Back in the day, our parents stuffed us in our sleeper pajamas and piled us in the back of the station wagon. At the drive-in, we lay side-by-side on a thick musty blanket with the back tailgate down to watch Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
As kids, we fell in love with Mr. Wonka – We fell in love with the idea of dreams and having them all come true. If there was one person who could help make our dreams come true, it would be someone like Mr. Wonka, someone who believed in unlimited possibility.
To think that there might still be people out there who could help people see their dreams come alive excited me and I’ve been on the lookout for them my whole life. And what I know about them so far is they are rare, but not impossible to find.
Recently, I was enlisted to help re-imagine a professional dance business that has been doing “okay,” but not stellar. I’ve been personally involved in three different professional dance studios and have known the owners well – well enough to see first-hand what works – and what doesn’t. So when faced with the task of breathing new life into this studio, I had to seek advice from one of the most successful studio owners I know Brian Barakauskas at Dance Louisville. And what makes him successful has a little to do with that same kind of Willie Wonka magic: a.k.a. outrageous, out-of-the box believing.
Building a dance business is challenging; because what we have to offer isn’t essential. In fact, dancing might be considered a little bit frivolous, extravagant on the budget. It certainly isn’t something any of us need for survival, or is it?
The answer to that all comes back to what a successful dance studio really has to offer.
I started taking lessons at Dance Louisville in 2010. I lived in Indianapolis at the time, so it was a big commitment for me to work with Brian. I drove 4 hours round-trip every week and although that might seem crazy, I found three things I had needed for a very long time.
- Inspiration – Brian B. was inspired! Brain has a vision. He is passionate about it and positive it will work out. He shares his vision with everyone and grows it inch-by-inch. He never stops talking about it. The more he talks about how great his studio is, the more people believe it. That’s how you grow a dream. There’s nothing one inspired person loves more than hanging out with other inspired people. The energy of possibility and hope is intoxicating. I wanted more of that, so I borrowed what I could from him.
- Inclusion – The people who I’ve met at Dance Louisville believed in me and supported my dreams. I will never forget the first time I ever walked out on the competition dance floor and a whole group of people who I barely knew yelled for me and held up a glittery poster that said, Go Tracy!! That moment changed my mind about competing. For the first time, I didn’t feel like it was “me against them.” Although I’d never been part of a team before, I liked it and it changed me. That moment has impacted how I treat others who are “going for it.” When you are “for others,” it comes back to you in surprising ways.
- Integration – I found a place to belong. After high school and college, beyond work, there aren’t a lot of places where you can go and just hang out. But people still need that; maybe more than ever. People need a place where they can be around other people with similar dreams and ideals. A place where they are accepted for who they are and encouraged to be the best they can be. Some people get this from a church or their workplace, but not everyone. Some people need a place like Dance Louisville where, when they walk in the door, they are expected; they are part of the fabric of the culture created organically when people come together. Once people are expected somewhere, they feel integral and there is not better feeling on Earth.
Building a “dream factory” isn’t really as complicated as it seems, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. What I know from watching Brian B. build his business from the ground up is that you have to be willing to inspire people, include people and integrate them into a community. What people need most beyond bread and water is a place to be, a place where their dreams and aspirations are nurtured, a place where they can express their innermost creative being, a place where doing so is not only okay, it’s encouraged, applauded and celebrated!