The Washington Post)

"I just couldn't see myself sitting behind my desk for the rest of my life," said Funk, 30.

Sitting is not something Funk does well. She has been a dancer since she was in elementary school in Pennsylvania, training in jazz, tap and ballet. She found her passion as a preteen when she took her first class in hip-hop.

In 1999, Funk decided she could sit still no longer. She quit her job and founded B. Funk Dance Company in Ellicott City, billed as the first to bring the athletic, urban dance moves of New York and Los Angeles to the cul-de-sacs of Howard County.

Nearly six years later, the dance studio boasts about 600 students in 90 classes each week. It has earned a national reputation through its collaborations with the choreographers behind stars so big they need only one name: Britney, Justin, Michael, Janet. Funk and her husband, Andy, are considering opening a second location, in Laurel, within the next year.

"It's got kind of a family feel to it," said Julie McDonald, who runs a Hollywood-based talent agency that has worked with the Funks on their national workshop, Monsters of Hip-Hop. "They don't just teach the classes; they educate the kids."

B. Funk originally opened in the historic Oella Mills off Main Street in Ellicott City as a shoestring operation with about 40 students. Funk taught most of the classes in the one-room warehouse that served as the studio. Her husband kept the books and oversaw the business. They jotted down students' names when they registered and kept track of the tuition by hand. They drew fliers to put on car windshields. They had no computer.

"We knew we were taking a big risk," Funk said.

By the end of that summer, their roster had jumped to 60 students. To keep up, they hired Funk's sister, Angie Servant, to help teach classes, along with friends and former college roommates. After three years, Andy Funk left his job at the Grant-A-Wish Foundation to work at the studio full time.

"We handled everything and just kind of felt our way through it," he said.

But the studio quickly outgrew its space. In 2003, the Funks moved to their current location, on Route 40, which boasts four rooms with springs underneath the floors, a bold design and a wall of autographs from the industry's top choreographers, such as Toni Basil, who handled Bette Midler's tours, and Robin Antin, who choreographed "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle" and a music video for Pink.

On a recent afternoon, parents crowded the studio hallways as they waited for their children to finish class. Becky Funk stood in front of a half-dozen preschoolers with her hands on her hips, her voice pitched high.

"Big, big shakes!" she told the class. "Hair's gonna shake; hips are gonna shake. Smile!"

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