When the pandemic hit, like many entrepreneurs, dance studio owner Chelsea Schilpp worried about how her business would face such a daunting time. As days of closure turned into weeks, it became clear that the situation was going to become more and more challenging with the future becoming less and less predictable. Chelsea found herself introspective, wondering what she could do, not only to keep her business thriving but to build a stronger dance community to fight through the challenge.
In the area of Western Pennsylvania where her studio, Center Stage Dance Academy, is located, the business landscape is highly competitive. But when the nation shut down, Chelsea knew she needed to rally support. She decided to proactively invite other dance studio owners in her region to join a Facebook group, with the goal to build camaraderie and offer mutual support. Chelsea believed that if she could support someone else’s program with love and respect, that same love and respect would circle back to her.
Deciding to start a group was an easy step, but actually taking the leap to reach out to her competitors was not so simple. Chelsea had some anxiety to overcome first. She didn’t know how other studio owners might react to being invited into a group with each other, a group meant for collaboration without competitiveness.
Chelsea calmed her fears of reaching out by reminding herself that her heart and intentions were in the right place. Out of Chelsea’s courage and desire for support and camaraderie, Better Together – Western Pennsylvania Dance Studios United, was born. The Facebook group now has over 100 members who participate in discussions, seek help, and share ideas to better their studios and help each other.
One of the group members, Rosalynn Miller of Synergy Performing Arts, says she has been reaping the rewards of being connected in the group, which has given her the opportunity to flex her leadership muscles while she has both coached her peers and learned from them. She has helped her fellow studio owners with parent communication, safety measures, and recital options. Along with giving back to the local dance community, Rosalynn sees value in the group’s connections to each other. “We are all in it together,” she says. “Customers will come and go. At the end of the day, it’s still you and me in business. We have to build positive business relationships.”
Chelsea and Rosalynn agree that cultivating relationships with their competitors in the group has helped them solidify their leadership at their own studios during a time when they are creating their own road map. When faced with so many unknowns, both Chelsea and Rosalynn say that being able to brainstorm and generate ideas with like-minded people has helped them gain confidence. They were able to make decisions and take action swiftly with well thought-out plans to carry their businesses through the months of uncertainty. Chelsea says she has found that the benefits reach further than her studio. “It’s turning into lifelong fellowship and connections with people,” she explains. These were things she only dreamed of before the pandemic—when reaching out to her competitors was just a far-off vision.
Chelsea sees Better Together as a group that will outlast the pandemic. She decided the group needed its own logo, and so with the artistic vision of fellow member Erica Rae Kamensky and her husband Joel, they created one. “The plan is to [keep taking] this even further … to sell t-shirts (and other merchandise) to earn profits towards a designated charity, with the hopes that all ‘merch’ could be worn during next season’s competition season,” says Chelsea. She says she would love to see all the studio owners wearing their Better Together t-shirts along with their own team jackets to send the message to all dancers that they can compete and still support one another. “We all have something special, something different, something individualized to share with our clients … that said, there is no reason going forward that we can’t change the narrative to competing with one another versus against one another.”
The future may still be uncertain, and the studios in the Better Together group may find more challenging times ahead, but with their newfound unification and peer support, they will be one step closer to thriving through tumultuous times. They’ll be facing forward with linked arms and like minds, spreading the message of unity within their families and community. If a group of competitors can come together in the spirit of positivity, perhaps they can affect an entire industry. That is Chelsea’s goal, to lead with positivity and inspire others to do the same, with the hope that real change impacts the dance world. “It is my prayer that together we send the message that we are united in the name of dance and are committed as an entire industry!”
Chelsea is already experiencing the positive effects of taking the leap to unite her fellow studio owners. She has developed friendships with her competitors that she didn’t have before and those connections are precious during a time when people are living in isolation and uncertainty. Small businesses everywhere are making history by surviving this pandemic, and the ones who have united are not going to merely survive. They are also laying the groundwork for a thriving future by using their connections and relationships to prove that we are all better together.