How do you go from not being interested in dance—while growing up in a dance household—to owning and running your own dance studio? Courtney Holland, Founder and Creative Director of The Gallery Dance Collective, is about to spill the whole story for us.

Courtney has danced for the majority of her life. It’s a craft that she’s continued to perfect—and she’s damn good at it. But many of us know that not everyone who can do something well can also teach it well.

Courtney Holland

When you’re thinking about which side hustle to start, one of the best ways to get ideas is to ask the people who know you well or who have worked with you in the past what they think you’d be good at. Think about what people ask you for help with and what they ask you to do for them. Are they always asking you for advice, or to bake a cake for a party, or to help them revamp their resumes? When multiple people ask you for the same thing—especially on a regular basis—there’s a market for what you do and how you do it.

If your thing is dance, running your own dance studio might be a viable option.

You’ll see in Courtney’s story that while teaching dance at her own dance studio was an idea that had crossed her mind, it was the demand from the people in her market that pushed her to make this happen even sooner than she’d planned.

And the market is responding.

With less than a year under its belt, The Gallery Dance Collective has brought in several dance students, helped dance teachers increase their exposure, and has just hosted its first gala. A gala that was so highly anticipated that it SOLD OUT—in advance.

“Motherless Child” x Ms. Courtney

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But this isn’t a surprise. The passion and commitment to making The Gallery Dance Collective a place where young dancers can develop a well-rounded repertoire is a part of the culture at The Gallery. You can see it in Courtney’s work, you can see it in the teachers she’s chosen to guide students at The Gallery, and you can even see it in the master classes that are available in the school.

– Letters to Our Teachers (2/2) – When you think of a hero you think of someone who has outstanding achievements, noble qualities… the protagonist of it all. Someone who, without a doubt, can do it all. A role model. Someone to look up to. I ask myself, “who is my role model?” I’ll tell you . It’s not the usual King of Pop, Michael Jackson, or record breaking basketball star Kobe Bryant. Not even the first black president of the United States Barack Obama or the beautiful Misty Copeland. In fact my role model is someone very close to me. Someone who I have admired from the first time I held a single conversation with him. He does it all. He has the heart and wisdom of a parent. Always willing to lend a helping hand even before he is willing to help himself. As well as a shoulder to cry on and open arms for a huge hug even when he is his absolute sweatiest and you would much rather keep your distance. This person is happy feet with tap shoes, the star of the show, and an absolute clown any other time. This particular person plays many roles in my life. The person who I one day aspire to be like. I wanted to take the time to thank him for all he has done for me. The strength and courage he has taught me. The confidence he has shown me that I didn’t even know I had. As well as the gift; his gift that he has shared with me and everyone else he meets. I wanna thank him for being there, for discovering assets that I would have never been able to find on my own. For believing in me when I didn’t even believe in myself. I’d like to thank him for giving me something/someone to to look up to. I’d like to thank him for being my hero. Yes, this person is my teacher but most importantly he is my brother. This person is my role model, Curtis Holland. This is my thank you to you and my token of appreciation for everything you do. -Brianna ••• #gallerydancemd #teacherappreciationweek

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Whether you’re a direct part of The Gallery Dance Collective’s family or you watch from the sidelines on social media, you’re invited onto the journey of building a dance school which develops its students and appreciates its teachers.

But Courtney can tell you the parts of the journey that you’d never know if you didn’t ask.

Let’s let her do that.

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Courtney Holland, Founder and Creative Director of The Gallery Dance Collective

What is your side hustle?
I am the founder and creative director of The Gallery Dance Collective, a dance studio located in Prince George’s County, Maryland.

When did you get interested in dance?
To be honest – if you want to discuss technicalities – I never really was interested. My parents were dancers and owned their own dance studio. I had no interest in taking a single dance class, executing a plie or a tendu until my cousin decided she was going to dance. She was 3, I was 2 ½. Years passed and I found out I was actually a pretty gifted dancer. Needless to say, my cousin (who lacked much coordination unless an Uncle Luke tune played) quit after she turned 7… And here I am.

Tell us the story of how you made your first dollar?
I was into music and tech products at a young age. If there was a new NEXTEL out, I wanted it. Plus, I needed to raise money for my emancipation, as my parents kept my teenage youth captive via the Virgin Mobile prepaid phone (yes, my text messages cost me money). The only way I could get some coins so I could text freely was to teach dance class. At the age of 16, I was given my first class of tyrants – and I was paid $12/hour for it. The end.

At the time, did you feel “qualified” to start charging for dance lessons?
Kind of. Technically, I was equipped with the physical skill to teach a group of 3 year-olds how to dance, but I truly lacked the patience and the actual “child whispering” skills. It was a weird position to be in. You can’t expect much from a group of toddlers who are crying about ice cream in the middle of a ballet class, but you also want to feel accomplished if you are the sole reason behind the rise of a group of bratty child prodigies.

Looking back, do you feel like you were qualified?
Hell no. That was truly a work in progress.

What made you take the leap?
Looking at everything, concerning dance, I’ve never done anything on my own time. This go-round, I’d been fired from the last studio at where I taught for the past 5. Coming off of that parting of ways, I was met with a lot of text messages and letters saying that I should go ahead and open up my own dance studio. The texts were followed with statements saying I would have such a following from the old studio that now would be the perfect time to do it.

I, honestly, was hesitant.

Breaking off a 5-year business relationship and having spent those 5 years sacrificing everything for everyone else, I wanted to take some time for me and discover where and how I really wanted to channel my artistic capabilities. I was thinking about possibly spending some time in LA to just soak up what the industry had to offer on the west coast.

Eventually, I decided that I wanted to open up my studio in Summer 2017. That would have given me time to actually sit down and 1) save a substantial amount of money to get a decent space and 2) fully think out how I want this operation to run. My support system wasn’t feeling that response. I was met with feedback like, “’such-and-such’ is in the 9th grade now. If you wait until Summer 2017, she’ll only have 2 years to dance with you, rather than the full 4.”

So, trusting God and trusting the people who’d filled me with so much hope, I jumped… And on September 21, 2015, the State of Maryland granted me my Articles of Organization. God is still riding with me. I couldn’t tell you of the whereabouts of the others who so frantically encouraged this move.

Where would you say you are in your business growth now? It’s definitely a hybrid between a side hustle and a small business. I only put it in the “side hustle” category, because I’m still working a 9-5 to help pay for the studio and my living expenses. Other than that, we are a legitimate small business. We have our EIN, our Certificate of Good Standing, and I pay taxes on this bad boy.

What stage would you like The Gallery Dance Collective to get to and when? I would like to get the studio to the point to where it’s functioning as a small business. Every entrepreneur’s dream is to quit his/her day job so that they can funnel all of their time into their business. I’m 29 – shit is real. The reality of this industry is even more real. Dance studios are not cash cows. People who open them with the purest of intent do so because they truly want to share their gift. That’s where I am – all I want is to create a legion of young, gifted, and fierce Black dancers… and if the studio draws in enough revenue to take care of itself (rent, wages, utilities), I honestly wouldn’t mind still working my 9-5.

Component IV ————– Link in bio Do it for the culture ✊🏾 ••• #gallerydancemd

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I was listening to this episode of Brilliant Idiots the other day and Charlamagne said, “Until you appreciate where you are, you will never be blessed with more.” I take the time to understand where I am in each stage of my process and I learn to be content with it whilst putting my best foot forward. If I am ever elevated to the point where I can quit my day job and pour into the studio full-time, that would be amazing; but I can’t give you projections or even tell you when I would like to see it.

At this point, I’m using my better judgment, just going with the flow, and doing the right thing each and every time until I’m given instructions on how and where to move next.

Would you do anything differently?
Good question. Nope. I wouldn’t do anything differently. Each obstacle, each barrier, each peak, each triumph has taught me something new about myself. Had the smallest of details changed, I may be a totally different person and I can’t say whether that would be for better or for worse. All I can say is that Courtney birthing The Gallery has brought forth a heightened awareness. The birth of the studio and everything I’ve had to endure thus far has taught me the importance of knowing my worth, standing my ground, and even being vulnerable enough to allow people in to help where they can. I like this Courtney and it’s because of the decisions I’ve made up until this point.

If you could go back in time to the day before you made your first hustle dollar and tell yourself anything, what would it be?
You know what in the hell you’re doing. Stop letting people treat you as if you don’t. You were built for this and you can do the shit with your eyes closed and your hands tied – and when the going gets tough, challenge those haters to do the same. You’re good, girl. Just jump.


We’re really grateful to Courtney for sharing her story with us! You can learn more about The Gallery Dance Collective on its website, follow on Instagram, and keep up on Facebook.

Make sure to check out The Gallery Dance Collective and share its story. Believe us, you’ll be watching these kids on TV one day!

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