Michelle Spina's dance space in Bristol is the definition of a beautiful dance studio. It's welcoming and spacious, and we especially love the sprung flooring. In this Women Who Own It interview, below, you'll not only get a look at Michelle's awesome space, you'll also be uplifted by Michelle's can-do and inclusive attitude. Plus, the life lessons she shares are en pointe! Keep reading and enjoy!
Tracy Sweeney (TS): Thank you for allowing us to interview you, Michelle! Where can our readers find your business? Michelle Spina (MS): Extensions School of Dance is located at 530 Wood St. 2nd Fl, Bristol, RI.
TS: Briefly walk us through your story. How did you get started? MS: My story began when I was 2.5 years old. I danced at Helen O'Neil's School of Ballet, which was located in a small basement in Newport, Rhode Island. My aunt, Lorna Rozon, was my teacher. On Saturdays she would pick me up early in the morning for my class. After, I hung around the studio while my aunt taught the older kids.
When I was 10, my aunt opened her own studio, Position 1. I took all the classes I possibly could and helped my aunt with her younger classes. Later, I taught for her.
My parents encouraged me to excel academically. While I was earning my degree in Business, I also took every dance class offered with Miss Herci Marsden. Upon graduation, I worked for a large accounting firm and also taught for my aunt. It took a few years for me to realize that my real passion is dance; I needed to make a change. I opened my studio at the end of 1993. I had just 30 students in my first year. I definitely struggled during the first few years. It took a lot of work to get my name out there and promote my business. I call those years the "salad years". Fortunately, I persevered through the ups and downs. This is what I am meant to do and I am blessed to be celebrating 26 years in business.
TS: Tell us about your business. What are you most proud of? MS: I teach dance ... ballet, tap, jazz, lyrical, hip hop ... but I also teach my students about working together, and to be kind and responsible. Most of my students will not go on to become professional dancers, but they will carry life lessons from dance on their many paths. The perseverance dance teaches will serve them well. Discipline and focus help them become better people. Our dancers learn love of the art, to respect their bodies, respect and trust of others, and a connection to the idea that practice yields results.
I have a different philosophy from most studios. My competition team is open to all dancers because I feel that if there is passion, the body will follow. Everyone can dance and deserves a chance and a place to bring that passion to life.
I am most proud when I see my students who are now adults, and they tell me that what they learned in my studio helped them succeed. Dance lessons are life lessons. I also have students who carved out their own dance path, including my daughter, Brooke Spina. Brooke is an amazing woman and to see her teach and inspire the next generation is incredibly rewarding.
TS: You mentioned your first few years in business were difficult. What else, if anything, did you struggle with on the road to success? MS, smiling: After all these years, I have systems in place to help the studio run smoothly, but I am never complacent. I am challenged every day. I continue to learn and grow and try new things because I want to be the best version of myself. I continually strive to reach all of my students and sometimes that’s not easy. I have to find a way to reach all types of learners. I have to stay current and still teach the fundamentals of technique, while keeping my dancers engaged and interested.
I love my job but it is far removed from my former career as an accountant. As a business owner, I have to market my business, manage my instructors, communicate with parents, nurture students, plan classes, deal with accounting and finances, and occasionally wipe a runny nose or give a hug to a little dancer who is nervous to leave mom. A small business owner is a multi-faceted individual. Small business is never boring and I always wish for a couple of additional hours in my day. And I still love it.
TS: Is there anything you'd like us to share? MS: We are looking for dancers to join our performance team for the 2019/2010 season, and we have a couple of open team classes during which interested dancers can come in and ask questions. Our 26th annual recital will be held at Barrington High School on June 22nd and June 23rd. We also have a great lineup of summer camps, and we are taking registrations for the fall at https://dancestudio-pro.com/online/extensions. Registration is discounted until June 23rd; you will receive $10 off of standard pricing.
TS: What advice do you have for a female business owner who is starting her journey? MS: Value yourself! Value what you have to contribute to your profession. Be humble and never stop learning, but be confident in who you are. Also, have the mindset of giving more than you receive. When you first start, don’t be afraid to ask people questions and learn from others who have gone before you. My sister, Kelley Pakenham, and my aunt, were both in the business so I could bounce ideas off of them. I am also friendly with the other studio owners in the area. We often talk and go for coffee together.