Monday, December 1, 2014

Arts + Business = D3DanceStudio

By Larissa Kern
Pop music plays over the stereo as young dancers stretch on the studio floor. Christmas lights flash around the mirror of the darkened studio. Instructor Dedrick Perkins has turned off the lights while his students stretch in preparation for their jazz class at his Concord-based D3DanceStudio.

 A 21-year-old dance major at UNC Charlotte, Perkins opened the dance studio last spring with business partner Keyon Baker, 29, a Winthrop University graduate and operational risk manager at Wells Fargo. Their act of artistic entrepreneurship defies conventional wisdom: “workforce development” advocates rarely consider the arts to be a practical career choice. And as a college student, an African-American, and a male, Perkins definitely breaks the mold of the typical dance studio owner – white, female, and middle-aged.

Dedrick Perkins (right) and dance studio partner Keyon Baker
Perkins, a Charlotte native, had no interest in the arts until his junior year in high school, when he participated in a hip-hop dance class at the studio where his little sister studied. His senior year he took dance classes at Garinger High School. Enrolling at UNC Charlotte, he began teaching at two dance studios, one in Matthews and one in Concord. It was then that he began dreaming of his own studio. “I realized I valued the teaching aspect a lot more than performing,” he says.

Perkins met Baker his sophomore year in college and decided they would be a good business pair, with Baker overseeing operations and Perkins in charge of the artistic development. They created a business plan, but with Perkins still in school, had no immediate plans to launch the business. But one day last spring, Perkins saw a space for lease and contacted the owner. The location and layout were perfect, and the owner was eager for a tenant. Perkins had been saving money from his teaching; Baker also had capital to contribute. The two took their chance. “It all fell together,” says Perkins. “I didn’t know if I would have the opportunity again within five years, so I took it.”  They opened the studio in April 2014.

Perkins and Baker were financially prepared to survive the first year with only one student, but several students followed Perkins from other studios to D3. Realizing that there was no dance summer camp in Concord, they quickly launched one. They now have 15 students enrolled and have hired two teachers, in addition to Perkins.

The past nine months have been a learning experience. While balancing both studying and teaching, Perkins has had to handle issues like broken toilets in the girls’ bathroom and a leaking roof after heavy rain. “It’s a tedious process, but I love it,” he says, referring to all the practical problems owning a studio brings.

Perkins believes the dance curriculum at UNC Charlotte has prepared him for this new role. His choreography training not only allows him to choreograph all the dances his students will perform at recital and competition, but also to guide them to create their own dances. He credits his ballet pedagogy teacher and mentor, Associate Professor of Dance Delia Neil, with teaching him how to communicate clearly with his students, in tone and body language. “Their responses changed when I changed my methods because of that class. It helped me enhance and adjust my way of teaching.”  And his dance writing and history courses have helped his writing improve – a key element, Perkins says, in establishing professional credibility as he writes grants, creates his website and markets his studio. “Everything I have learned has prepared me for where I am and am going to be.”

Neil says Perkins has a great approach with kids: “He is so affable and endearing, that I think the students will adore him.” D3 student Bekah O’Reilly says Perkins “makes me feel comfortable to make mistakes.” Her step-sister Andrea Martinez agrees, adding, “He’ll let you keep trying.” Perkins demands excellence and proper dance etiquette from his students but still keeps it fun. “I have a very professional relationship with my kids,” he says, adding that they also “view me as a big brother, and don’t hesitate to ask questions.”

Perkins graduates in May and can then turn his full attention to D3DanceStudio. He and Baker hope that in the next few years they will be able to hire more full time teachers and buy the rest of the building complex to create more studio space. Ultimately, they hope to have as many 300 students.

“One day I would hope that the community will see my community as a valuable place for dance education,” Perkins says, “to see my kids progress in whatever they want to do.”

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Larissa Kern graduated from UNC Charlotte in December with a BA in dance and a minor in journalism.

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