When a Pandemic Challenges Your Best-Laid Business Plans

After teaching for more than 30 years—most recently building a successful preschool program for a dance studio in Burlington, North Carolina—Kim Black decided it was time to open her own business. But the very day she signed the lease for Miss Kim’s Children’s Dance and Arts was the day North Carolinians learned dance studios were required to close due to the pandemic. That didn’t stop her.

Miss Kim kneels in front of her dance studio next to a young student, both of whom are smiling
A summer camp student at Miss Kim’s. Children’s Dance and Arts. Courtesy of Kim Black.

Listening to Kim Black talk about her teaching career, there is no doubt she’s found her life’s purpose: sparking the imaginations of preschool dancers while building their confidence. But this year, Black was inspired to take a bold new step: She opened her own dance-studio business, investing $14,000 in a 2,800-square-foot space—in the midst of a pandemic.

Better known as “Miss Kim” in the Burlington, North Carolina, community where she has been a dance educator for over 30 years, the bubbly dynamo has developed quite a loyal following, and former students often enroll their children in her classes. It was the successful growth of the preschool program she started in 2011 at Burlington Dance Center that inspired her to start a studio.

Her business plan was simple. Shefocused on a concept that did not yet exist in the area: a dance studio for children ages 18 months to 9 years old. She selected her location based on convenience for families and placed her $2,000 deposit. However, the March day she signed the lease for Miss Kim’s Children’s Dance and Arts was also the day North Carolinians learned most businesses were required to close due to the pandemic. Fortunately, the landlord agreed to waive her summer lease payments until August.

 “COVID is a terrible thing, but it was a gift to have the time to plan and prepare,” Black says. She used the time to get her Acrobatic Arts AcroDance certification and finalize her LLC, insurance and music-licensing paperwork, get her website up and running, hire a construction company to complete four rooms (two studios, a playroom and a future art room), and have window decals installed. “I am determined and have a community supporting me and my mission,” she says.

Most of Black’s $14,000 start-up costs went toward construction. To raise money, she taught online classes for $5, ran a GoFundMe campaign that brought in around $1,200, and received $2,500 in donations from dance families. Her mother and brother helped her fund the remaining amount.

Miss Kim’s officially opened for a socially distanced princess camp at the start of June with 16 campers, and there were waitlists for most of its other summer camps. After three summer camps, Black had enough funds to purchase flooring for one of the studios, which she and her husband, Fred, installed together. And after 11 weeks of summer camps, she was able to purchase flooring for the other studio, hold professional development for her staff, purchase acro equipment, and have a kitchenette installed by a dance dad in the common area. 

Miss Kim's studio, half of the floor is finished with Marley and the other half is still hardwood
Black and her husband installed their own flooring. Courtesy of Kim Black.

Teaching tiny tots how to stay six feet apart can be a challenge, but Black said it helped that they were already familiar with her and that they were in a new place. “It was new to them, which meant our social-distance rules were easier followed,” she says. “I placed children and toys strategically so they could play together but still be six feet apart.”

Campers entered the room, placed their items in their own laundry baskets and then washed their hands. Handwashing happened every 30 minutes, as well as before and after snack time and before they left the studio, as well as routine cleaning of all surfaces by Black and her assistants. “I had to restructure what I normally do with activities, like no hand-holding or partner work, but we did lots of group activities and games that encouraged teamwork without touching,” Black says. “COVID has made me push myself creatively like I never thought possible.”

Miss Kim curtsies in front of her studio with three young students who wear costumes
Miss Kim’s summer camp students held a sidewalk showcase. Courtesy of Kim Black.

Miss Kim currently has 311 students enrolled (her original goal was 100) for the fall semester, which started September 7, and as long as COVID does not close the studio, Black expects to meet her revenue goals for 2020–21. She will teach the majority of the preschoolers and she has six staff members who will teach the remaining age groups. “I’m honing in on what I do well so that I can knock it out of the park,” she says.

Hannah Maria Hayes has a MA in dance education from New York University and has been writing for Dance Media publications since 2008.