Paul Zaidman & Anna Selleck are both partners in life and business; they are typical of the innovative and entrepreneurial spirit of so many Australian couples who embark into the adventure of running their own business. With extensive dance and life experience they were prepared to face most challenges to make their business successful, but like so many other small businesses in 2020, nothing could have prepared them for what they faced through the covid-19 crisis; or at least our government’s management of it.
Paul & Anna had their business concept come to them while they were working on cruise ships together as a ballroom couple. This work involved both stage production and teaching guests in Latin ballroom dancing, as well as being the opening act for shows onboard. As a part of their role, they also had to sit on guest tables to help start conversations and ensure guests had a great night.
They did this together for three years.
Through these six-star cruises, Paul and Anna decided to start up ”Dance House International”. They chose this name for their business as they initially thought that they would remain on cruise ships for a number of years teaching across the globe.
They worked in places such as Jerusalem, Cabosanlucas, Hawaii and Asia.
Originally, the business was supposed to be called the “house of dance” or in Latin “Casa De Dan”. As can be a common situation when starting a business, many of the preferred names had been registered through ASIC. Eventually, Paul and Anna settled on Dance House International.
After some time working on the cruises, Paul and Anna decided to settle in Melbourne and taught at different venues such as pubs, clubs, RSL’s, and restaurants on their closed nights. Eventually, due to the logistical difficulties of teaching at different venues across Melbourne, they decided to establish their own studio two years ago so customers and clientele could come to them instead.
They leased a small warehouse and started the studio as a shell with a polished concrete floor. From this start, they slowly kept adding things to improve the venue with the addition of things such as wall mirrors, fittings and a proper dance floor. That transition, took two years, plenty of sweat and tears and a substantial investment.
Ballroom dancing or partner dancing can be approached from a social or competition perspective or both. This is the approach Paul and Anna provide through the Studio where they conduct classes for the more serious competition dancers as well as those who are using dancing for its social aspects.
As a contrast some studios around Melbourne will focus only on social or competition. An example of this is where rock and roll dance studios will be more aligned to social dancing, while ballroom dancing is directed more to competition dancing. For many, they start out wanting social participation but it soon becomes an additive and they become more serious about their dancing.
The natural progression from this point is to progress to the world of competitive dancing.
The majority of their students are single and Paul and Anna have become very attuned to adapting their teaching and classes to accommodate for all types of class composition. Paul and Anna have the people skills, techniques and knowledge to put any student at ease. These attributes have developed from their extensive backgrounds and through their work on the cruise ships have proven to be especially beneficial in this regard.
For junior participants, they are building their student base for children from 6 years of age and up. Learning partner dancing needs a degree of concentration, so it requires some maturity and a good concentration level from students. Paul and Anna find children aged 8, 9 or 10 are of a great age to start.
When parents bring their children to the studio they focus on ballroom Latin dance where Paul and Anna offer tuition and parents can choose between attending classes once, twice or even three times a week for their children at the dance studio. Through these classes, they participate in either group classes or private tuition.
For their students, both young and old, they have medal accreditation days once every three months.
The medal days are informal with parents invited, nibbles and drinks provided and only students that are capable of success being assessed to ensure it is a confidence-building event for all participants. All students on that day are adjudicated with Paul and Anna as partners and are given their results after which they also receive a critique, a medal and a certificate. To complete the event there are social dances and photos.
Adults and juniors are combined for their accreditation and on average twenty students will obtain their accreditation in Ballroom, Latin and Street Latin dancing and sometimes in multiple categories.
Outside the four medal days, there are other events that the studio holds such as a gala ball in November, Crown Championships in April with one major event per month.
The Studio also conducts things such as birthday parties, Saturday night socials that are conducted 7:00 pm to 1:00 am and corporate team building events, motivation talks and lectures.
Paul and Anna also conduct other events outside the studio in school programs and community dance festivals such as the Mordialloc jazz festival held in February. Through these events, they can also recruit new clients.
Not all events are conducted at the studio, Paul and Anna held their first end of year social night at Merrimu receptions where over one hundred guests were invited and enjoyed a three-course meal, a show with the studio’s students, prizes, raffles and a DJ.
The business by March of this year had started to build a strong following and a base of regular customers and even had put together an events calendar for 2020. They were also bringing in friends and associates from interstate who were Australian champions to teach and inspire their students.
All this ceased when covid-19 emerged and the ensuing lockdowns were put in place. Along with this emergence, the business also had to battle the fear generated by it within the community.
Two weeks before the first shutdown on the 22nd of March, due to the communication from the government and media, the community had started to become fearful about the threat of covid-19. Pre-covid-19 the studio would have had forty people attending their classes on a good night. Two weeks before they were shut down through lockdowns it went from forty people to four due to this fear of the virus. So in reality, the studio was shut down a fortnight before lockdowns commenced on the 22nd of March.
Other events that Paul and Anna regularly provided, such as visits and events to old people’s homes, also finished at this time.
To cope, like many businesses, Paul and Anna started free Facebook live streams to keep morale high amongst their clients and students. To establish these zoom sessions they had to become proficient in zoom conferencing through zoom software. They also had to invest in other equipment to convert their dance studio so it could broadcast live via zoom.
This was difficult as zoom wasn’t set up for teaching dance classes live.
There were problems with the coordination and timing of the music, microphone and visuals so that they could all be broadcast simultaneously to demonstrate dance moves on a live feed. Anna got into every single Facebook forum from across the globe that she could with other dance studios, yoga instructors, gyms and fitness studios to work together on figuring out how to deliver the best online lessons via zoom. After weeks of work while it was not perfect it was as good as you could achieve.
Through this hard work, they were one of the first dance studios to have their classes on a live stream on zoom.
Their clients enjoyed the online version, but it just simply didn’t equate to the social aspect that most of their clients enjoyed at the studio previously. Through these live sessions, they introduced new styles of dancing with Paul Introducing a style called “Disco Pop”, which is disco dancing with a little old school hip-hop to make the session fun, light-hearted, easy and gettable that any age could understand and follow.
Once established, Paul and Anna were working longer hours and putting in more effort and worked compared to their person to person dance classes that they were previously running at the studio. The burden they carried through this was that they were receiving far less revenue for their efforts and for the extra hours that they were putting in.
Through this period, while there were no classes at the studio, Paul and Anna also decided to lay down a proper dance floor across their polished concrete floor that they had been using at the studio. While a challenging task, it was an ideal time to do so rather than wait for things to open up once again or worse sacrifice their Christmas break to get it done.
Originally the landlord for the studio waived rent in March and April due to the covid-19 situation, so Paul and Anna decided to put a grant that they had received from the government towards this new floor at the warehouse.
While the floor was being installed the zoom classes had to stop, but during this time the Department of Health and Human Services also decided to place restrictions that bizarrely stopped a single person going into a studio to film or broadcast a zoom stream. This meant that even if you jumped into your car, went to your business and conducted a live stream from that business site without interacting with any other person, you were not allowed to do so under this new DHHS guideline.
To stream from home was impossible for Paul and Anna as they share a small one-bedroom apartment.
So like so many other business owners revenue simply disappeared and they were forced into relying on government handouts. This was made more difficult by the government’s requirement for businesses to provide proof of a reduction in their revenue for them.to be able to obtain that government support.
Through the job keeper payment arrangement, the government pays $1500.00 per employee, but then as you would through a normal business administration, the business has to put aside $200.00 for each employee for withholding tax. In effect, the government is paying businesses $1500.00 per employee per fortnight, to only have them have to pay $200.00 back to the government.
Due to this Paul and Anna needed to pay a bookkeeper to administer this.
At the same time, they had to continue paying a monthly lease, along with a mortgage for their apartment. There are as always, many other costs involved in running their business. As an example, to avoid losing their database of clients they had to continue to pay a monthly $50.00payment for their online booking system until they came out of lockdown and it could be activated once more. Of course, they still had to pay other routine business costs such as insurance, electricity and other utility payments.
With a large financial commitment for both their commercial lease and mortgage payments and with their associated bills for domestic and business purposes, job keeper just doesn’t cover the bills over time and instead sends business owners, like Paul and Anna, into debt to survive, if they indeed do so.
To make matters worse their bank, the ANZ has been difficult to work with as well.
To rub salt into their wounds and as a demonstration of how out of touch some in the public service are to the issues facing private business owners, Paul and Anna explain to me an experience of their when they went in-person to a Centrelink office to seek advice on their situation. The person that they spoke to advised them that maybe Anna should go and get a job making coffees to help pay their bills since her son had to take a job as a barista.
Communication from the government and related bodies has also been ambiguous and confusing, leaving Paul & Anna to find the required information for themselves. Listening to their story, it made you wonder how many thousands of other business owners were going through similar experiences.
The governing body for dancing that the Dance Studio was registered with were also proving to be disappointing in both their communication and advocacy for their members cause towards the government. They simply seemed content to regurgitate government policy rather than fighting for their members. Paul and Anna believe the governing body doesn’t want to rock the boat with the government, for fear of putting at risk potential future funding.
In consideration of all of this, these past seven months have proven to be an entirely challenging time for Paul and Anna as they have been for so many businesses. In Paul and Anna’s case, their concerns as restrictions begin to lift is that many of their clients will remain fearful about the virus and due to this will be hesitant in returning to the studio until they are confident the worst has passed.
They anticipate that it will take six months to recover their client numbers back to their pre-covid-19 levels.
Paul & Anna’s Background
In the partner dance community, everybody gets to know each other and this is where Paul and Anna meet. Paul has appeared on television shows like dancing with the stars, while Anna came from the ballet world and then transitioned to the ballroom world.
Anna started Ballet at the age of five and continued throughout her teenage years before stopping. After a ten year hiatus she returned to dance, but this time it was through partner dancing and not ballet. With partner dancing, you have alternatives such as rock and roll, salsa, which is commonly known as street Latin dancing and finally, you have ballroom dancing.
The ballet school that Anna went to had discipline, morals and codes that taught their students not to be disrespectful of others or towards other schools. Instead, the girls at her school were educated to be nice and positive in their outlook about all things which is something for which Anna will always be grateful.
Embracing hard work was a key part of those morals and codes that they were taught and that not everybody is going to be a star. Through this experience, Anna has grown to believe in discipline and hard work but also mentoring and building confidence in her students.
Pauls has an extensive background which includes some amazing life experiences. He was born in Russia in 1970 but immigrated to Israel soon after, when his Father’s disillusionment with the communist concepts in Russia, became too much. This evolved through the discrimination and harassment that the Jewish community encountered at that time in Russia. His father actually spent four years in the Russian army and was a part of the Russian forces that invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968. Instead of participating in what he saw as an atrocity against innocents, Paul’s father laid down his rifle in defiance which cost him two years in a Russian jail.
In 1971, after he was released, Paul’s father escaped with nine members of his family to Israel when Paul was one year of age. Paul’s father then joined the Israeli armed forces for three years and fought in the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. In 1979 his father decided once again to move the family as he didn’t want his children growing up in a potential war theatre. That’s when Paul’s family moved to Australia when he was ten years of age.
Paul’s mother was a ballet dancer and had begun to teach him how to dance at home before moving to Australia. This included ballet, jazz, and theatre. Through this, Paul found his talents in demand and at the tender age of eighteen he was employed at night clubs doing podium dancing on chairs and tables which Paul describes as an awesome experience and for me inspired images of the film “Studio 54”.
He worked at famous nightclubs of that time in Chasers, Metro and the Swagman and for a young man enjoyed very lucrative pay. To this point, all the work at nightclubs involved just single dance, but then the Patrick Swayze film “dirty dancing” was released. Paul was instantly inspired and immediately dived into the world of salsa which evolved into street Latin dance. Street Latin covers all the South American dance styles, it is taught and handed down from father to son through the generations with no formal training and is entirely generic.
After the nightclub experience, Paul joined the Army reserves, and became a member of two commando company, five platoon and was based at Williamstown but never served. After this, he made the dramatic sea change decision of joining the National Australia Bank for nine months, which was followed by work at a supermarket in Brighton.
Through all of this the Dance life was never far away from his thoughts and he eventually joined a social studio, but soon became disillusioned, as he learnt more about the art of selling than he did about his true passion, the art of dance. Then in 1994 the stars aligned for Paul when he joined a competition studio called Ritz ballroom which at that time had amongst its members, dancers with large reputations such as Ken Peterson, not that Paul knew that immediately.
Paul was unaware of Ken’s reputation at first, but when he became so, it was exactly what he needed to motivate himself to become as good as or better than the best. A healthy rivalry with Ken ensued thereafter which evolved into a friendship of equals that lasts to this day.
Dallas Williams who is now the head of Dance Sports Australia was their boss at the time and suggested to them the idea of building a studio of their own. He didn’t have to ask twice, they jumped at the chance.
At this new venue they had to gut the building, learn how to put down a concrete floor, how to line an electricity cable, how to do plumbing and more. It was a steep learning curve for Paul that stills pay dividends to this day. At the same time, his Dance experience and knowledge also continued to grow and expand through this studio. That studio is still there today at 936 North Road, East Bentleigh.
By 2003 Paul had travelled all around the world, won competitions, had different partners and had even studied in England with some of the greatest dancers on the globe who have also become lifelong friends. Paul has also worked as an extra on movies and the knowledge that Paul had gained through all of these life experiences and lessons was extraordinary.
In 2014 Paul decided upon another sea change and packed his bags and jumped aboard his first cruise ship. Through all of this Paul and Anna had known each other through the dancing community, so when Anna decided to become more serious about dancing, she approached Paul and the rest you can say is history. They have now been together for six years.
This sort of experience would be hard to match in any business background, but in the art of dancing and being taught dance by experts, it’s worth is incalculable.
For Paul and Anna, its not just about teaching dance alone. It’s just as much about the development of the individual as person
Before lockdowns they had two students begin cadetships through the studio. These students have more serious ambitions about being trained on how to become a teacher of dance, so Paul and Anna wanted to encourage them and assist them on that journey. These students through their cadetship help with classes and the general running of the studio.
Another student was recruited from a visit to a rowing club in Essendon. The boy was sixteen then and he had to pay for his dance lessons and organise travel from the other side of the city himself, just so he could participate in his dance classes. In appreciation of this dedication, Paul and Anna gave him a six-month scholarship as a reward for his efforts & a free team jacket on the condition that he helped with other classes.
That sixteen-year old boy is now eighteen and has worked several part-time jobs to now have saved enough to buy a car. This motivated young man will now be able to get to his classes much easier.
For Paul mentoring young men is not unusual. He runs his own program called ”Be the Man”, where young men and boys are taught
- How to Dress
- How to do a Windsor tie or a double Windsor Tie
- How to look at someone in the eye
- How to shake hands
- How to set a table
- How to do your hospital corners on beds
- How to cook
- How to be a man
- When they get this mentoring & disciple they then begin to look at women as friends or teammates rather than as targets or trophies.
As Paul notes “When our businesses are deemed as a non-essential service, it ignores the fact that there have been hundreds of years of experience where physical exercise, connections with other human beings, outdoor sports and indoor exercise can be of high importance to both mental and physical health to people.”
Combine this with the mentoring of youth in such a positive manner as both Paul and Anna have done, then it makes you question who decided in government what is and isn’t an essential service.
Now as restrictions begin to lift, we must as a community get behind businesses such as Dance House International. To potentially lose them is not just a matter of losing another business, it would also put at risk the loss of their important services to many people at at time they need them the most. As communities across Melbourne rebuild, people such as Paul and Anna with their innovation, their knowledge, their skills and their compassion are vital in that effort. To lose them and rely on our government would be foolhardy indeed.
Now that they can finally reopen and provide their services back to their clients, Paul and Anna have devised brand new membership packages and timetables. Through these initiatives, they have extended operating hours which have allowed them to add more classes and opportunities for clients throughout the week.
As 2020 has presented us with some onerous challenges so Paul and Anna have also decided to introduce social rock and roll dance into their teaching program. In doing so, they can provide a wider variety of dance lessons, that will introduce more fun and enjoyment into those lessons. Just as importantly, this will help to lift the spirits of their client base after such a turbulent year.
If you are interested in dance, being taught how to dance or having your children learn to dance, or even if you are just looking for alternatives for a social gathering or a fitness regime, then why not consider Dance House International. In doing so, not only will you be doing yourself a favour, you will be helping to ensure we keep a business that is so important to the fabric of our society alive and well.
To find out more you can go to the Dance House Internationals website at www.dancehouseinternational.com
Alternatively, you can contact Paul and Anna directly via their mobile 0400-882-779 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org