Tiffany Rios took the nation by storm when she unleashed her considerable pipes as a contestant on the television singing competition "American Idol" in 2011, earning a yellow ticket that took her to Hollywood and the semifinals.
Two years later, the Morris Plains resident hopes to do the same for those in and around Parsippany with the opening of her brand new dance school, Diamond Dance.
Rios, 24, calls her tiny studio at 981 Tabor Road "the studio that shines," and she's right. While there was no glitter in sight during Patch's visit, the school seemed to sparkle. A large mirror, bright light, vibrant blue walls and a window full of her own dance trophies add to the sense of light, as does the aura of the young woman herself, who radiates enthusiasm about her enterprise and its hopes for success.
She said that some of her friends and family were worried for her after her TV stint. They worried she wasn't ambitious enough and had to get things going with her career, they said. The onetime 'Idol' was never exactly idle, though. Over the past two years, Rios kept busy attending William Paterson University, teaching dance and putting on dance and fashion shows for local charities.
Then Rios, who has been dancing since she was 3 years old, had an idea: to start her own dance school for children.
"In August [of 2012] I saw a 'For Rent' sign here," she said. "I peeked in, and it was the ugliest orange ever, but the space, it was perfect for a studio. I knew the rent wouldn't be crazy because of the size, which I figured was perfect for me."
The timing was perfect too. Rios said she wasn't teaching at the time and therefore was bringing in no income.
"Literally, I had zero dollars, just some savings, but I didn't want to touch that," she said. "I was living off my boyfriend and my parents."
She decided to use the savings to put down on renting the Tabor Road site.
"I figured that would hold the place until the school opened, and then, hopefully, people would sign up right away," Rios explained. "I was terrified. I didn't even know if I would make my rent."
Luckily, while she had to give her landlord a deposit for the place, she did not have to pay a monthly rent until she secured approval from the Parsippany Zoning Board of Adjustment for a variance needed to ready the building for use.
"I filled out all these forms through August and September, and by the time I got the approvals, it was Nov. 7, so my landlord and I were in limbo," she said. "We didn't know if this was happening or not."
Ultimately, they received the go-ahead and the plan moved forward—and Rios had rent to pay. But she also had a plan.
"Back in August, I thought I should get a side job to cover the rent just in case signups didn't happen fast enough," she said, adding that she got a Sunday gig as a waitress at a sports bar during football season and another job working at a dance studio on Fridays. "I'd made some calculations and figured that if students didn't sign up fast enough, I could still pay my rent. Some way or somehow, I could make it."
But students did sign up. Rios started registering kids aged 3 and up in December, and by Jan. 2, Diamond Dance's launch date, she had more than enough students to cover the studio's expenses.
Right now, she said she has about 20 students, all girls "though boys are welcome," studying hip hop, tap, ballet, jazz, lyrical and gymboree—and many, she chirps with a smile, take multiple classes. The school also offers hour-long Zumba fitness dance classes for adults, taught by veteran teacher Sonya Sanchez Tuesdays at 7:15 p.m. Rios teaches, as does a longtime friend and dance teacher who specializes.
"It's rolling well," she enthused. "Everything that happens just seems to keep going."
She is propelling her business as well: Registrations continue, and Diamond Dance will offer a free hip hop workshop Feb. 18 from 5-7 p.m. to teach children from 6-10 years of age the energetic discipline. The event will feature giveaways, music, dance and more.
The newly minted entrepreneur said she is using good, old-fashioned hard work and marketing to promote her business. So far she isn't trading on her 'Idol" connection.
"Some of them know about it, but most don't," she said, adding that she is not finished with her singing dream.
"Maybe at a recital I'll do it," she said.
Ultimately, she plans for her students to compete in dance contests in the area.
"We have girls competing in teen hip hop, 6-year-olds in demi jazz, a trio and a 16-year-old in solo hip hop," she said. "They'll all be competing March 8 in Sparta."
Some of the young dancers are ready to go. Rios said that while in her "limbo period," she taught three girls at the Mt. Tabor Country Club and the solo dancer. The others are less experienced, but she said the experience will be great for them.
"They're looking really, really good," she said. "They'll be great."
So Rios keeps busy with Diamond Dance and college, which she hopes to finish soon.
"I have about 60 credits in exercise science, but I'm going to graduate in philosophy," she said. "It's nice, because I have the background. I'm certified in gymnastics, apparatus, dance, kids' dance, advanced ballet and advanced modern. I took all those classes on purpose."
That appears to have been a wise decision. Rios is set to take her students, Diamond Dance and her own career as an artist to new heights.