Formerly Encore! Dance Studio - 32 years studio owner experience
WHY I OWN A DANCE STUDIO-my story
WHY I OWN A DANCE STUDIO-my story
WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FOR IN A DANCE STUDIO?
HAVE YOU EVER ASKED A STUDIO OWNER WHY THEY OWN A DANCE STUDIO?
This is my story and this is what makes me unique.
It was my destiny to be involved in dance long before I was born. My grandmother grew up poor in the south and couldn’t afford to go to dancing school. She told me stories of how sad she was not being able to go to dance lessons, but that she had a little rich friend who would let her try on her costumes and dance around in her dance shoes. My grandmother vowed that when she had her own children one day, she would find a way for them to take dance lessons. My grandmother had two boys and two girls. She worked, my grandfather had two jobs and they found a way for all four kids to go to dancing school. My uncles reluctantly did ballroom for a short time, my mom became quite the majorette with her baton twirling and my aunt was a very talented dancer-a protégé for her teacher.
It’s hard to imagine that I was once shy, but I actually was. I was a tiny, shy tomboy who originally said I was going to be a construction worker when I grew up. I was 5 when I first went to dancing school and on that first day of acrobatics class they had to almost peel me off of my mother’s leg. I wanted to cry, but I was so shy I didn’t want to draw any extra attention to myself. I hesitantly went into class and wanted to disappear. I was so scared, but I took the class and was pretty good at it. My teacher finished the class with us doing The Hokey Pokey and that made me feel like everything was going to be alright. I didn’t hesitate to go back. I quickly fell in love with going to dancing school and how it made me feel. It was at age 5 that I announced that I was going to have my own dance studio one day. I announced this countless times throughout my childhood and not once did a grown up tell me that it was a crazy idea or laugh it off or say it wasn’t a stable career. I was told I was capable of anything I set my mind to. I was driven and I was confident-and I was lucky to always have an awesome support system. My grandparents lived across the street and I was there everyday afterschool when I was young. When my grandfather got home from work, I wanted to put on a dance show so I’d go behind the drapes of the living room window and he would announce in a deep excited voice “Up next is the star of our show…Amber McAuliffe!!!!” He would do this every single time I wanted to put on a show. He never said no. When I would get my recital costumes, and there were MANY recital costumes I had to show them to everyone who I could hold captive including my uncle who had the patience to sit there and not only see the costumes, but listen to me describe every detail of each costume and every accessory. He’d sit there and listen and watch every single time.
My mom has always been my biggest fan and she’s always told me how proud she is of me. She’d move mountains for me, but at the same time she never smothered me. She was always there for me, but never interfered or got over involved with my dance or my dance instructors. She always let me be my own person. I was going all of the time. She put up with my living room gymnastic stunts and indoor baton twirling. My father didn’t want me tapping on the hardwood floors, but she’d let me then warn me when he was pulling in the driveway. I was dancing, stretching, flipping, twirling constantly.
As a student, over the years I went to several local dance studios and took as many classes as I possibly could. I took as many subjects as I could along with training in two gymnastic programs. Somehow, I fit it all in -school, CCD, Baseball, Softball, Basketball, Cheerleading, Soccer, Brownies & Girl scouts, Double Dutch team, playing football and building jumps for our bikes with the neighborhood boys, sleepovers at my best friends. I was literally changing my uniforms or outfits in the car while driving from place to place. I did so many things, but dance was my first love and always my first commitment.
Around age 12 I started competing in dance competitions and winning. Honestly, I never was crazy about dance competitions. I feel dance is an art. It’s a visual art that is demanding and extremely athletic, but I don’t see it as a sport and it’s not regulated at competitions like sports are. Dance is an art and it’s left for interpretation. Although I participated in dance competitions for many years both as a student and a studio owner, I felt that they were taking away some of the kids original innocent passion for dance. I also felt it start to take away the artistry of dance. You’d see routine after routine with kids do a recipe of tricks and stunts and suddenly the dancing is gone.
It was also around age 12 when I started training with master teachers in NYC and traveling to train at dance conventions. It only took one trip to NYC for me to fall in love with that city. Still till this day, when I go into New York to train or see a show I feel so alive.
I started telling my parents that I wanted to go to the LaGuardia School Of The Performing Arts HS because I believed it would be my reality to live out every dance scene from the movie FAME. My parents were not ready to let me go to live in NYC that young, so luckily the Greater Hartford Academy Of The Performing Arts opened when I was in high school. It was the first of it’s kind anywhere near our area. Today it is in a beautiful state of the art building, but back then it was in an old funeral home. I went to Portland HS in the morning for academics and GHPA in the afternoon for dance. Then I would go to dance school at night.
I graduated from two high schools in 3 ½ years then spent the second half of my senior training at the Hartford Ballet and attending Ballet classes at Trinity college. Once senior year was officially over, I went to Dean College as a dance major. I was only able to go for one year because the money ran out, but that was absolutely one of the best years of my life. I danced every day and every night, carried a full load of academics, worked as an English tutor, was on the Dean’s list and had a very good time for myself with a full social life. Oh what I would do to go back and do that all over again!
So I came home from college that May worked a 40 hour week as a custodian during the day and at a donut shop nights and weekends. I saved every penny, signed a lease in June and opened my very first dance studio that September at age 19. My grandmother gave me a $1,500 loan for my small dance floor because the banks said I was too high risk
All of those people who never doubted me when I was little, who always believed in my dream-they were there for me helping me get my first studio ready to open in three short months. It was seriously a grass roots effort. Aunts, Uncles, cousins, family, extended family, neighbors, friends and even the custodians I worked with at the school. There was no internet to order supplies from. There wasn’t even Home Depot, but with this village around me and late nights it happened. It was never my plan to do it that young, but circumstances had changed and well…I’d say it worked out okay.
Owning a dance studio is much more than renting a space, playing music and dancing around. After opening the studio at 19 years old, I quickly learned that it requires just as much preparation time outside of the studio as it does teaching in the classroom. Finding and editing music, ordering costumes that fit with a specific theme, price, size range, newsletters, emails, billing, collections, payroll, taking classes and courses yourself and now thanks to technology hours of watching online videos keeping up with the latest trends and getting inspiration. When you own your own business, you’re never really “off the clock”.
Having studied at so many different types of dance programs with so many different dance instructors allowed me to take note of what I liked and what I didn’t like. I didn’t like being a teacher’s favorite. It alienated me from my peers. I also didn’t like feeling invisible to some of my teachers. That made me feel awful. I knew that when I opened my dance studio there would be no favorites, exceptions or inner circle. There would be kindness and everyone would matter. I wasn’t in it to create Broadway stars although I could. I wanted to share the gift of dance that had been given to me. I wanted to take the best qualities from all of my training so I could create lasting happy dance memories for my students. There are so many stressors in life whether it be a family situation, school pressures, someone being mean on the school bus-kids have enough life stressors to navigate. I’ve always said I am teaching life skills through dance and it starts by me saying “When you walk through my door, you are not a regular kid anymore. You are a dancer and that makes you special. You are lucky your parents can send you to dance. Not everyone gets that opportunity. “ My studio is a place where kids can be their authentic self. Cliques are not allowed. We are all on the same team. My studio is where kids learn self respect, mutual respect amongst peers and respect for your teachers. My students learn that someone else’s success is not their failure. My studio is where kids build confidence and have a community where they feel they belong. It’s a place where they can escape and get lost in the dance even for just a little while. My students are taught to think of a correction or a critique as a postive instead of a negative. I try to explain to them that whether it’s a dance teacher, a parent, a coach or one day a boss it’s most likely someone who is trying to help you improve, advance and succeed. My students learn time management, punctuality, dependability, expectations, work ethic, being coachable & commitment and I lead by example. I am invested in my students.
A big part of my success is my teaching staff. They grew up in my studio and have the same values as I do. It is as important to them as it is to me. It is always a good day at my dance studio. Parents are paying for quality dance lessons and it is our responsibility to provide structure, supervision, top training and above all else positivity for our students every single class every single day. We teach our dancers to think with a success mindset. Anything is possible with hard work and determination in dance and in life. Statistics say that less than 1% of even the most serious dance students will go onto make a career out of dance, so with that said I want them to enjoy their time dancing with us and leave with fond memories, armed with skills that will set them up for success ready to navigate the world.
I’m known for being strict and my program is known for its structure. I personally teach an average of 22 classes a week. I’m not for everybody, but I am honest and I am fair. I love teaching dance and it’s important to me that everyone of my students feels valued. I strive to inspire and I hope my students leave each class looking forward to the next.