A space where creativity meets passion, fireWALL Dance Theater encourages students of all backgrounds to self-express and unleash their inner performer.
Elisa-Marie Alaio has been involved with the Pittsburgh dance scene for over a decade and has plans to keep growing her community. We took a Beginner Heels class instructed by Elisa, and never felt sexier.
CE: How did your dance career begin?
EA: I started dancing at three years old, but my career really took off at Point Park University, studying Modern and Jazz Dance. I began to dabble in choreography and teaching, and enjoyed a lot of different elements of dancing, not just performing. After graduation, I was developing as a creator and artistic director. At twenty two years old, I started a dance company called fireWALL Dance Theater, which started with modern theatrical shows, performing hour-long spectacles all over the east coast.
CE: What led you to open fireWALL?
EA: Before the pandemic, I was working at the former Millennium Dance Studio for five years as an instructor of stretching and conditioning, contemporary, technique, and burlesque. The studio shut down as a result of the pandemic and I felt the responsibility to my community that I needed to keep dance alive in Pittsburgh for those who couldn’t live without it, regardless of level. It was my calling to open a new space as a drop-in studio for those who wanted to be vulnerable and continue their passion. It’s a space for students, elderly, mothers, full-time workers, and anyone in between.
CE: How is your husband incorporated into the business?
EA: I originally had a previous business partner who I parted ways with a year ago. I needed someone that I could trust, and knowing my husband and his skillset, he is a perfect fit. Anthony is amazing with numbers, handles our behind the scenes logistics, licensing, payroll, insurance, and all things paperwork.
CE: What kind of classes does the studio offer?
EA: We offer ballet, contemporary, jazz, hip-hop, heels, yoga, stretching and conditioning,
burlesque, private lessons and private parties.
CE: What vibes are you hoping fireWALL gives to their students?
EA: A really positive experience – we want you to not to take yourself too seriously. Dance is meant to be enjoyable, it is healthy for the mind and body. I want students to be vulnerable and form connections with others. fireWALL is a family and open space where people can be themselves in a judgment-free environment.
CE: Advice to those wanting to take a dance class but are intimidated?
EA: I understand, and you just have to try it, one dance class. I say that to everyone. There are so many intrusive thoughts prior to taking a class, whether it’s your first or fiftieth. You may feel that you don’t belong or you’re not good enough, until you come in and realize you’re not alone and you can be seen by the other members around you.
CE: What can a student expect from a class at fireWALL?
EA: We start with an in depth warm up with stretching and conditioning isolation, the warm up will be catered to the style of dance. We then shift to “across the floor exercises” to loosen up your mind and body and find different ways of coordination and to understand what the instructor is asking of you for the learned dance combination.
CE: fireWALL just moved to a new location, what motivated this move?
EA: I ‘m a big dreamer, so this move was planned from the get-go when I opened up my first location in Carnegie. The main factor was our growing fireWALL community, their participation and support has enabled us to move to a bigger studio in the Southside that’s easily accessible by anyone in the greater Pittsburgh region.
CE: What is something unique about fireWALL that the average person might not know?
EA: All of the instructors are active performers working in the industry, so they understand both sides as a student and a teacher. We have a focus on Burlesque. I choreographed and co-produced a two hour show this year (seven dancers, two of which are instructors). The next show is February 25th at Enclave. Expect a theatrical, sexy, classy, and funny show from talented and
trained dancers. I also want to note something special: every single person working here is extremely supportive, not competitive. I think that contributes to the overall positive experience at fireWALL Dance Theater.
CE: What is the most rewarding part of owning your own dance theater and being an instructor?
EA: Watching people walk out of a room smiling, and the positive energy shift after class. I feel it as a teacher and I am energized by my students.
CE: What’s next for fireWALL?
EA: We are in a brand new location and want to keep building our community. We will be offering more performance opportunities for students of all ages. We just had two 68-year-old women showcase a tap dance routine and they were phenomenal. I am also currently doing 18-20 private lessons per week and hope to allow my schedule for more since those are extremely personal and special.
CE: Any last words on fireWALL?
EA: I’m not a Pittsburgh native, I was born and raised in Brooklyn. I was able to create this community and build relationships from the ground up. If I can do that, anyone can chase their dreams. I hope to help those at fireWALL do so. I started the idea of the studio during the pandemic by giving free (donation-based) classes via Zoom from my living room. We would drink some whiskey and dance in our heels or do a stretching and conditioning session. Once we were able to have in-person classes it was a slow start, sometimes just one person in a class, but I gave it my all to make sure that single person had an amazing experience. Eventually they started multiplying and we have blossomed into what we are today. You have to come and see it yourself to believe it. I hope you do!
fireWALL Dance Theater is located at 2504 E Carson Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15203.
They can be found online at
Their next Burlesque Show will take place February 25th at Enclave. Tickets are available via their Instagram @firewalldancetheater