ST. GEORGE – Eight months after opening its doors, high-tech venue The Studio has achieved what many consider a rarity in the City of St. George: A fully operational and licensed dance hall. Yet, this is no ordinary “dance hall.”
The minds behind The Studio are those of Hal Hilburn, his wife Suzen and son Casey, also the owners and operators of yellowpix.com, a local photography service known for its use of technology and special effects. Hence its name; the building was originally a warehouse-like studio where Hilburn and his staff shot pictures and rented out the large dance floor for private parties, receptions, business meetings, reunions and luncheons.
But The Studio’s dance floor is now open to everyone, as Hilburn successfully acquired a dance hall license from the city in May. Most Friday nights, The Studio hosts parties tailored to either college-aged adults or high school-aged youth that feature nightclub-quality lighting and sound and, often, disc jockeys.
The revolutionary technology that is a hallmark of Hilburn’s work is on full display; patrons can pose for pictures against a green screen that is transformed into a background of their choice, or use the infrared camera to create a self-portrait with dazzling special effects.
Also unique to The Studio is the Ice Box, a frigid room illuminated only with ultraviolet lights where patrons can create glowing artwork with white paper and highlighters; particularly impressive creations are framed and hung on the walls.
The first QR Code Dance took place on Aug. 31. It is a concept that Hilburn and his staff developed themselves, customers with smartphones can scan a QR code (quick response code) to access a digital jukebox and select a song of their choice.
“There’s just endless possibilities of what we can do with technology,” Hilburn said.
The City and the Dance Halls
Despite recent controversy surrounding restrictions on dance establishments in St. George and a perception by some that the city is against dance venues, Hilburn said that he has not received any opposition from the city or the community since opening.
The biggest challenge he faced was obtaining the license, which took nearly four months and required the approval of multiple departments. To meet Uniform Building Code requirements the city has adopted, particular to dance halls, Hilburn was required to install suitable lighting and more doors in case of an emergency and insulation to prevent sound from escaping; the fire department cut the building’s capacity from 400 to 200 people. And though the process was tiresome and expensive, Hilburn said he was determined to prove himself as a legitimate and trustworthy business owner.
“You can’t just go up and buy it like a dog license,” he said. “I took a pragmatic approach and followed the letter of the law.”
“The City Council in any shape or form is not against dance halls,” Assistant to the city manager Marc Mortensen said in May 2012. “We’re concerned about proper zone, building code; a lot of these have been approved over the years and then they don’t seem to do very well. I’m not aware of (the city) shutting one down.”
Less than a month after that interview with Mortensen, Dance Haven was effectively denied a Dance Hall license by three-two nay vote of the City Council on a zoning variance application. Dance Haven had situated itself within the Southgate Planned Development area of St. George and its zoning did not allow for a dance hall. Dance Haven had begun operating as a dance hall before receiving requisite zoning variance, permit and license. When it applied for the variance, it did not prevail. Nonetheless, Dance Haven has since modified its operation to a “social club,” including dance instruction, billiards and other features which apparently render it acceptable under the existing zoning ordinance.
Historically, Mortensen said the city has approved at least half a dozen or more dance halls or clubs in the past ten years that functioned for awhile and then seemed to go out of business for reasons of their own.
Concerns may linger that such a business could invite unwanted trouble for its young customers.
“Our experience … with some of the dance halls or dance clubs we’ve had in the past in St. George is people come in and they go out and they drink,” Mortensen said, “(they) consume alcoholic beverages, and then come back – that has been a concern, it’s happened at a lot of locations.”
But Mortensen said to his knowledge although the city has addressed such issues, the city has never shut a dance hall down because of (such) an issue.
Hilburn stressed that just because The Studio hosts late-night parties and dances, it is not a nightclub and he has no intention of ever converting it into one. It is a drug, alcohol and smoke-free environment, with censored music and an emphasis on fun and safety first.
Security guards escort patrons to and from the building and are on hand to diffuse potentially dangerous situations in the surrounding area. Hilburn and his staff also fully cooperate with the police department, which often sends a patrol car out to make sure everything is going smoothly during a dance.
“There are few activities that young people have outside of church and school (in this community),” Hilburn said. “We offer something that’s safe and wholesome. It’s just fun entertainment.”
To fully grasp what he and his staff do, Hilburn invited any interested readers to visit The Studio during business hours – Monday-Friday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and party nights as posted, see The Studio on Facebook – at 175 West 900 South No. 9 in Holiday Square, St. George.
Joyce Kuzmanic contributed to this article.
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2012, all rights reserved.