It's a Friday evening at Detroit Dance Center and owners Jasmine Woods, Linda Hendricks, and Dominique Hamlett are sweeping floors and stacking brochures. They’re relaxed, laughing, and talking shop; new schedules, planned performances, and class rosters. The studio has all the aesthetics and furnishings you would expect; a selfie wall, a large hardwood dance space, and racks full of costumes and shirts with their logo on them. The trio have called the midtown Detroit studio home since 2022, but their story starts much further back.
“It was originally started in 2009,” says Hendricks. “I was in New York, I started taking classes at Broadway Dance Center and Alvin Ailen Extension and just feeling like I was coming back to life as an adult….I came back to Detroit and opened it.”
Hendricks decided to shift focus to her family life and closed the studio down after five successful years, but she kept one foot in the dance community by teaching at Detroit Dance Windsor Dance Academy, where she befriended Woods and Hamlett.
“Me and Dominique used to dance together as kids but we’ve all known each other for over 20 years,” says Woods.
During the 2020 pandemic, Woods started to playfully nudge Hendricks about reopening the dance studio as a joint venture with her and Hamlett.
“It was a joke at first but then it became serious,” says Woods.
Hendricks was skeptical but she agreed to it. They officially opened enrollment in 2021 and, to their surprise, 64 students immediately signed up. “I think a lot of families were just ready to get their kids back out there,” says Hendricks.
Initially, they used temporary locations to teach students while they were securing a building of their own. During that time they ran into logistical challenges, such as the doors being locked before classes and unexpected interruptions during class time. They even shut down completely during a COVID-19 surge. They persevered, however, through the growing pains and even managed to grow their enrollment.
“The parents stayed with us in the midst of things that were out of our control,” Woods says. “As a small business, you need support from families.”
The merry-go-round of utilizing multiple locations had started to run its course and they were able to acquire and move into a permanent studio on Seldon Street. They did a soft opening in May of 2022 followed by a grand opening in July with Mayor Mike Duggan in attendance.
Part of their success so far has been their ability to obtain grants. Early in 2022 they were awarded a Motor City Match grant, a program sponsored by the city of Detroit, the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, the Economic Development Corporation, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that provides financial support to Detroit-owned businesses.
“The thing about us is that we all came from corporate America and teaching. Because of that, we had a business mindset more so than just an artist mindset,” says Hamlett.
Next, they were bestowed a Comcast Rise grant, a monetary allotment given to small business owners with a focus on those in diverse communities.
“We applied for that in order to get marketing, continued build-out, equipment, and a little bit more for payroll,” says Hendricks.
Most recently they won an American Express Backing Small Business grant in June. “That one is specifically for the studio,” says Hendricks. “We’re looking to do soundproofing, we’re looking to get more monitors put out here so parents can watch their children.”
Detroit Dance Center is certified to teach the American Ballet Theatre national curriculum. They are one of only 36 studios in the state to have earned the certification. “We’re the only place in Detroit that can offer it,” says Hendricks.
The studio also incorporates the Horton Technique, a teaching form where dancers have the freedom to express themselves through movement, and the center provides training for assorted dance styles and classes. The diverse and stable teaching programs help make Detroit Dance Center sustainable.
“Our curriculums are built in,” says Hamlett. “A lot of times when you teach at different places it's kind of like a free-for-all, whatever you come in with is what you teach. And the problem is when the teacher leaves, they tend to take all those students with them because the curriculum wasn’t universal.”
Another niche that the women have carved is catering to toddlers and preschoolers since existing adolescent dancers are staying at their studios. Although Detroit Dancer Center services all age groups, they’ve found that many teachers don’t offer programming for the younger age groups.
“Over 75 percent of our studio is under 6,” says Woods. “So you just have to have the mental capacity to deal with little kids all day. That could be a reason why some studios shy away from that age bracket.”
The studio currently has nearly 200 students enrolled and they would like to grow that number to 425. They believe they will obtain that goal by nurturing the skillsets of their current dancers as they grow and replenishing them with newer dancers just starting out.
“Typically phenomenal dancers are not going to leave their phenomenal studios,” explains Woods. “We’re not going to get prima ballerinas right now but we’re going to grow them though.”
As Detroit Dancer Center grows, another Detroit location could be added, but for now, the trio plan to continue to cement themselves within the performance art culture of the city of midtown Detroit.
“I feel like we went through a hiatus where the arts weren’t appreciated,” says Woods. “It's slowly but surely changing. I feel it's a lot of room for the arts in Midtown and downtown.”