2008 Alumni

Northeast Young Entrepreneur

Melissa Kelly - Timmins

Melissa KellyWhen Melissa Kelly opened L’Académie de danse - Melissa Kelly Dance Academy in a renovated church in Timmins in September 2005, she was hoping to have at least 60 students. To her surprise, 140 people showed up on registration day.

“I couldn’t believe my eyes,” the young entrepreneur said.

“There was lineups at my studio. I said ‘Wow, I’m way past my 60 now.’”

The 23-year-old Timmins native started dancing at the age of five with mentor Lisa Ciccone. When she was 13, Kelly started assisting with dance classes in Ciccone’s studio, and was soon given classes of her own to teach.

“As a young dancer, my goal was to be a performer. But when I started teaching, I found out what my passion was. I wasn’t focusing on myself. I was focusing on my students. I loved seeing my students smiling and enjoying themselves and getting the steps right.”

After being encouraged by Ciccone, Kelly auditioned and was accepted into a three-year dance teacher training program with Canada’s National Ballet School in 2002. The school has shaped the way she teaches today.

“That program certainly tested you to see if you really wanted to become a dance teacher. They only pick 10 students out of the entire world a year. They say that within the first year, half of the people in the program drop out. That’s exactly what happened to my class,” Kelly said.

“We were there six times a week. We were there from 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day, and Saturdays we had to be at the school to assist. We had 15 classes a year, and there was homework in every one of those classes.”

Among the classes she took at the school were pedagogy, teaching methadologies, psychology, music, anatomy, creative dance, ballet, national dancing, Cecchetti ballet, RAD ballet and early childhood education.

Just before she graduated in 2005, Kelly purchased a former church in Timmins to house her studio. She also applied for and received a $25,000 grant from the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation, which she used to pay for professional dance flooring.

“I came back to Timmins because I grew up here, and my family is here, and I had made a name for myself here. I absolutely love the small city atmosphere.”

Kelly admits her first year of business was difficult,

and at times it took a harsh toll on her personal life.

She had to work long hours to make her dream a reality.

“I learned so much in my first year on how to run a business and how things work. It was rough. The first year you have to work from scratch. The second year isn’t too bad, especially with the paperwork. Now I can just cut and paste the paperwork.”

Enrolment has continued to rise at the studio over the last two and a half years. With the help of five part-time teachers, she is now teaching 500 students. In the future, she’d like to expand her enrolment even more.

In 2006, she won the Timmins Chamber of Commerce NOVA award for best young entrepreneur, which recognized her hard work and dedication to her business.

Kelly said her success can partly be attributed to her elite teaching qualifications, which no other dance teacher in Timmins possesses. Her belief that anyone can dance also appeals to a lot of people who wouldn’t normally take dancing lessons.

Her dance studio trains pupils between three and 50-years old in ballet, pointe, salsa, jive, hip hop, jazz, tap and modern dance.

Although dance has traditionally been rejected by boys and men in favour of more “manly” pursuits, Kelly now has 30 enrolled in her classes. Many of these students are interested in learning hip hop.

“One of my goals is to get rid of that narrow-minded view that dancing is bad for guys. I want to get that out of people’s mind, because it’s not true. Girls can play hockey, so why can’t guys dance? Quite frankly, girls prefer guys that can dance.”

The studio is also designed in a way that it appeals to both men and women, with vibrant and neutral colours. Kelly also coaches soon-to-be-married couples who want to learn a special dance for their wedding reception.

“Usually it’s a rumba, which is a slow, romantic dance. I love doing that so much. It’s so much fun. It’s something the couples can share together.”

Kelly, who lost a close friend to leukemia in 2005, has also been actively involved in fundraising to help cancer victims.

During her first year of business, a five-year-old student named Brooke Gray was diagnosed with leukemia. In 2006 and 2007, Kelly donated the proceeds of the flower and water sales at the year-end recitals to the little girl’s parents to cover travel expenses.