Our History and Founder
In 1985, Diane Lachtrupp started Stepping Out Dance Studios at 1845 Broadway in New York City. Diane had been a scholarship student at Bill Davies’ dance studio in Manhattan, and when he closed his doors, he gave his mailing list to teacher Stephen Stroud and Diane to help them start a studio. Bill Davies had been the United States Standard champion for a number of years, some of them with Sandra Cameron, and his help in starting a studio was a great honor and boost for a new business.
Stephen and Diane started out modestly, by having weekly Wednesday night parties. They rented space from exercise maverick Jon Devlin, who was also a ballroom dancer, and they ran their Wednesday night parties at his studio, Dancercise, located between 60th and 61st Street on Broadway. Stephen and Diane came up with the name Stepping Out, and it has not changed for the 27 years of the studio’s existence.
The fall of 1985 found the studio expanding, as Stephen and Diane added Hustle classes, a Hustle party, and classes in International Dance and Argentine Tango. Diane had seen the show Tango Argentino at New York City Center, and felt it was a great dance trend. Jon Devlin had been in an Argentine Tango company, and taught the classes with Diane’s assistance at Stepping Out. Soon Tango Argentino moved to Broadway, and a number of the cast members were teaching around town – many of the New York teachers were taking lessons with them. Stepping Out hosted workshops with some of the stars from the show, and so popular was the show and so mesmerizing the dance that the workshops were packed with students.
Near the end of 1985, co-owner Stephen Stroud, due to health reasons, could no longer maintain his position and left the company. Soon after, Diane joined forces with Paul Pellicoro (now owner of DanceSport), whom she knew from Bill Davies’ Studio.
For the next four years, Diane and Paul expanded Stepping Out to include 30 classes a week, 250 students, three floors of dancing, and a roster of 15 staff members. Argentine Tango continued to grow at the studio, and the studio also took part in the Lambada and Dirty Dancing crazes. During this time, Angel Figueroa and Katharina Marks were among the instructors who joined the studio, which grew to feature strong departments in Argentine Tango, Hustle, Salsa, and International dancing.
In December of 1990, Diane and Paul parted ways and Diane moved Stepping Out to 1780 Broadway at 57th Street, where it remained for the next ten years. Katharina Marks became Diane’s business partner at the new location and the company continued to grow. In 1991, Diane Lachtrupp and dance partner Angel Figueroa were introduced to West Coast Swing, and together with new teachers John Festa and Debbie Elkins were pioneers in popularizing the dance in New York City. Soon thereafter, the Gap ran a swing commercial and swing was off the charts at Stepping Out and throughout the city.
The year 1992 brought with it the development of a brand new feature: the gay and lesbian dance program, dubbed “OUTdancing.” Diane developed the program with staff member Meredith Stead, and it featured nine classes per week that were geared directly to a gay, lesbian, transgender and transsexual clientele. It was and remains one of the most rewarding experiences in Diane’s professional career. With the advent of the OUTdancing program and the addition of a small satellite studio downtown, Stepping Out rode the country western wave that brought new students to the studio.
Katharina Marks left the company in 1994, and Angel Figueroa became a co-owner with Diane. Over the next five years, the studio continued to branch out, maintaining itself as an all around studio with strong Latin, Argentine Tango, Swing and Hustle departments as well as American Smooth and International Latin and Standard. During this time the company undertook a major renovation and expanded to two floors at 57th and Broadway, to encompass 8,500 square feet.
December of 2000 was an exciting month as Stepping Out moved from its uptown studio to its current home, a newly designed and built studio in the Flatiron District of Manhattan at 37 West 26th Street on the 9th floor. The studio did not miss a beat, and opened in January of 2001 with the largest registration of students ever. 2001 was perhaps Stepping Out’s most dynamic year with all departments going strong, 80 classes per week and 10,000 square feet of dance floor. Like all New York businesses, the studio was affected by the events of September 11, 2001, but remained vibrant and innovative, maintaining its position as one of the top four studios in Manhattan. A year after the move, co-owner Angel Figueroa relocated from New York City, leaving Stepping Out after 15 years of dedicated teaching.
The company continued to grow and change in the coming years. In 2005, twenty years after starting the company, owner Diane Lachtrupp decided to sell the company and move. With her new family, husband/dance partner/co-owner Johnny Martinez, and two sons, Joey and Lucas, she now lives and dances in Saratoga Springs, NY. George Ciao purchased the company in 2006 and ethically retained the majority of the staff during this time of transition. Today, Stepping Out remains a popular studio in New York and was voted the country’s number two studio in 2009.
During her two decade ownership of Stepping Out Studios, Diane led Stepping Out to the top of its field and helped to develop the Argentine Tango and West Coast Swing community in New York City. In addition to her passion for the studio, Diane has been a dancer, choreographer and guest artist throughout the world. She has guest taught and performed throughout the US, South America, and Europe, iin addition to choreographing and performing for stage, television, and film. She has worked with such artists as Meryl Streep, Whit Stilman, and John Tesh, and was a featured Salsa dancer on All My Children. Her show, Tango Fusion, received a rave review in the New York Times, and as a result she was invited to perform at the 5th World Tango Congress in Rosario, Argentina.
Diane still feels a strong tie to Stepping Out:
“Although I am no longer at Stepping Out, it is in my heart and thoughts often. I think of all the dedicated staff and students who helped it to become an entity larger than any of us; a dance energy that brought happiness to many and changed lives. It has been my life’s work thus far and shall be always something I am forever proud of and connected to.”
Diane continues her life as a dancer, instructor, choreographer and has added writing to her artistic endeavors. Check out her life and thoughts in her blog, No Compromises: Gluten Free and Tango Savvy, located on her website, www.tangofusiondance.com.