Academy owner helps people dance to own beat

Shana Heidorn's Society Hill Dance Academy has two locations. (David Maialetti / Staff Photographer)

SHANA HEIDORN, 42, of Pennsport, owns Society Hill Dance Academy, which she started in 2002 on 2nd Street near Pine. She opened a second location in Manayunk in 2008. The school specializes in ballroom and Latin dance. Heidorn also runs a nonprofit called the Philadelphia Dance Foundation, which brings ballroom and Latin dance to inner-city schoolchildren in Philadelphia.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for the academy?

A: I moved here in 1995 to work for a dance school. I didn't like the way they treated their customers. I left and opened my own school because I wanted to change the image of the business. Our motto is "merriment and dance instruction."

Q: How did you come up with the money to start the academy?

A: A friend loaned me $200,000.

Q: What's unique about SHDA?

A: Dance schools need to sell lessons. Schools in the past, and some now, are very high pressure. We try not to do that. Sometimes you have to nudge people a little but you don't walk them into a room and make them cry.

Q: Who are your customers?

A: People come to us to learn dance, but there's always an underlying reason. Maybe you just want to meet somebody or you're recently divorced or you want to lose weight. We give them a social life. We have doctors, lawyers, IT people, wedding couples and seniors in their 80s.

Q: How much do services cost?

A: Private lessons can range from $95 to $130 per session and the first is complimentary. But it's not the lesson you're paying for, it's the program. One is a 15-lesson program called Social Ease and you choose five dances.

Q: Is this the typical program?

A: Well, it's one level. When you come in the door, the typical program depends on who you are. If you're nervous or scared, we put you on a five-lesson program called Confidence Builder. That's $490 and it's really an introduction to dance. If you come in here and you're confident, you might go straight to Social Ease.

Q: How much is Social Ease?

A: It's $1,960. That's 15 private lessons and unlimited group classes for the duration of the program. We have group classes every night and dance parties Fridays.

Q: This is not inexpensive, is it?

A: There's a misunderstanding you only need a few lessons to learn dance. Dancing is really high maintenance. It's a luxury sport, but we try to make it affordable. If you're younger and can't afford Social Ease, maybe you split the cost with some friends.

Q: How big a business is this?

A: We did $1.3 million in revenue in 2011.

Q: How many employees?

A: Right now, about 13. They're full-time dance instructors.

Q: What's an instructor make?

A: I have one that makes almost $200,000 a year and I have some that make $40,000 to $50,000. It depends on their work ethic.


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