Ms. Marian’s Dance Garden Keeps Kids on Their Toes

By Judith Kahn

Maintaining a dance instruction business during a global pandemic is a challenge for a leaders of such an in-person, hands-on and interactive creative art. But Marian Roth-Cramer, creator of Ms. Marian’s Dance Garden – a Richmond District staple for many years – is up for the challenge.

“The Dance Garden strives to replicate the in-studio experience as much as possible,” she said. “The challenges are many, the results are good. Ask any student who loves to dance. It is better dancing on TV than not dancing at all during this confusing time.”

Roth-Cramer has more than 40 years of experience as a performer, teacher, producer, author and company director. Known for her individualized and nurturing teaching style, Roth-Cramer – or Ms. Marian, as she is called by her students – has trained more than 25,000 children in the Bay Area in the elements of performance as they study their chosen dance form. 



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Francesca (third grade) and Zara (fourth grade) are learning a combination of contemporary and ballet techniques in Ms. Marian’s Dance 2 class. Courtesy photo.

Using creative experiences and techniques of professional dance training, Roth-Cramer nurtures talented, disciplined dancers who grow into strong and flexible critical thinkers. While many graduating students have successful careers in dance or a related field, others are skilled teachers, producers, musicians, health professionals and costume designers. 

“Regardless of their chosen profession, our students continue to dance for health, for fun, for others,” Roth-Cramer said. 

Roth-Cramer’s own love affair with ballet started in Chicago at age 6, under the instruction of Madame Noel-Clavijo, who began training her to teach by the time Roth-Cramer was in seventh grade. 

“She sweetened the deal by making me a different soup each Saturday, so I would stay from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.” In addition, she learned essential studio tasks from taking tuition to answering phones and washing the studio floors at the end of the day. 

Eventually, Madam Noel-Clavijo gave Roth-Cramer her own class to teach, and upon the madame’s retirement, Roth-Cramer, newly graduated from high school, secured the studio. She ran it while attending multiple colleges, finishing with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Theater and Dance at Barat College in Illinois. When the building was sold in 1980, the new landlord evicted Roth-Cramer’s studio. She moved to San Francisco, taking time to write a book for early childhood educators on physical education alternatives for pre-K and kindergarten teachers.


Marian Roth-Cramer has  more than 40 years of experience as a performer, teacher, producer, author and company director.

In San Francisco, when her dance therapy program closed after a year, Roth-Cramer landed a two-year scholarship for graduate school at Mills College. She earned a master of fine arts degree in dance while performing around the U.S. with the Massenkoff Russian Folk Festival. She then taught dance to 1,000 elementary school students each year, concurrent with working as artistic director of Neva Russian Dance Ensemble. 

In 2000, she initiated the children’s dance program at the Richmond District YMCA, teaching hundreds of children from 6 months to 13 years of age. She taught there  until 2013.

That same year, Roth-Cramer opened the Dance Garden, where many Richmond District families followed her from their participation in the YMCA. The Dance Garden has earned respect among children’s dance schools and has been  named a “Top Dance School for Kids in the Bay Area” by ChatterBlock for five years running. 

As described in its mission and philosophy statement, Dance Garden is “a vibrant community of people who have high regard for each other, the art of dance, and the respectability and value of the work we do. (Our program) guides children to become strong and flexible, confident and skillful, attentive and creative, while learning to be gracious, caring citizens.” 

This emphasis on values and character, as well as the range of dance styles offered, enhances the distinctiveness of Dance Garden’s program. With the school’s performance focus, students  as young as 3 years old end weekly classes with “a mini-show, complete with hair, makeup, and costumes,” Roth-Cramer said. She believes that learning to perform for loved ones in a supportive setting joyfully develops confidence and ownership of the art form.

Dance Garden offers three schools of movement: creative movement for infants (between 6 and 36 months old) with their caregivers; for kids (between 3 and 18 years old), different levels of ballet, tap, contemporary, acro, hip hop, musical theater, choreography, folk dance, jazz and more; and a teen/adult FIT program featuring Pilates, yoga and ballet. 

Classes begin on the floor with strength building and classical ballet techniques. After demonstration of expertise in one to two years, students may add electives to their study. Some students enter the teacher training program. For dancers in grades two through eight, auxiliary classes in performance touring and sewing are available. 

In Dance Garden’s Bouquet of the Month Program, dancers vote for each other, and the winner receives a bouquet of flowers. The criteria are good class etiquette, inspiration to others, initiative, support of others, skillful listening, home practice and offering assistance freely. These auxiliary offerings and programs are part of Dance Garden’s effort to train well-adjusted, whole-person artists with a comprehensive understanding of the medium. Former students of the teacher training program have earned spots in high-end colleges of the arts, employment in dance companies, and work in related fields of art production and design. 

One of Roth-Cramer’s two hobbies is gardening. On a walk one day, she discovered the Argonne Community Garden and secured a plot to learn how to grow vegetables, joining their board soon after. Her second hobby, cooking, was inspired by both her grandfather, a baker in Vienna, and her grandmother, who cooked in a Gasthaus in Europe and also in Chicago. 

Roth-Cramer can now add to her long list of skills and accomplishments: distance dance instruction.

The Dance Garden is located at 5841 Geary Blvd. between 22nd and 23rd avenues. For more information, visit  or call (415) 377-2351.

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Ms Marian with dancers of the Neva Russian Dance Ensemble:
David R & Stephanie G; 1988, Photo by B Kamin.



Ms Marian backstage at 2017 Dance Garden Recital; Photo by S. Chuck.


MM sewingBees

Sewing Bees Camp at the Richmond District YMCA, 2005. Photo by R. Cramer.



Magic Garden ballet at the Dance Garden featuring Logan, Kindergartener, as a “Bee” in her Beehive, 2018. Photo by M. Roth- Cramer.



Jillian D, Advanced Dancer at DG, 10th grader at SOTA, 2019. Photo by M. Roth-Cramer.



Corinne D, former Advanced Dancer and current Acro Teacher at DG, 12th grader at SOTA, 2020. Photo by M. Roth-Cramer.



Leila E.S, Advanced Dancer in Character class at the DG, ninth grader, 2020. Photo by M. Roth-Cramer.



Leila E.S, Advanced Dancer in Character class at the DG, ninth grader, 2020. Photo by M. Roth-Cramer.



Leila E.S, Advanced Dancer in Character class at the DG, ninth grader, 2020. Photo by M. Roth-Cramer.



Addison K, Advanced Dancer and Teacher Assistant in Contemporary class at the DG, sixth grader, 2020. Photo by M. Roth-Cramer.



Leila E.S, Advanced Dancer in Character class at the DG, ninth grader, 2020. Photo by M. Roth-Cramer.



Magic Garden ballet at the Dance Garden featuring Malia, 2nd grader, as a “Butterfly” in her Butterfly Bush, 2020. Photo by M. Roth-Cramer.



Holiday Story ballet at the Dance Garden featuring Advanced dancers Addison K, sixth grader and Moyna K, seventh grader, 2020. Photo by M Roth-Cramer.



Magic Garden ballet at the Dance Garden featuring Halle C, 2nd grader, as a “Bluebird” in her Bird House, 2020. Photo by M. Roth-Cramer.



Ballet dancers, Moyna K, seventh grader, Leila ES, ninth grader, at the Dance Garden, 2020. Photo by M. Roth-Cramer.



Russian Character Class, 2020. Photo by M. Roth-Cramer.



Addison K, Advanced Dancer + Teacher Assistant in Contemporary class at the DG, 6th grader, 2020. Photo: M Roth- Cramer.


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“Dancing Poodles” Eve B, Emerie M, Hannie S Y, PreK dancers, 2019. Photo: by M. Roth-Cramer.



Addison K, Intermediate Dancer at the DG, third grader, 2017. Photo by M. Roth-Cramer.



Amelia T W, Leila E S, Addison K, Elizabeth O’D, ballet dancers pose in 2016. Photo by S Chuck.


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Leila E S and Amelia T W, Character Class in the Dance Garden, 2020. Photo by M Roth-Cramer.



Baby Ruth, 9 months old, and dad in the Dance Garden’s Infant- Toddler class, 2019. Photo by M. Roth-Cramer.



2 replies »

  1. I had the pleasure of teaching Acrobatics for dancers and I subbed for numerous other classes at Ms. Marian’s Dance Studio since the studio opened. This is my first year not teaching because I am finishing up a Master’s of Science in Evaluation and Applied Research at Claremont Graduate University. I hope more students attend classes at Ms. Marian’s Dance Garden. The classes are really fun and she hires the best teachers!
    Ms. Karen


  2. Ms. Marian’s Dance Studio has been a wonderful inspiration to our daughter. We are very happy to be a part of the community. Also worth mentioning is that the virtual classes are really engaging. Our daughter makes every session and always gets something from it. It’s a great way to keep her passion going.


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