Growing a business from enjoyment
“Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
Encore Dance and Theatre School has been celebrating its 40th anniversary as a business this year, and after speaking with the founder and owner Sharon Shirley the above quote immediately springs to mind.
“I didn’t set out to run a business” says Sharon, “I set out to pass on a love of dancing. I always loved dance and theatre and could never get enough. I wanted to give others the same joy that it had given me.”
“I have always focussed on the kids, and developing their dance skills, confidence and enjoyment of dance. The fact that business grew from that focus was simply a happy by product.”
Sharon started Encore Dance with 30 students, who all took a Saturday morning class with her from one room. Today, she has a team of 16 dance teachers, 3 studios and classes run for 6 hours each day Monday to Friday, and all day on Saturday. The school also regularly flies in guest choreographers from around Australia.
While Sharon says the fact that a business grew from her sharing her enjoyment of dancing is a happy by product, we know the success over the past 40 years has been underpinned by a lot of hard work, commitment and good business decision making and strategy.
Encore Dance’s offerings and services have also evolved over time, ensuring the school meets the changing needs of what clients want.
“We started as a theatrical school offering jazz, tap and song. We moved more into musical theatre for quite a few years but as trends changed we added classical ballet, contemporary and Hip Hop.”
“Additionally as we grew it became obvious to me that I needed to identify and develop dance teachers, as well as dancers. I am focused on ensuring Encore is a place where people can grow their skills.”
Along the way, Encore Dance has also grown its focus on community engagement and support. Sharon says she sees her staff, students and their families as “more of a community of people”.
A community doing great things
And as a community, Encore has a strong heart and a drive to make a difference. One of the highlights of the past 40 years for Sharon has been the establishment of Tassie Dancers Against Cancer (TDAC).
“We all know someone who has been affected by cancer. As a school we have had so many impacted: students, staff, family members.”
“Creating TDAC was a way of putting those helpless feelings into something useful. A way for us to give back to the community by doing what we loved to help others in some small way.”
TDAC was established six years ago and has raised $150,000 to date, all of which has gone to cancer research, working with various organisations including Cancer Council Tasmania, Australian Lions Childhood Cancer Research Foundation and Love Your Sister.
Local businesses supporting each other
Sharon started working with WLF a few years ago through her school’s connection with WLF Partner Marg Marshall, whose children were both students at Encore Dance.
“Marg is super supportive” says Sharon. “She helps run our Encore Support Group and has been very involved and helped set up TDAC as a not-for-profit.”
“Her guidance over the past few years in particular has been really valuable. The early days of COVID were a very scary time for Encore, as a service-based business who didn’t seem to come under any category, and kept getting lumped in with adult gyms.”
“Marg gave me so much help and advice. We were the first to close our operations in COVID and the last to re-open our doors, but my team worked harder than ever to develop video content, zoom classes and so many ways to keep our community connected.”
“It’s an interesting contrast for me to see Marg in her WLF environment as a highly qualified senior executive, when I am used to seeing her ironing costumes, assisting with canteen duties and cleaning up after a show!”
As the 40th anniversary year comes to a close, Sharon is reflecting a little on her highlights. In addition to TDAC, she lists two other major stand outs: taking a team of dancers to perform at Disneyland and being involved in organising the Olympic Parade in the 1990s.
Where to next for Encore?
The focus on building and nurturing the Encore community remains at the forefront of Sharon’s plans for the future.
“It was fabulous to see many of our previous students come back to perform at our 40th celebration event. Some who hadn’t put on a pair of tap shoes for 20 years or more!”
“I am now also having the pleasure of having second generation dancers at the school. At one of our 40th celebration concerts we had many of our current dancers performing with their mothers.”
“Our vision for 2023 and beyond is to continue to initiate and create positive opportunities for our dancers. Underpinning that, it’s important that we create a place where everyone is a valued and supported member of our community. Where students continue to form lifelong friendships and create happy memories.”
Sharon’s commitment to sharing the joy she finds in dance and harnessing it to make her community a better place is very clear and has already created an amazing legacy to build on.
As Encore Dance moves into its 41st year, Sharon’s positive approach is filled with the beauty of her dance.
“I now need to plant trees under whose shade I know I will never sit in.”
Congratulations on an amazing 40 years Sharon, and we are delighted to be working with you as you lead Encore Dance into its next 40 years!