It was the beginning of 2006. Cheryl Williams, my new dance partner, and I arranged to meet at a Starbucks café in downtown Montreal. I don’t remember if I was more excited about her company or about the topic of our discussion; we were going to talk about the creation of a dance school. She named it “Dance Conmigo.”
We had a brainstorming session. Some of the details escape my memory but our ambitious plan was to teach two dance classes per day, five days per week, with a minimum of 10 students each. This should give us about $500 per week per person plus a lifestyle of many hours of leisure time. Two hours of work per day and the rest of the day to f*#k-off. Of course, it never worked out that way but it was nice to have a goal.
In business, as in life, nothing is constant; you are either growing or regressing. We had a rapid growth, a plateau and a regression.
Between my dance students of earlier years as a salsa teacher and Cheryl’s previous students we had a nice base and when we brought those two groups together we had a full class. Also, we were fortunate to have some friends ( Robin and Marcy) who helped us with the promotion. Right from our first semester we were profitable and continued being profitable until the last days of the school.
We started teaching Salsa, then Ballroom, Argentine Tango, Belly dancing (Taught by Danielle Davies), West Coast Swing, and a few diverse workshops. We had so many classes that we didn’t have enough hours to schedule all the classes that we continued adding. There were a couple of years that we had different classes going on at different places at the same time.
One of the highlights of our career was hiring Danielle, a fantastic belly dance teacher who,at one time, on her own, organised about 10 group classes and workshops with very little help (we wanted to adopt her). Also, we brought several well-known West Coast Swing teachers from the U.S.A. to teach workshops at our place. We capitalized on the popularity of the TV show “So You Think You Can Dance” and hired one of the finalist competitors to teach some classes for us.
We were hungry. We would search contracts everywhere. We would go to high schools, universities, community centers. We would dance for free to promote our school. On some occasions we were invited to teach in Ottawa and Toronto. Life was good!
To promote the sense of community we were hosting a weekly two-hour dance practice every Friday. Later we scaled it down to once per month for 4 hours. Our dance parties grew with the school. We had one room (the ballroom room), then we added a second dance room (the salsa room) and finally we added the third room (the tango room). We were getting over 100 people attending our parties. People were delighted. They never had so much diversity in one place for such a low price.
Eventually it got to us. The only way to continue the growth was through constant promotion. Email, YouTube and Facebook were our tools of choice. We would spend the day answering questions, answering the phone, promoting the next dance class, the next event, seven days per week, from waking up until going to sleep. We learned SEO, we learned how to build websites, how to make videos, how to buy Google and Facebook advertising, etc.
Saturated with our demanding lifestyle, we started to do less marketing and the results were immediate: less and fewer people would register, our classes began to look empty. We eliminated ballroom, then we eliminated tango. We held on to Salsa and WCS until the last moment, but eventually, there were not enough students to justify teaching these classes either.
We came to the realization that we weren’t hungry anymore, we were tired, tired of answering the phone and responding to emails. We started winding down and November 30th 2013 became the official date to close the school.
Overall, I must say that it has been one of the most beautiful chapters in my life. I felt that we were manufacturing smiles. People would arrive from their work full of stress and, a few minutes into the class, a smile would start to appear. They’d leave light and happy. We were so proud of our community. And the cherry on the cake; we made a nice living for our effort.
I thank my dance partner, my friends, and all our students for all their support. It will always be one of the most important and beautiful moments in my life.
On November 23, 2013 we did our last Dance Conmigo party. We sent an invitation to all our previous students and many of them came to share this moment with us. Below I will post the comments made by some of our guest after leaving the party.
During all this year, Cheryl and I gave our heart and soul to this dance school. We feel that we got paid a thousand times back.
This was one of the most moving moments of my life. Thank you so much.
I have been teaching for more than 10 years, Cheryl has been teaching for more that 15 years. The satisfaction that we found in this profession has no comparison. I have been so much happier because of you, my students, my friends.
I love you.
Cheryl Williams. I truly loved every minute. Thank you all for this last wonderful memory of the studio. Je vous aime beaucoup
Cindi Hall Thank you Cheryl and Alain, last night was really great and thanks to you both, I get to enjoy so many more dance styles particularly at ballroom dance events that you made possible.
Lara Cardenas Grace à vous, j’ai fais de très belles rencontres à votre école de danse, j’y ai eu beaucoup de plaisirs, de plus vous êtes des professeurs merveilleux, généreux, professionnels gentils et je souhaite vraiment garder contact avec vous. Je vous souhaite beaucoup de succès dans vos futurs projets. bisous