Motivation. Patience. Discipline. Versatility. These are words that describe what Karen Cannon, founder and director of DanceWorks Performing Arts, tries to instill in every student that comes through her studio doors – whether they are taking a single recreational dance class or planning on making a career in dance.
“My goal with the studio was always to offer the student everything under one roof,” Cannon explained. “Everything equally strong. A well-rounded education – the more you can do the more employable you are.”
Cannon, a trained professional dancer, opened her studio 24 years ago in a tiny 800-square-foot space in Orchards, with 40 students. Within the first year she expanded to a larger space in a strip mall. Subsequent years saw continued growth, causing her to move several more times. Today, the studio occupies 8,000 square feet in the same building she started in – except now, she has 400 students. Because many students take multiple classes, the studio may see 800 heads in a week. Since moving to her newest location, Cannon’s revenue has increased by 30 percent.
The studio features state-of-the-art sprung-floors to ensure healthy development and protection of dancer’s muscles and joints, as well as amenities such as a student homework lounge, multiple viewing windows and a boutique for dance wear and DanceWorks merchandise. Upcoming events include an open house on August 26, and Nutcracker auditions in mid-September.
DanceWorks currently employs 13 dance instructors who teach 90+ classes per week in many genres, including ballet, jazz, contemporary, tap, hip hop, lyrical, aerial silks and musical theatre, from toddler age to pre-professional.
“It’s very important to not stay the same – you have to constantly evolve and grow. Otherwise you stagnate,” said Cannon, who added that her favorite part of running the business is finding creative ways to offer more variety and value to her clients.
DanceWorks doesn’t just teach classes. It also includes a 70-member dance company, and holds a spring ballet and several showcases each year to highlight the different dance genres, as well as a Christmas “Holiday Spectacular” show. Cannon added that upon request, studio students can also present performances in the community.
One popular event is the studio’s annual Nutcracker ballet at Christmas, which is organized by the studio’s nonprofit, Friends of DanceWorks. The money raised at this event goes back into the community for dance scholarships.
“It’s important to give back,” Cannon said. “I’ve worked hard, but I’ve been lucky too. We gave out $14,000 in scholarships last year.”
The dance company is going to perform and take master classes at Disneyland in November, where several former students are also performing. Other graduates have gone on to attend nationally ranked dance programs such as The Julliard School and Point Park University as well as many national tours and Broadway shows.
Owning and running her own business came naturally to Cannon, who said that she comes from a family with a long history of being self-employed.
“I’m very driven and motivated to be my own boss,” Cannon stated. “It’s scary but it’s amazing. Once you’ve done it there’s no going back. You have the power to choose your path.”
And she’s not done growing the business: next year will be DanceWorks’ 25th anniversary, and Cannon is currently working with an architect on plans to expand the studio to 11,000 square feet, hoping to break ground next summer.
“We need more space, more costume storage,” said Cannon.
She said that it was a big leap to purchase her own building. Looking at all the options and being willing ask people for advice (even if you don’t end up taking it), Cannon said, were two techniques she, and other woman business owners, can use to figure out the next step for the business. Strategic banking, Cannon added, has also been useful.
“That means not being afraid to go to five different institutions and saying ‘how can you help me?’” said Cannon, who found success working with Bank of America. “That was a world that was new to me as a dance teacher. It’s taught me a lot.”
In the end, though, Cannon said that through the years she has learned to “go with her gut.”
“There have been times when I’ve hesitated, and those were my biggest mistake – second guessing myself,” said Cannon. “If you don’t try you’ll never know.”