Artistic Dance Unlimited had humble beginnings in a small space in Walnut Square in Maryville.
Owners Alette Garner and Ursula Margolis had just left dance studios where they were teaching and working for someone else. They didn’t care for the owner’s management style and often talked about what if ...
That was 20 years ago, and ADU is still going strong. Garner said even in their first year as business owners, they had 95 students. It’s been steady growth since then.
“We figured since we were running someone else’s studio we might as well run our own,” Garner said. “We started on a wing and a prayer.”
Garner originally is from North Carolina, and Margolis is from Canada. They both started in dance at a young age, continued through college and started teaching before the age of 20.
“We became fast friends,” Garner said. “Over the years, we have become sisters, not just business partners.”
ADU is on Gill Street in Alcoa. This is its third location. Garner said they outgrew the Walnut Square space after three years and moved into a building on Gill Street. They stayed there for five years before purchasing the present location 12 years ago. It was the former location for NAPA Auto Parts.
This dance studio offers instruction in ballet, tap, jazz, contemporary, hip-hop, lyrical and pointe. Students can start as young as 3. There are male and female dancers who train here.
Margolis said when they made the decision to open their own studio, they considered Knoxville, but looked around and saw a saturated market. That wasn’t the case in Blount County. Van Metre School of Dance was here and continues today, but that was it, these two said.
In addition to students from Blount County, ADU attracts dancers from the Powell and Halls area of Knoxville as well as in the western sector. This year’s student enrollment is at 250.
Some of those attracted to this studio enjoy dance as a recreation, Garner pointed out. They make take one class per week. Then there are those who are possibly looking at dance and/or choreography as a career. They will invest 10 hours a week here, taking every discipline available.
The more serious ones can audition for the ADU dance company, Garner and Margolis said. These elite dancers go on to compete regionally and nationally. The trophies housed at ADU’s studio demonstrate the success over the years. In the 20 years they’ve been in business, Garner said they have seen other studios come and go. She said ADU sets itself apart because its owners think like moms.
“We look at how we would want our children to be treated,” Garner said. “We are both moms. We try to be extremely organized and thorough. We plan out so they can plan.”
This studio also has made community connections. Margolis said they provided Kingdom Design Ministries with choreographers for its Dancing with the Stars fundraisers. ADU has participated in East Tennessee Children’s Hospital’s Fantasy of Trees for many years and has a presence each year in the Blount County Christmas parade.
These two have been teaching so long, they now have former students who are instructors at their studio. Of the staff of 13 instructors, six are former students. Despite their longevity, Garner said they never take the attitude of a know-it-all. Garner and Margolis attend conventions and seminars to keep up with the latest trends.
Two of their former students won choreography awards this past spring in competition. “It was like we were proud moms,” Garner said.
Just recently, ADU has started to offer an adult class in hip-hop. Garner said some of the moms asked if they could take a class at the same time as their children.
Another ADU program has one of its teachers going into preschools in the community to give dance lessons. It has become popular, these studio owners said, because families are so busy and appreciate when you come to them.
When Garner and Margolis started out in business together, they did all of the teaching; thankfully they can now hire instructors. But, being business owners isn’t as glamorous as one might think. These two business partners wear many hats — mom, counselor, teacher, disciplinarian, janitor and plumber, they pointed out.
To remind them from whence they came, Garner and Margolis have a 20-year-old copy of The Daily Times that featured them as new business owners 20 years ago. The newspaper cost 35 cents then. The two keep it in their office.
To be 20 years in business is not easy, nor do many businesses reach that pinnacle. When there are business partners, that can make it tougher. These two said they have figured out part of the success equation.
“The reason why our partnership works is because we communicate about everything,” Garner said. “We put our egos aside and hear the other one out. We work it out.”
Margolis added that their personalities have meshed. “It’s a good partnership,” she said.