Two dance dads make ‘grand jete’ into dance business

The creative force behind Revolution Dance Academy is (left to right) Artistic Director Antonia Freehling, co-owners Rick Freehling and Jason Danieli and dance mom Sheri Danieli. The team opened their 5,000-square-foot dance academy about a year ago on the far east side of the city.

Revolution Dance Academy

Employees: 18

Contact: 637-8033 or revolutiondanceacademy.net

Open House: 11 a.m. Aug. 18, 7388 McClain Point

One year ago, two Colorado Springs dance dads debuted their Revolution Dance Academy, a studio offering lessons in all genres of dance.

Like a dance ensemble, the business required movement, timing and skill. Building their business was both grueling and exciting as emotions swirled, setbacks happened and tears were shed.

Sitting around a bistro-style table inside the dance academy, which features 3,000 square feet of dance space and boasts shelves of trophies, the Revolution Dance Academy owners smiled and sighed as they reflected on their one-year anniversary.

“There were times, I remember, coming down here when we first started and saying, ‘What did we just do?’” said 42-year-old Rick Freehling.

Freehling and Jason Danieli, 40, hadn’t planned on opening a dance studio. Jason is a defense contractor and U.S. Air Force reservist. Rick is a high school economics teacher. Both have children who dance. Antonia Freehling, 38, Rick’s wife, is a certified Dance Educators of America instructor and has been teaching dance for about 15 years.

Dance is their world, Rick said.

“You find out that this is not an activity for your kid — this becomes a lifestyle and it becomes who they are,” Rick said. “They identify themselves as a dancer.”

In early 2011, Jason and Rick learned that the studio where their children were dancing was changing its focus, and some parents were not happy about it. They saw an opportunity to open their own studio. Antonia could be the artistic director; Rick and Jason could run the business.

Over a couple of glasses of wine, they solidified their plan.

“We shook hands and said, ‘let’s do this,” Jason said.

Creating the ensemble

Jason and Rick had to move quickly. They wanted to open the studio before the fall 2011 season, knowing that once dance students sign up with a studio they don’t like to move midseason.

They had six months to pull it together.

“We went to Wells Fargo for a small business loan — this is our one-trick pony; we had to make this fly,” Jason said. “If it didn’t work on the first try, all the other steps would not line up.”

They pieced together the approved bank financing with their own savings. Antonia sold an antique car inherited from her father. “His dream for mine,” she said.

“We had passion, we had motivation and we had an end goal in sight,” Jason said.

The pressure was on to find a building, hire contractors, launch advertising campaigns and hire dance teachers. Emotions ran high as their deadline neared.

“We were two weeks away from pulling the plug,” Rick said.

Then came a break. They found a 5,000-square-foot building in the Claremont business park, just off U.S. Highway 24 at Marksheffel Road. Their contractor finished a projected 60-day project in 48 days — one day before the Revolution Dance Academy’s planned grand opening.

They opened with five teachers and 80 students.

“I always knew, from the time I was a little girl, that I wanted a dance studio,” Antonia said.

Dance dads

Jason and Rick are dance dads, and proud of it. Jason has one daughter who has danced for seven years. Rick has three children and has been a dance dad for 10 years.

As dance dads, they help build stage props, carry suitcases filled with numerous performing outfits to competitions, and shuttle children to and from dance recitals and rehearsals. For the past decade, they’ve sat on floors and waited for hours in tiny dance studio foyers while their children rehearsed or performed.

“I always thought about things that needed to be changed and what I would do,” Rick said. “Our ideas fell in line — here is (Jason’s) vision, here is my vision; it matches up almost exactly.”

Revolution Dance Academy has a living-room-style lounge for parents, with microwave and refrigerator. There is a study room with Wi-Fi, an eating area and boys and girls changing rooms. They wanted the studio to be inviting and cozy.

As dance dads in charge, they have made an extra effort to nip problems in the bud such as bullying, teasing and jealousy that often seep into the dance world, as seen on the Lifetime television series “Dance Moms,” where meanness is prevalent.

More dance dads are starting to stick around too, Jason said. Dance is dominated by girls — there are 120 girls now taking dance classes at Dance Revolution and only about 10 boys.

“At this studio you’ll find dance dads who are not afraid to say, I’m a dance dad,” Jason said. “I go to rehearsal and competition and I’m proud to say this is what my daughter or son does in their pastime.”

Sheri Danieli, Jason’s wife, is the designated studio dance mom who gives out hugs and support, especially when there are tears and anxiety, she said.

“I try to teach moms what they need to know, how to act, to be supportive, especially in competition,” she said.

Revolution Dance Academy has lessons in ballet, jazz, tap, hip hop, modern, acrobatic dance, Broadway, and contemporary. Lessons range in cost from $40 a month for 75 minutes of instruction a week to $260 a month for 10 or more hours of instruction a week.

“I encourage kids to take all forms of dance,” Antonia said. “There is not one form of dance that I don’t appreciate.”

First year’s rewards

Last year, along with the inaugural class, Jason and Rick took Antonia’s ballet class. They wanted to understand the dance regime and immerse themselves in the technical language, which is French-based.

“It was incredibly difficult,” said Rick, who played and coached college baseball. “Now, we can watch our students perform ballet effortlessly and appreciate the core strength and technique it takes to do it correctly.”

He’s hoping that this year more high school athletes will consider ballet classes to help them with strength building. Jason shaved 30 seconds of his mandatory 1.5-mile run with the Air Force after four months of ballet, he said.

This summer, topping off its first year in business, the Revolution Dance Academy took 22 dancers to the National Dance Educators of America conference and competition in Las Vegas. They came home with five trophies and a dancer who won a scholarship to become a DEA-certified instructor.

All the planning and late-night meetings to build the dance business were forgotten with a dancer’s winning smile, Jason said.

“I have no regrets,” Jason said. “I’d do it all again tomorrow.”