When she first moved to Napa, Natalie Kelly worked as a bartender, but she couldn’t keep quiet about her true love.
“I’d always talk about dancing, dancing, dancing,” said Kelly. “I wish there was a spot to go dancing,” in Napa, she thought.
Her customers would often agree, said Kelly.
“There was a void,” in the city, she said. “A dance void.”
That’s when Kelly decided to make her move.
In early 2020, right before the pandemic hit Napa Valley, Kelly launched Slow Fox Dance Hall, a dance studio. Slow Fox (slang for the Fox Trot dance) teaches salsa, swing, tango, ballroom, line, social and other kinds of dancing. Until now it’s been using space at the American Legion on Pearl Street and other locations. But not for long.
Kelly’s planning to open the doors to something Napa hasn’t had for quite some time: a dance hall.
She’s asked the city for a permit to open Slow Fox Dance Hall and Wine Bar at 1202 Main St. Longtime locals will recall this as the site of the former Napa Valley Traditions store and café.
“What we’re trying to do is give a home to the dancers of Napa but also grow and develop the dance community of Napa,” said Kelly.
During the day, Slow Fox Dance Hall and Wine Bar would offer wine tasting, dance lessons and dance practice. At night, the wine tasting can continue in addition to dancing for a cover fee. There may be occasional live entertainment but all activity will be entirely indoors, said the application. The business would be open daily from 10 a.m. to 12 a.m. and employ four to 10 people.
Kelly said Slow Fox Dance Hall currently has about 75 students.
“I’m absolutely biased but I think dance is one of the best things in the world,” said Kelly.
According to Kelly, dance can benefit everyone. “It’s athletic, it’s social, it’s artistic, it’s technical (and) it’s a great way to reconnect with your partner and spend time with your friends.”
The great thing about social dancing is there’s not an age where you’re too old to learn, said Kelly. “You can be a great dancer and love it, no matter what age you start at.”
Plus, “combining dancing with wine is just really true to Napa,” she said.
The proposed dance hall is in a location closer to the downtown core and nearby other performance venues such as the Opera House, “and therefore creates a bookend for other existing uses,” and “draw in community members as well as regional visitors,” said Kelly’s application. She plans to open by the end of 2021.
Known as the Lazarus building, the property is owned by Marilyn Lazarus of Rancho Mirage, Calif. For 24 years Napa Valley Traditions called the corner home. That business closed in 2018. Before Traditions, the space was home to Witter’s Tea, Coffee & Animal Crackers.
A dance hall is a perfect fit for Main Street, said Kelly. “We’re right next to the Blue Note (and) the Opera House and we’ve got some bars and restaurants as our neighbors. That’s where people want to go to have a Napa version of nightlife.”
“I want to create an environment that’s very welcoming, very much like a home away from home,” said Kelly. “I want them to feel welcome and to be able to relax and be happy and drink good wine and spend time with good people and do things that they love.”
Kelly acknowledged that for some people the idea of a dance hall is a new concept. “It’s not a cookie cutter business for sure,” she said. “No, it’s not a nightclub,” she explained. “It’s better than a nightclub. It’s actually developing a skill.”
A dance hall is more than just a place to drink, she said. “You’re going to socialize and the dancing and the drinking is a part of that. Oh, Napa needs that.”
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