On Tap finds the rhythm of success

by Gayle Wilson

  • <p>GAYLE WILSON PHOTO</p><p>Shannon Moore, owner of On Tap Dance Studio in Lunenburg, received her training in New York.</p>
  • <p>GAYLE WILSON PHOTO</p><p>Shannon Moore is expanding her On Tap Dance Studio in Lunenburg to new premises on King Street in Bridgewater.</p>
  • <p>GAYLE WILSON PHOTO</p><p>As well as instruction in a variety of dance genres, On Tap Dance Studio retails dance wear, including the owner&#8217;s own brand, on the premises and online.</p>
  • <p>GAYLE WILSON PHOTO</p><p>The On Tap Dance Studio at its current premises on Montague Street in Lunenburg.</p>
  • <p>GAYLE WILSON PHOTO</p><p>On Tap Dance Studio will soon be sharing space with Dave&#8217;s Multisports at 821 King Street in Bridgewater.</p>

In the dance industry, a well-choreographed plan can help a business get off on the right foot.

But as Shannon Moore, owner of On Tap Dance Studio, has proven, sometimes it's enough just to have a dream, work really hard, and be prepared to improvise.

Moore's Lunenburg-based dance school has been growing its student body exponentially for the past few years, and is about to expand to a studio in Bridgewater.

The business is retailing third-party dance wear as well as Moore's own brand, Tippity Tap Dance Supplies, which she recently developed with an oversees supplier.

She's the artistic director of Royale Theatre Guild II in Lunenburg, which caters to children of all ages and has produced four full-length shows, including Narnia: The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Wicked Witch of Oz, The Velveteen Rabbit, and Alice in Wonderland.

Moore directed and produced The Very Funky Nutcracker in 2015 and choreographed for On Tap's Summer Youth Troupe in the Lunenburg Folk Harbour Festival last year.

This from the American dance instructor who says she essentially arrived in Lunenburg on a whim.

"At the time, I was just following wherever the universe was taking me."

Still, the moment she got to the UNESCO heritage site on a self-drive tour of the South Shore, she knew she was where she was meant to be.

"I got to Lunenburg and I didn't feel like I needed to go any further. I have the journal entry, to this day, of how I could envisage the dance studio here. How Lunenburg seemed like such a great arts community. How I really felt like I would find my niche."

Growing up in New Jersey, Moore says she got into dance at the age of 10, which is "late" by most standards. "Most kids will start around two or three."

She tried different forms of dance but it was tap that appealed to her the most. "It was different from all the other genres. It was more musical," she explained to LighthouseNOW.

Moore was accepted into the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York, where she received training in a spectrum of dance types, including modern, ballet, jazz, hip hop and tap.

It was "two years of intensive singing, dancing, acting, every day, all day."

By 2007, she was the mother of a baby girl and completing a bachelor of fine arts in musical theatre from the New School University of New York, online in the evenings, and working as a manager on the Park Avenue showroom for a dealer showcasing Ferrari cars.

She would later transition into commercial real estate customer relations to be closer to her daughter. But the stress of balancing her different responsibilities, and the exorbitant tuition she faced in New York if she pursued her plan of obtaining a master's degree, left her searching for other options.

Moore lays claim to studying with Broadway talents such as David J.V. Meenan, Harry Woolever, Savion Glover and Virgina Sandifur. She's attended several classes and workshops at Broadway Dance Center, the Martha Graham Studio, and Steps on Broadway, and still is a regular at the New Jersey Tap Festival every summer.

She was drawn to Nova Scotia in 2010, and spent two years studying toward an English degree at Dalhousie University. After her second daughter was born in 2012, she left the university to focus on motherhood, her partner, and dance instruction.

Her first steps in Lunenburg were tentative ones, starting with giving lessons to a handful of students in space at Concordia House on Montague Street that she rented by the hour.

"It was just to sort of test the market and see what is here," she says.

When the Neptune Theatre asked her to help with its summer camps in Lunenburg, in 2013 she rented space above the Railway Museum. But while she had begun to draw a core student body, she would find the volume of regular students wasn't enough to sustain a 3,000 sq. ft. studio with large heating bills.

"I probably had 30 students at the time. So I had grown, but not enough to maintain the space," she recalls.

A year later, Moore moved her instruction to its current 1,000 sq. ft premises at 194A Montague Street, and officially registered the On Tap Dance Studio as a business, with Moore and one other instructor giving lessons in tap, ballet, jazz, hip hop, and acro.

The effect of the relocation was virtually immediate.

"I've had a very successful three years. My registration and my enrolment doubled immediately the first year, just by being here," she reported, adding, "The following year my goal was 75, and we got there. And now we're nearing 100 students."

The students range in age from two years old to seniors.

According to Moore, her fees have stayed stable throughout the years, averaging about $10 an hour, or a little bit more when costumes are taken into account.

"I think it's important it's affordable and accessible," she insists.

Nonetheless, it's proving a good earner. Some of the students are there three and four days a week, taking multiple classes. "Some dancers pay in excess of $4,000 to $5,000 a year in tuition," she says.

The turn-over has meant the dance studio has been able to offer roughly $3,000 a year in scholarships and bursaries. And it's put Moore in a position she's now able to hire her first official employee, in addition to the five instructors she has working on a contract basis.

Meanwhile, renovations are under way at the commercial premises at 821 King Street the studio will soon be sharing with Dave's Multisports kick-boxing club.

Plans are to retain select classes in Lunenburg and Liverpool and move the business base to Bridgewater.

Moore is not yet drawing a salary for herself.

"I'm able to pay my bills, and I'm able to pay my instructors. So in that respect I consider myself successful," she notes, adding, "I figured it was best for the business for me to continue donating my time until it becomes what I visualize."

It was always her idea to have a retail component to a dance studio, featuring dance wear. Through research, she landed on a manufacturer in China who is producing her own brand of dance and leisure clothing, which she is selling in the studio.

"I'm hoping it's fruitful. I believe in the product," she says adding that what she sells is "unique and different from what's out there. "I'm hoping to develop it more and I'm hoping that the dance studio can help me put some money into that side of the business."

Despite the studio's increasing success, Moore is not only focused on the bottom line.

"I don't know that I care so much about it as a business," she admits.

As a mother of three children now, who often thinks of the students as her children as well, Moore primarily wants the studio to be a "safe place," where students can be comfortable and confident.

"Everyone deserves the chance to dance, and the opportunity for a creative and healthy outlet," she says.

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