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I'm a foster kid. And that's ok.

***As I move through this course, I will continue to edit and refine my project. Sorry if this makes it pop up over and over. I am so appreciate of the feedback and encourage 'pushback' on all of my ideas- there is so much room for improvement***

Twenty years ago: I didn't know I'd be in foster care by my next birthday.

Fifteen years ago: I didn't know I'd be sleeping in my car by the end of the year; 17 years old with a new baby.

Ten years ago: I didn't know that stepping into a dance studio would change the course of my life.

Four years ago: I didn't know that dance would not only transform my character, but allow me to do the same for others.

The journey of twenty-two foster homes and thirteen high schools left me both homeless and hopeless. The temptation was to stop living and keep existing; keep believing I was not worth anything.

However, having an 8 month-old in my arms made that option...not an option. So a 7 dollar an hour telemarketing job and a dirty motel was the best I could do.

The climb was slow and painful, but it was indeed a climb, and not a descent.

In 2003 I stepped into a dance studio with one goal: get this PE requirement out of the way so I can get my degree and move on. 

There would be no moving on. I fell in love with dance in a way usually reserved for feel-good movies. It wasn't long before I was in a professional company, pouring my soul into a medium that didn't know how to discriminate.

I went on to get my BA in dance and when I graduated- found a serious issue to contend with: there were no studios in my area that offered a place for grown-ups to dance.

And so Room to Dance was born. You would think that given my history, I would understand the magnitude of what I was doing- but I truly had no idea. I opened in 2011 in the middle of a sour economy, determined to make it work. I thought it'd be closed within the first month. It worked and it grew and it worked again.

The healing that dance offered me has taken on a life of its own here. I didn't see it coming- but I find that our classes are touching lives in a way that extends far beyond me- offering now only a safe and welcoming 'home away from home', but also an uncompromising quality of classes in everything from hip hop to tap to afro-samba- all taught by technical masters.

It's a dance and fitness studio- and that represents a real threat: moving your body in front of others, in front of a mirror. It requires putting yourself out there in a way that says "This is what I look like doing this- for better or worse".

And then there was leadership.

In year one we began taking on a team of interns. They would work hands-on with our clients and projects, and then each Friday we meet to go over leadership and business curriculum. I felt it would make the company stronger- once again I didn't foresee the big picture. Watching college-aged folks walking out of our studio, taking the world by it's tail, armed with tools to dominate, caring about integrity and leadership. Again: the gratification was more than I could ask for.

So two become one...

Leadership and Dance: both challenge, build confidence, release joy, equip minds and bodies, and create community. This gives me a powerful chance to overdeliver. My current mission is to greet every new client with a simple idea: you came to move, grow, and swear- and you will get that- but also, should you choose, show up every Friday and sit in a think-tank with brilliant, forward thinking people just like you- learning about leadership and changing our community. It's arts meeting business in a powerful and raw way.

I watch people glow when they master something new. I watch them leave to have dinner with a new friend they met at the studio. I watch them walk into my office for a quick chat that ends up with lots of tears and vulnerability. 

And I think...

"More people need this." 

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11 Questions:

Your Business or Brand:

 

From the outside of the building, Room to Dance and World to Dance appear to be a lively dance studio just for adults. Inside the building- it’s a different story. Each class offers the possibility to conquer fears, build confidence, and form new connections. It is therapy, disguised as dance. 

 

11 Questions:

 

1.) What is Marketing for? What does this department/function/budget exist to do?

 

Marketing is simply the act of calling attention to what’s happening here, so that more of it can happen.

 

2.) What are we allowed to touch?

 

I am, fortunately, in the position to touch whatever I want. I am not willing however, to touch certain things: the environment we created, the ‘adult only’ policy, and the quality of teaching.

 

3.) What can we as marketers measure?

 

I am able to measure, to a certain degree:

-          What works- We do ask every client how they heard of us

-          Numbers- I can see how many clients take class each month- including first timers.

-          Retention- I can measure how many of those new clients come back a second, third, fourth time.

-          Digital impressions- Clicks on our email, visits to our website, impressions on our ad, views on our youtube page.

-          Current client satisfaction- Through our Listen 360 app

-          Soul satisfaction- My favorite measurement. We see and hear stories of change every week. It tells us we’re still on that right track.

 

4.) What can we change?

 

Internally- We are always in a state of change in regards to the classes offered. While we have ‘staples’ – we also change what we offer in response to what is working.

 

Externally- We are determined to change our clients. Our classes, by their very nature, demand change. To stand in front of a mirror and other people and move your body around is a courageous thing to do. We want to change not only the way our clients view taking care of themselves, but also how they handle their own fears and doubts.

 

5.) What promise are you going to make?

 

I promise you, client, that you can come here and not be judged or laughed at for not being the best dancer in the room or for not having a certain body type. I promise that you will come here and we will learn your name and smile at you and make sure you start your dance and fitness journey in the most welcoming environment possible. I promise you will never take a class next to a 14 year old. I promise our teachers have a thorough background in their genre. I also promise that if you stick with it- dance will change your outlook on life.      

 

6.) What’s the hard part?

 

The hard part is getting people to take that first step; to overcome their fear of starting. The next hard part is to get them to have the discipline to stick with it.

 

7.) Should your organization be making trends or following trends?

 

A bit of both: our culture is really moving towards a “fit” lifestyle, and there is a huge trend in the dance fitness category. We definitely stay on crest of this wave by offering innovative and addicting dance fitness classes.

 

The trend we are creating, at least in our community, is to use dance as a bridge to create not only higher self-esteem, but to also bond with a like-minded social circle of people. While we aren’t breaking ground on this idea- our city had no studio for adults before we opened, so there is a culture that needs to be established.

 

8.) Where is the risk?

 

The biggest risk is that we don’t deliver in a way that leaves the client feeling vulnerable or unhappy. Imagining them walking out feeling discouraged or humiliated is my biggest fear.

 

We have a reputation for having a welcoming environment- there is risk that someone comes in and finds this to be inaccurate. The hard part (I guess this should go a few questions above) is that so much of this is based on frame of reference.

 

Oh ya, and the whole money thing. That’s always there.

 

9.) Who is in charge?

 

My partner and I are in charge, period. Our staff is responsible for making sure that first experience is all that it should be.

 

10.) Marketers spend money. Where are you spending the money? What is it for?

 

We spend quite a bit of money on our teachers to ensure that these students are getting exactly what we say they should get. Right now- we’re spending virtually nothing else regarding marketing. We have a facebook ad that targets a very exact person- our marketing money is minimal. We blog, we connect, we talk.

 

11.) How should you be spending your time?

 

I need to spend my time doing what I do best- and that is developing our administrative staff to make them the strongest, most gracious and fearless ambassadors they can be.

 

I need to spend my time focusing on ways to tell my story. It is the ultimate testimony to what we offer.

 

Julie (my business partner) needs to spend her time the way she does best: being present and willing to dig in and really “go there” with the students the find themselves in emotional knots.

The Four P's:

1. Positioning- Instead of positioning ourselves in the 'dance studio' category (connotation: bare bones room with a picture of a teddy bear in a tutu and sloppy accounting) or the 'gym' category (connotation: lots of people, generic, isolated visits) - we will work to position ourselves in the area of Self-Development and therapy. Cheaper than a therapist, and feels better, too.

2. Placebo/ Pavlov- We will focus on playing these two off of each other by conveying, through testimonals, the power of change. Both staff and other clients will make and deliver on the promise of conquering fear each time you visit.

3. Personalization- We will know your name. We will remember what class you took. We wll have 'ambassador' clients in each class that make it a point to get to know you on your first visit so that you already feel a connection. 

4. Ptribe. (with a silent 'p') - Our classes build tribe, however, with the addition of our friday meetup, we will offer even more opportunity to be surrounded with those that think like you.

5. Promotion- We have, as a result of the "Pom" example, decided to run a new promotion: each of our members who have been with us for over a year will two, personalized, "pay it forward" cards. They get to give these to any two friends as a gift and that friend gets a month of free classes but they must be redeemed within the month.

XY 

Emotions: Inspiration, belonging, experience, victory

As a wrap up- was this clear. was the story well-executed, and have I overlooked anything crucial??

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