When he was young and people heard his name they always asked, where’s Luigi? So says Mario Quinn Lyles, co-founder and director of Level Up Studios, alluding to the Mario Bros. video game. “So when I had the idea for this studio, I chose “Level Up” to have a double meaning—as a video game reference and our goal of helping everyone bring their creativity to a higher level.”
Located at 4836 Penn Ave. in Bloomfield, Level Up Studios has Hip Hop at its creative core, and bills itself as a “dance, music and visual arts incubator” providing classes, studio space and services in design and creative writing.
“My experience with most dance classes is the kids come in, they learn a dance move, and then it’s OK, see you next week,” Lyles says. Level Up’s approach is to help students explore and enhance their creativity with guidance from experienced artists. “If you’re a dancer and you want to create a piece of choreography, but you don’t know what kind of music to use, then someone who produces music can come in and offer to help you push your idea further.”
Teaching kids to be teachers is another technique Lyles finds successful. “I’ll take two students, teach them a move, and have them teach other students what I just taught,” Lyles says. “It gives them a sense of pride. Most important, that approach, mentoring their peers, can transfer over into other areas of their lives.”
Lyles is a dancer, choreographer and media designer, and for 10 years has taught dance through several local organizations, including Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh and Hip Hop on L.O.C.K., and is also a fellow of Kelly Strayhorn Theater’s Penn Ave Creative. “I wanted to start a single space for artists to collaborate, and still focus on teaching, where I can mentor and continue to have the kind of impact I’ve had,” Lyles says.
Two long-time friends and fellow artists are collaborating on the Level Up Studios project with Lyles—Patrick Everett, a graphic designer and dancer, and Shaun Mbateng, a web developer and, of course, a dancer. Lyles says mentoring is important to all three, as is focusing on youth (although the space is for adults, too), and using a style of teaching that’s growth-oriented.
Level Up Studios is holding an all-ages fundraising party Friday, May 6, from 6 to 11 p.m. as part of the Penn Avenue Arts District’s monthly Unblurred. The event will feature live music and dance performances by Blue Clutch, Ben Barson & Gizelxanath, and guest DJ, Dicey. The event will also include visual arts, raffles, and food and drink, and because collaboration is integral to Level Up Studios’ mission, there will also be a collaborative community painting led by John Ivory and sponsored by Balafon West African Dance Ensemble. At the end of the evening, the completed painting will be auctioned off.
“This event will give people an opportunity to see Level Up Studios, see what we’re doing, and get a feel for our place in the community,” Lyles says. “Our goal is to encourage our students and others to explore their creativity by experimenting in the arts, building self-confidence, and increasing cultural awareness. This party is going to be a great introduction to that.”