We asked Miss Ava, Artistic Director of DanSci Dance Studio what it is like to run a busines as a mum, covering the inspiration and challenges faced
What was your inspiration for setting up your Business?
The jump start to my business came when I was sat in hospital at the bedside of my middle daughter. For two months we were helpless watching her battle meningitis, and so I came to the scary realization that life is too precious not to be doing more. Six months later I ran my first babyballet class to bring the magic and wonder of dance to the tiniest dancers in Exeter. I wanted to spend my days doing something that mattered, something I loved and more importantly something that was flexible, allowing me to be there for all those important moments in my own children’s lives.
Starting these classes not only brought the joy of dance too more and more young children, my own daughter included but also brought me out of a long depression suffered while mourning the loss of my professional dance career due to injury. Dance has always been a part of my life and now I have the privilege to use my skills to inspire others.
My daughter, Clara is thankfully physically well however, struggles with learning difficulties. I have seen firsthand how being involved in creative activities helps her overcome fears, deal with bullying and piece together her own magical world, which is slightly different and more fantastical than most people can dream. She has been not only the inspiration but also the continuing drive to make sure Exeter has a Safe Space to Dance where anyone, regardless of background can escape the drudgery of life and have the opportunity to experience great quality dance.
What kept you on the Rollercoaster?
Every single day brings a new opportunity and I am learning something new every day! From the adrenaline rush of going cap in hand to the bank armed with an idea and the hit at the very first class, facing a room full expectant toddlers; to the sweat of physically building out our own premises and weeping on the floor of the beautiful new studio not having a clue how to market and panicked that no one will come to class! It has definitely not been all twirling and I have often wanted the magic wands to be real
When I was told I would never dance professionally again it was a huge blow, I had known since I was a little girl that I wanted to be a dancer. It just made sense, I relish the adrenaline, the hard work the moment in the spot light (and living in tracksuit bottoms!) I retrained in Dance Science and enjoyed working for Dance UK however, starting a family changes perspectives. We relocated to Exeter, my husband’s home town and I took any work going. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t cope with mundane jobs to simply pay the bills. Every time I panic that the roller-coaster is getting a little too fast or the upcoming loop the loop is looking frightening I just remind myself how far I have come in such a short time and that no matter how scary I didn’t want my children see me give up on my dreams. I want to show them that you don’t need money or influence to build something. You just need the drive and passion to keep it going!
Why did it have to work?
Of course I want to say the business had to work because I wanted to show my children how hard work and perseverance pays off but the brutal truth is simply that they wouldn’t get fed if it didn’t!
I originally started with my babyballet franchise, taking a bank loan for the franchise fee which was scary enough. Within three years I had returned to the bank to ask for a much larger sum. My husband found the details for a disused supermarket in town which would make the ideal location for a dance studio. However, it required a huge amount of renovation and the dance scientist in me wanted to ensure that every safe dance aspect was fulfilled. I was lucky to receive a government backed loan but with build costs spiraling I had to further negotiate more finance.
I am secretly proud of myself for being able to convey my ideas to accountants and logical bankers, it’s reassuring when outsiders support your concept. I could see that DanSci Dance Studio was a possibility however, I alone have a huge debt over my head now. There is nothing more inspiring than having wages, rent, loans and overheads to make you get out of bed and do your best! We also have a thriving community of amazing families that attend the studio every week and I wouldn’t want to be the one responsible for clouding their first experiences in dance. It has to work, and it will!
What advice would you give to other Mums who have a business idea?
Having a business is like having a newborn baby. Get used to not sleeping again!
I wanted to make sure I was available for my children, in truth that is not always the case. I am lucky in that while they are young they are all quite happy to come to the studio and learn to dance but I guess it really depends on the type of business and your objectives.
I spend time with my kids both at the studio and at their activities. I have built a fabulous reliable team which means I can take school holidays and just ‘check in’ remotely to see all is well. But for this to happen I have had a lot of long nights doing admin into the early hours, returning phone calls from my car on school runs and learning choreography while cooking tea.
As a mother you are used to juggling more than one task but to make a business work you need to be able to carve out some time to focus solely on the business. This takes practice and the inevitable mother/work guilt but remember you do not need to be super woman. Just like when you have a newborn, enlist the help from all that offer and take time to rest and drink tea. The housework really can wait! If you are passionate about your idea you will find a way to keep the enthusiasm up; you may just find business takes a little longer to flourish but if you are also growing children that’s OK you already have all the business skills you will need to negotiate any eventuality.
Who has been your biggest support?
I am lucky that over the past five years I have built some amazing support from my team. We are a family that stick together. Dancers notoriously work hard and are
passionate about their work so I know my business is in safe hands. However, there are two people that have made DanSci a reality. My husband has always given me that little extra push and reminded me that I can do this. He is my polar opposite so also brings me back down to earth when I get carried away with crazy ideas. It was him that found our premises and when I hesitated put in a cheeky offer without my knowledge. It was then too late to back out I had to jump in and make this work. He provides accountancy and business advice but more importantly is my best friend, he listens to the moans of day to day business and understands the frustrations as business owner himself. I am really lucky to have someone that is in my corner, who will also kiss scrapped knees and tuck the children in when I am nurturing someone’s else’s child at the studio. Oh and doesn’t pull me up on my lack of housekeeping skills to often!
I am also incredibly lucky that my mother has always put me first and continued to do so as I have become a mother myself. From remortgaging her house to send me off to ballet school as a child to relocating and moving to Exeter to help with her grandchildren. She works full time herself but still has the energy to help with homework, entertain the kids, and come to class! She is probably one of our biggest fans telling anyone and everyone about DanSci Dance Studio. Family really is my biggest support and I am so thankful to have them.
Who inspires you?
This is difficult as there is inspiration all around but over the last five years I have drawn huge inspiration from Claire O’Conner, founder of babyballet. I was originally drawn to babyballet as the ethos in how they deliver their classes is in line with the kind of teacher I wanted to be. My experience of learning to dance was very different, the restrains of classical ballet training can be harsh. I wanted to find a way to encapsulate the joy of dance not just the hard work, to help children embrace the creative arts and express themselves. At the beginning of my business journey Claire was incredibly supportive and she knows all the pressures of being a working mum. I am amazed to this day that although my babyballet business has taken a slightly different turn now feeding DanSci Dance Studio; Claire still manages to take the time to answer a phone call and boost my morale. She has helped shape not only my teaching career but also the way I have learnt to lead my own team.
What has been your biggest Success?
I don’t think that I have had my greatest success yet! Every little goal met and every little child’s smile is a huge success at the time. Just getting the initial funding was my biggest success, until our babyballet stars danced their first performance, getting interviewed live on National TV on BBC Breakfast News showcased our success yet flying home in time to pick up the kids from school was a personal success!
In less than five years I am proud to say I have created a business that boosts the city’s creative arts. Providing great quality dance classes to over 200 hundred children a week and gets more adults in Exeter active. We have fundraising events, outreach in the community and a special needs program from learning difficulties to Parkinson’s. We have given Exeter a professional facility that rivals other major towns, recognized this year by One Dance UK as Exeter’s first Space Safe to Dance and utilized by the Royal Academy of Dance for teacher training and Northern Ballet for children’s workshops. Now we have the studio in place we can be flexible in the things we deliver. Employing five staff members now, it is important to both our success and their personal growth to continue to support them for example; financially helping one of our teachers gain her qualification in Acrobatic Arts insuring that we are the only school in the area to offer safe progressive training in a style all the kids are watching on TV and attempting to emulate.
We still have so many more successes to reach for, we have our competition team who have recently qualified for the 6 Nations and World Championships in street dance, and we are planning a big showcase next year. We are financially stable and inline to pay off all original loans shortly which will develop our cash flow opening up even more opportunities. We will celebrate again when we secure our expansion as we are looking to start classes in Plymouth and the champagne bubbles will pop when we boost our healthier dance program promoting the Dance Science side of the business and hay, there’s the line of merchandise which is on the dream board too!
On a personal level I have achieved the success of creating something amazing and special in my community from scratch which gives me a reason to get up every day. Keeps me excited and shows my three young children that dreams really do come true. Blood sweat and tears are involved but anything worth working for can succeed if you believe in yourself.
I like to believe that we haven’t just created a business for ourselfves but for the community, for Exeter. A space that was needed in our city.