Jacki Ford recently wrapped up the first year of her new studio, District Dance NYC, a new dance training program for kids ages 3–10 in the Financial District of Manhattan.
Starting a studio at any location in the country is a major undertaking, but taking it on in New York City contains a whole other level of complexity. We sat down with the former Rockette and Pace faculty member in commercial dance to get the inside scoop on how she's done it, and what her plans are for the future of DiDa NYC.
What inspired you to start your own studio?
"My girls. I took my girls to dance at a few difference places in the city that I wasn't super-happy with. Most of them only do ballet, which is hard for me because I don't want my girls to be pigeonholed. I value all types of dance because that's what I grew up with [Ford trained at The Dance Club in Orem, Utah, under the direction of her mother, Sheryl Dowling], and it served me so much in my career. Beyond that, these other programs didn't have the camaraderie a studio provides. There wasn't a place where my daughters could grow up with other kids. Where I come from, if you're going to dance, you're going to be excellent at it, and you're going to get a dance family out of it."
How did you find your studio space?
"For dance, you can't start out of your home like other businesses. Square footage is the business. For the first part of last year I rented space at Gibney downtown. Me and Laurie Kanyok [owner of Kanyok Arts Initiative, a pre-professional program for teens in the city] were both renting space there, when we found this spot in the Financial District come available. We decided to go in on it together. We did the whole build-out ourselves, and it's become a really beautiful space."
What were some of the challenges you've faced while starting the school?
"Building the program has been humbling. When I go home to Utah, everyone is clamoring to work with me. I have had a successful career both performing and teaching, but here in New York, parents don't always understand what a dancer's training track should look like. You can't wait until your child is 12 to decide you want your kids to get the proper training.
Logistically, there was a lot to think about. I called my mom at least three times a week—probably every day, actually. 'What kind of marley?' 'What do your base boards look like?' 'How high off the floor are your mirrors?' 'What about our schedule?' 'Do I have to get costumes for this?' She has been so helpful and such a good sounding board."
How did you get the word out to potential students?
"Through schools nearby, and through my own kids' schools. I'm lucky to have that network right now. There are a few family newsletters in the area that we've been able to get on. Thank goodness some of the people who run them are also moms at my kids' school. They have been really helpful to give us deals and to do e-mail blasts."
What are your aspirations for the future of your school?
"I hope it really grows. I hope it grows to the point where we need more than one studio. I would love to have it grow into a teen program as well. I see us competing. I see a lot of value in that, because if nothing else, it gives dancers the opportunity to be onstage. It builds camaraderie with the people you dance with."