Revolutionizing the Performing Arts Industry, One Online Class at a Time

Meet CLI Studios, the start-up keeping the arts community connected and learning despite COVID-19.

Michelle Schwartzman
GSV Ventures
Published in
5 min readJul 14, 2020


The pandemic decimated the arts community overnight. Bustling dance studios, theatre groups, and music workshops became a health liability. Hours typically spent training, prepping for summer auditions, and performing were put on hold indefinitely.

The world needs the performing arts to stay sane and healthy. According to neuroscientists published in the New England Journal of Medicine, dance improves brain health, reduces stress, and boosts long-term memory. Additionally, Harvard and Penn State researchers proved that acting bolsters problem solving and self-esteem. It’s no wonder educators, parents, and students are scrambling for education options (improv and pliés over Zoom, anyone?).

Luckily, CLI Studios is the saving grace in providing remote learning opportunities for the performing arts. This digital platform motivates the advancement of dance studios, K-12 schools, and students by giving them access to the world’s best instructors and classes. CEO Jon Arpino founded CLI to give back to the community that filled his life with creativity, friendship, and education.

By working alongside incredible choreographers, such as tWitch, Tiler Peck, and Kathryn McCormick, CLI Studios is rapidly growing. Their 300+ instructors, teacher certification program, and 800+ recorded lessons ranging across dance, theatre, and music supplement the backbone of art: local educational institutions.

A dancer since the age of three, CEO Jon Arpino could empathize with performers suddenly stuck at home in a COVID-ridden world. So, CLI started streaming free, online lessons every day. Lessons from instructors like Brian Friedman, who has worked with Beyoncé, Britney Spears, and Justin Bieber, filled a void for dancers everywhere. Network effects took hold as word spread about access to leading visionaries and VIP classes.

Physical expression with the advent of technology began reviving the dancing spirit internationally.

This snowballed into an unstoppable online community tuning in to a three month streak of daily classes! 600K+ unique viewers across 130+ countries rallied together around the #KeepDancing initiative.

Ballet dancers balanced using backs of bedroom chairs, contemporary artists moved furniture to make room for their improvisation, and parents even joined in to bust a move. Social media showed friends pirouetting in unision miles apart.

Instagram and TikTok are flooded with shared attempts at choreo like this!

Seeing that studio partners were struggling to stay afloat, CLI Studios gifted students and teachers at these studios free admission to the largest summer dance intensive in history. Tens of thousands of students are signed up to take 300+ classes for eight weeks via partner studio and D2C access. 100+ instructors will be paired with pupils to give constructive feedback. Students can chat and congratulate one another in real-time, bringing them close to the studio family they miss. They will learn about the industry in the Inspire Program and how dances are choreographed in the virtual Create Room.

Reinvigorated artistic opportunities for entertainers and their teachers spreads necessary hope and innovation during this pandemic.

Meanwhile, educators improve their content from witnessing what’s successful to a huge sample size of students. They can continue working towards teaching certifications so they can hit the ground running once the pandemic ends.

This is only a small piece of the Strong Studios Initiative. CLI Studios also made it easier for dance studios to join the partner network. By waiving contract requirements and first-month fees, institutions were able to quickly join the platform and pivot to providing high-quality remote educational services. This initiative saved thousands of local businesses from substantial revenue losses.

Check out this national ad campaign run by CLI Studios to encourage continued support for local studios.

However, CLI’s generosity does not come as a surprise.

When onboarding K-12 schools to the CLI platform two years ago, they learned that less than 8% of schools offer a formalized dance program. This statistic is unacceptable to a team full of creatives whose lives are shaped by art. Working with administrators against tight arts budgets, CLI prioritized platform accessibility over price points.

Now, their Sponsored Schools Program grants more than one million students visual arts resources.

Even outside of K-12 programs, students are excitedly learning from top-tier faculty in their living rooms. The rate of creation, inspiration, and growth is exponential due to technology being in the hands of all ages. Not to mention, via CLI’s app, artists who couldn’t afford expensive studio time are now front row in classes they only dreamed of.

CLI Studios is revolutionizing the apprenticeship model, using technology to improve and broaden a system of learning that is thousands of years old.

In conjunction with their mission of spreading the performing arts to all, CLI amplifies marginalized voices so all students and teachers feel welcome. For example, CLI recently partnered with Motown Records to put on Movement Speaks: a free live dance event unifying the dance community and amplifying Black artistry.

“This movement is needed…there’s a lot of things that need to be heard and feelings that need to be addressed…I’ve been speaking through the heart because I’ve been dancing.” — tWitch

Leading Black choreographers, including @therealdebbieallen, @sir_twitch_alot, and @jaquelknight, danced along to music that tells the story of and celebrates Black culture. In between classes, CLI gave spotlights to organizations working to advance racial justice. Beyond Movement Speaks, whether lessons focus on musical theatre or hip-hop, performers see their identities represented.

GSV Ventures is proud to support CLI Studio’s journey. Beyond our love for the platform’s classes, we are in awe of the team’s work towards democratizing arts education. There is no doubt that CLI Studios is inspiring the world to keep learning and #KeepDancing.