BDC Credo: Why We Choose to Be Different

At Ballroom Dance Chicago, we’re constantly examining and exploring our roles as dancers, teachers, and inspired individuals in the lives of our students and the wider Chicago community. To deepen and expand our understanding of these roles, we’ve taken to individually writing and sharing our responses to some of the principles we’ve devised to guide Ballroom Dance Chicago.

Why have we chosen to be different?

Matthew Sove:
We have a genuine love for the art of dancing and the craft/practice of teaching dance. “Love” may seem like a strong word, but I chose it carefully because the very founding principle of Ballroom Dance Chicago (meaning the reason I left my work at a traditional dance studio to start my own) is that dance (as in dancing, learning dance, teaching dance) is deserving of the utmost respect. And love is the ultimate form of respect (another blog topic, but an important point nonetheless).

Dance is not just some pastime, like a sport, for instance, that one pursues simply for the pleasure of pursuing it (dance can be just that, but so much would be missed). Dance verges on the spiritual when it is cultivated correctly. Dance is a meditation that can lead us to understand more deeply what it means to be human, what it means to truly connect with another person, what it means to be present and alive. In the end, we need to connect with other humans, to use our bodies and to act without constant self-questioning, and dancing can provide that.

“But you run a business,” you might argue (which are the words (or a similar words) I’ve heard from so many entrepreneurs offer as an excuse for bad behaviour). My feeling has always been that if we do things correctly - if we do things with our clients’ best interests in mind - if we do things ethically and from a centered, present state, we won’t have to worry about clients coming or staying. Those things just fall into place.

Lydia Feuerhelm:
You know when you look at someone performing some task, and you think, “I could do that better”? Maybe it’s as simple as sweeping the floor or as complicated as filing your taxes, but the feeling of some great wrong being committed doesn’t leave you so easily. You get an idea of how we picture other dance studios: taking this thing that we love so much (dance), and sharing it in a way that doesn’t necessarily serve the communities it’s trying to reach.

Other studios concern themselves with simply replicating the same dances traditions, business models, and sales techniques, but we choose to be different. Not for lack of trying to conform, but we’ve found ourselves having the desire to examine every aspect of the business to assess whether the way we’re doing things is really beneficial to us and our students. This has led us to read a ton, write a ton, and really try to distill why it is that we want to do what we do. Basically, we focus on reinventing tired forms (be it dance “steps,” lesson packages or teaching methods) in hopes of inspiring everyone we come into contact with to love dance as much as we do.

All of our efforts aim to bring focus back to dancing in its purest form, the reason that dance exists. While that may seem pretty hippy-dippy, what we mean when we say that is to bring attention back to the reason people love to dance and want to learn: it is a joyful way of connecting to another person and another community. While many other studios recognize this, they also perpetuate the negative sides of a dance studio setting and the attention instead gets placed on selling lessons and participating in dance competitions, stripping dance of its basest purpose: bringing people together.

Cathy Gilpin:
Our decision to differentiate ourselves from other dance studios is the result of hours of writing and contemplation about who we are, what we value, and what we believe it means to teach dance, especially at the beginning level.

After much deliberation, we decided that it is our job to bring the focus of learning partner dance back to what it was originally intended for; as a form of social and artistic expression. You’ll find that most studios operate on a monetary agenda. After all, most dancers teaching dance are less interested in sharing the information and inspiring new students as they are in making a paycheck. This is because most dancers’ interests lie in competing, and teaching dance on the side is a great way to make money to support their competition lifestyle.

As a result, studios are quick to package the concept of “learning to dance” into cohesive little bundles. Ex; The Silver Bells Wedding Package, 10 lessons to prepare you for your first dance. Because we are interested in more than making money, we know that packaging dance lesson options in this fashion only places a sense of limitation on what it means to learn to dance. It does nothing to promote our goal of inspiring clients to fall in love with dancing and appreciate the process of learning to do so. That’s why we’ve chosen to approach our business differently. We want our clients to have respect and love for the process.

Read More of the BDC Credo