Dancing in the dark?

Unlikely entrepreneurs step up to start inclusive dance studio.
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Hannah Mico and Paige Gabert learned about business on the fly when starting Midwest Movement Collective LLC. Courtesy Paige Gabert

A dance studio for “adults only” has opened in the Monroe North business district. The two-year endeavor to open the business kept owners Hannah Mico and Paige Gabert on their toes.

It all started with a gripe session on a porch in 2020. Mico and Gabert, both dancers, were fed up with some discriminatory practices they’d witnessed at another dance studio. They wanted to belong to a community of dancers that would be inclusive of everybody and joked they would just have to open their own.

The idea stuck and the women decided to give it a whirl.

Mico’s day-job is in the environmental nonprofit sector and Gabert is a photographer by trade. They knew they would need help navigating the process if they were going to go through with it.

The duo began seeking help from business coaches, the Michigan Small Business Development Center at Grand Valley State University, Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women and other professional organizations aimed at fostering startups.

“Liz Hoffswell was very helpful,” Mico said, referring to a business consultant at the SBDC. “And the Monroe North Business Association, the support we were given from them blows my mind.”

They established an LLC, organized a fundraiser, searched at length for a location and ultimately settled on 1140 Monroe Ave. NW, a commercial building with a sizable parking lot near bus lines and major cross streets with bike lanes.

By May 2021, the pair had managed to raise a decent amount of seed money and it was time to start renovations for Midwest Movement Collective LLC. They engaged a contractor and were really getting into the groove of business ownership when they discovered a misstep.

“He asked us who we’d hired as an architect,” Mico said. She and Gabert were blindsided. Somewhere along the way, through all the coaching sessions, business development, planning and budgeting, this vital step in the process had been missed.

“We thought that was their job.” Gabert said, referring to the contractor.

Gabert spends her days (and evenings) tending the front desk. “Every day it’s been something new, the whole two years,” she said. But they kept their feet on the ground and persevered through it. The studio opened on June 12.

It features three distinct spaces that are available to the public to rent when not in use.

The largest room is named for Josephine Baker, an American-born Black female burlesque singer-dancer who rose to fame in France in the 1920s. In this room, silks and sturdy poles are affixed to an extra-high ceiling.

Smaller group classes are held in two additional rooms; a yoga studio with a floor-to-ceiling west-facing window and a room named for transgender ballerina Jayna Ledford that is utilized for smaller group classes.

The studio offers instruction at any skill level in ballet, contemporary, pole dance, aerial silks, tap, yoga, improv, belly dancing, liquid motion and more. Classes are offered at night, after business hours to accommodate working people.

Flexible memberships allow dancers to pick and choose different classes. Drop-ins are encouraged for people who may want to rekindle an old hobby without making a lengthy financial commitment.

In keeping with the original mission, the staff is trained in inclusivity, ensuring dancers are free to be themselves in a judgment-free zone.

“This space is available for people who are socially conscious,” Mico said. She would like to see it become a fixture in the community and is interested in partnering with other like-minded organizations and philanthropies. “That said, Midwest Movement Collective is a for-profit LLC.”

“Yeah, we have to make money,” Gabert added.

Midwest Movement Collective is co-owned and co-founded by two single women and is an intentionally inclusive space for folks of all identities. Hours are 4-9 p.m. weekdays, and 11 a.m.-9 p.m. on weekends. Learn more about the studio and upcoming events at midmovecollective.com.

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