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The Business of Dance: How mindset and systems can be game changers

Claire O'Shea. Photo courtesy of O'Shea.
Claire O'Shea. Photo courtesy of O'Shea.

What is your superpower?

If you asked Claire O’Shea, the founder of the Business of Dance (BOD) Podcast, she’d probably say something about developing systems.

Claire O'Shea. Photo courtesy of O'Shea.

Claire O’Shea. Photo courtesy of O’Shea.

O’Shea started out as a dance studio owner herself, at age 19, and discovered she was a natural at creating systems to keep her business running efficiently and effectively. Now 26, she has created her podcast to share something that came to her quite naturally and easily. In addition to running her thriving studio and broadcasting her podcast, she coaches other studio owners on the business and mindset elements of their studios.

While O’Shea is energetic and enthusiastic about sharing what she has learnt and the things that come naturally to her, she is very modest.

“I obviously don’t claim to know everything,” she says, “but we all have areas where we have more knowledge than someone else. That’s the cool part about being a human and sharing it.”

One of the differences between O’Shea and some of the other experts who offer advice and support to help studio owners grow their business is that O’Shea loves to work one-on-one, and she is still operating her own dance studio.

“There are so many amazing people who are giants in the industry,” she notes. “I don’t claim to be that, but I think my point of difference is that I love to work one-on-one to find out exactly what a studio owner needs, and supporting them in the areas where they need it most. That’s not to say that small or large group programs aren’t beneficial. But I want to work with people, and the one-on-one is the way I’m finding the most success at the moment. And it’s been amazing seeing my clients’ results.”

She goes on, “And systems. I know everyone does them, but that is my thing. Systems and technology, that’s the stuff that really gets me going.”

Starting out on the journey

“I was really blessed growing up in an amazing studio. And with an amazing studio owner who really nurtured my dance education and encouraged me throughout my whole dancing life,” O’Shea reflects on her childhood teacher, Andrea Dalton. “I started assisting I think when I was about 14. It gave me a lot of experience, and it progressed from there. As I progressed from assisting to taking my own classes, my teacher encouraged me to get qualifications through the Australian Teachers of Dance. Without her, I wouldn’t have any interest in dancing, or even been exposed to wanting to have a business. I thank her for setting me on the path I am today.”

O’Shea didn’t plan to own a studio when she was younger. She had moved to Brisbane to study early childhood education and was dancing at another studio, when her mother called her up one day to tell her about a little hall she’d seen that she thought would be good for a dance studio.

Claire O'Shea. Photo courtesy of O'Shea.

Claire O’Shea. Photo courtesy of O’Shea.

“I thought it would be one or two nights a week for years, but it really took off,” she recalls. “I think that’s why I got so organised so early. I was trying to graduate and run a business, and I didn’t want to slow down the growth. So that’s where I think my interest in systemizing and business processes really started.”

O’Shea currently has about 400 students and 12 teachers at her studio, but she doesn’t measure the success of her studio by those numbers.

Discovering a knack for business and mindset

Just as her studio grew fairly easily, so did her coaching business.

“Essentially, I got it to a point where the everyday admin stuff was completely automated or systemised or I had trained my office manager to take over it,” O’Shea explains. “This gave me mental space to think about the podcast and then starting my own coaching business. It started organically. I had people reaching out to me asking questions. I felt like I was repeating myself constantly, and I thought it would be good to write this down so I can help people. That’s kind of how it started.”

Although her podcast is called Business of Dance, O’Shea doesn’t claim to be a business expert, and instead sees herself as sharing the things she’s learnt through her own business journey.

“I don’t think you have to have a business degree to be able to run a business,” she says. “I have had a lot of amazing mentors over my time, and continue to seek out different courses, books, podcasts and coaches who are doing amazing things that I’d like to implement. Talking to people in the industry is what helps you move forward. Coaches and mentors are a great way to fast track things. But for me, it’s not always been possible, so I’ve had to look at finding different ways to continue to learn. It’s just something I’ve always been passionate about.”

Her knack for self-directed learning also taught O’Shea a lot about mindset.

Claire O'Shea. Photo courtesy of O'Shea.

Claire O’Shea. Photo courtesy of O’Shea.

“Being a studio owner can feel isolating,” she admits. “I’ve been through bouts of feeling alone and stressed and anxious. I think people don’t want to say when they feel this way. They want to be the confident one, the one who’s in control. They want to be focused. But no one feels happy or in control or correct all of the time.”

She continues, “I’m very positive and outgoing and have so many amazing things in my life, and I wondered, ‘Why do I feel this way? There’s something not right.’ So I put my energy into aligning my thoughts more. It’s not something you do once and it’s fixed. It’s an ongoing thing. There are many different aspects of mindset, like positivity, and your relationship with money. It’s something I got into, and as I really started to jump into the coaching, it comes up a lot more, like the psychology behind the decisions we make and the trying to figure out why we do what we do. I ask my clients questions like, ‘Why are you making this decision?’ ‘Why do you think this?’ ‘What is the business you actually want rather than the one you think you need to make?’ It’s a big mindshift when people start thinking about it. The businesses we create need to support your lifestyle and clientele, but if you make decisions you don’t want to make, it will only end badly.”

How mindset and systems can change the game

O’Shea thinks that a lack of direction, followed by mindset issues, are the main things that hold back dance studio owners when it comes to realising their dreams.

“Lacking direction is a big one,” she notes. “Many know they want to do great things, and they want to grow more or work less, or reach more people, but they’re not sure what steps to take. Most dance studio owners get into the business because they love dance and teaching and kids. Some people really enjoy the business side, and some really struggle with it. So it’s about identifying your strengths and weaknesses, and finding people to support you in other areas.”

O’Shea adds, “In this business, you can spend so much time chatting with people, but at the end of the day, you have to get stuff done to move forward. You need to know where to start and then create a clear roadmap, which includes creating systems and clear workflows. As studio owners, we repeat the same thing most years, like exams, or open weeks or concerts. You should be able to get to a point where you don’t have to worry about what is coming up. It’s already done. You’ve automated it, and so you have more time to do the things you want to do, whether that is spend more time with your family, teach more, add new programs, or reach out and grow your studio elsewhere.”


As you may have guessed, when asked her top three tips for studio owners, O’Shea nominated systems.

Claire O'Shea. Photo courtesy of O'Shea.

Claire O’Shea. Photo courtesy of O’Shea.

“Number one is systemizing,” she says. “Really ensuring you have a clear direction in your week of what needs to be done to ensure you’re serving your customers to the best of your ability, and trying to reach out to new people.”

For her second tip, she advises, “Nurture your team, if you have one. If they are supported and educated and feel empowered to create amazing classes and experiences for your students, then that’s one thing you don’t have to worry about.”

And finally, O’Shea encourages, “Nurture yourself. If you feel isolated, try to find connection with other business owners. Not necessarily in the industry but with people around you whom you think you can chat with. And find something you love to do outside of the studio. We can get really laser focused on the business, which is great because that dedication and focus will lead you to success, but you still have to live your life in the meantime, and it’s important not to lose focus on that.”

You can find the Business of Dance (BOD) podcast on iTunes, and you can find out more about what Claire O’Shea has to offer, including her blog, coaching services and free resources at

By Jo McDonald of Dance Informa.

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