Connect, express, grow – dance!
by Rita Smith
Some things, it is said, symbolize boundless optimism: like a fishing line, tossed into a quiet lake; or a kite rising against a clear blue sky.
To these symbols of hope, you can add one even more important: an “Open for Business” sign hung on the door of brand new enterprise, awaiting only customers and a chance to serve as part of the fabric of the community. Especially when that “Open for Business” sign is on the door of a dark building in depressed Michigan, in a dreary block of stores which has been empty for over a year.
Which is why it is so exciting that Tracy Halso Gap and her husband Adam Gap are now “Open for Business.” Tracy, Adam, and Tracy’s parents/investors Bob and Cathie Halso have taken a giant leap into entrepreneurship with the launch of their bold and beautiful new dance studio in Grosse Pointe, Michigan: Kercheval Dance.
Their faith in the power of hard work and the beauty of dance is exceeded only by the guts it takes to put their money where their mouth is, and invest in the community they love.
You can really begin to visualize the massive undertaking Kercheval Dance represents when you see this photo of a front-end loader, racing around INSIDE their newly leased space, beginning preparation for the work to follow.
“When we first stepped into the building, it was a gutted mess,” Tracy recounts. “It used to be a hardware store, and had been empty for a year. There was still furniture, Christmas decorations, a Santa sleigh with reindeer… the construction crew has been kind of like a Santa’s workshop full of busy elves, actually!”
Tracy virtually vibrates with enthusiasm. Love of dance simply pours out of her and will clearly inform and influence every aspect of Kercheval Dance.
“A studio space is so specialized, it is crucial to the business,” she points out. As a dance major with her Bachelor of Arts from one of America’s best dance programs at Oklahoma City University, construction is not exactly her forte; but she’s learning fast, and fortunately her dad is an expert.
“We need specific mirrors on the wall. We need special stereos and they need to be installed so we have the best sound quality without bothering our neighbours next door.
“And we must have the highest quality sprung floors, I think we’ve completely intimidated the construction crew on this installation because we’ve constantly stressed how important they are…it’s been quite a process and we worried it would not come together, but it has.”
The other secret weapon at Kercheval Dance is Tracy’s husband Adam, himself a professional dancer and choreographer. Adam also has his Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Merrimack College in Andover, Massachusetts.
“Adam is the whole package,” Tracy points out. “He dances, he choreographs, he plans and delivers events. He does it all.”
Tracy and Adam met at a dance convention in Disney World in 2006 and the rest was history. They have danced, and taught dance, across the country. Together, they are such a sight to behold that in they were the entertainment highlight of their own wedding.
This clip of the Groomsmens’ Dance at the wedding is a perennial favourite on Facebook:
In business, timing is everything, and Tracy and Adam are hitting the market in what may be the best time for dance in a century.
“There never used to be this many studios,” Tracy observes, and she should know: she’s been dancing since she was two years old.
Shows like Dancing with the Stars, So You Think You Can Dance, Glee, and America’s Got Talent have helped the world of dance, and dance instruction has exploded.
“A big factor that has really demonstrated the change in dance is that more college programs are offering dance scholarships, dance minors, and dance teams for competition; that’s really changed the game completely because parents used to think ‘Oh, we’re going to play sports because my kid might get a softball scholarship when they go to college.’
”Now, dance is offering that same opportunity post-high school. It’s more realistic now to keep dance in your life after age 18, whereas before it was more of a recreational thing.”
Another reality which has impacted dance instruction as a business is the fact that cash-strapped school boards have cut back on so many arts programs:
“Schools in the area, schools everywhere now are cutting back on arts. People are seeking dance and music and art elsewhere. Parents are coming to us because the schools just don’t have the funds or the time for these programs like they did in the past.”
The fact that Kercheval Dance accepts children at age two is also a competitive differentiator: “We’re going out on a limb and starting with 2 year olds,” Tracy points out.
“Parents have called to say ‘thank you’ because they either had to drive 20 minutes to find a dance school, or they cannot find a school that starts classes before age three or four. They are so grateful because they want activities for their children, opportunities for socialization and physical activity.”
Tracy’s natural affection for kids is clearly evident in her Bride’s Maids’ dance, featuring a four year old guest performer:
Tracy actually considered a career as an elementary school teacher because she loves education, but finally settled on dance instruction as the best of both worlds.
“Dance starts with education,” she points out. “Adam and I have developed our own curriculum. We have a syllabus for our studio which sets us apart because most studios don’t have the same structure as a school: it can be a mystery for parents, ‘What are my kids actually learning? When do they advance to the next level?’
“We have developed a syllabus we can share with parents. Each level in our studio has a set of skills to be learned before advancing. This gives teachers an easy way to plan their classes. It’s not a hobby, it’s education.”
What is the vision for Kercheval Dance in the years ahead?
“We’ll have guest teachers visiting more often because that’s one thing we really want to stress – how well we will expose our students to all forms of dance, not just sit in our own studio and breathe our own air.
“We plan to bring in guest teachers and take our kids to conventions and different master classes outside of Grosse Pointe, to give them a true exposure to the dance world.”
What is the most important trend in dance right now? This is something Tracy has spent time considering:
“One of the newest trends is that every performance has to have a meaning and a story. Up until the last decade, dances were just a simple sparkly costume and a series of steps. There wasn’t a deep purpose behind element.
“Now choreographers have taken it to the next level and every single step they do, every costume piece they select, every accent on the music now has to have a purpose in order for it to be considered quality work. Now the costume, the choreography, the photography, the music editing, the lighting cues, all have to coordinate.
“This is really special, because it’s making dance more powerful.”
Clearly, she thinks about every element of dance very deeply.
“Night and day,” Tracy laughs merrily. “Night and day.”
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