All she wants to do is dance: Russian immigrant, businesswoman makes her passion her job

Published: Sunday, March 31 2013 4:40 p.m. MDT

SOUTH SALT LAKE — Maria Ivanova needed a place to practice. In Utah in 2008, there were not many venues for her to choose from.

Salsa dancing largely had been overlooked by dance professionals in Salt Lake City where most dance studios offered modern, jazz or ballet classes, primarily for children.

Out of desperation, Ivanova and her then-husband leased a 3,000-square-foot, linoleum-floored, windowless printer shop in Salt Lake City to serve as their practice studio. They soon realized that they could fill the void of salsa dance studios in Salt Lake by opening a place of their own.

“We were crazy. We had like a $5,000 budget but a lot of enthusiasm to do this,” said Ivanova, who is originally from Russia and immigrated to America from Germany in 2001.

After a month and a half, they opened DF Dance Studios, which became a hit with local salsa dancers. The studio became a community for dancing and socializing. 

Five years later, DF Dance Studios has moved to a larger location in South Salt Lake. It continues to thrive and recently earned Ivanova recognition from the South Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce as the city’s Businesswoman of the Year.

The award selects one businesswoman each year who is an outstanding leader in both their business and the community. 

"Ivanova is passionate about what she does and brings intensity and enthusiasm to anything she focuses on," said Callie Birdsall, president and CEO of the South Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce. "She makes it her practice to lead in the same way she would want to be led — never asking more of anyone than she herself is willing to give."

Ivanova was also recently named to serve as chairwoman for the Women in Business committee in South Salt Lake, and is consistently among the first to volunteer time and resources to fundraising endeavors in the city. 

DF Dance Studios has grown from two instructors who taught five classes per week to 15 instructors who collectively teach more than 100 classes each week. Revenue has grown 300 percent from when they first opened their doors until now. 

Bucking the trends

The success of this business during a down economy is rare but explainable, said Peter Philips, professor of economics at the University of Utah. With some exceptions, he said, small businesses tend to do better when they open during an economic upswing.

The gross domestic product is a clear measure of the American economy, he said. When the GDP grows, there are more business opportunities. When it shrinks, there are fewer.

He compared the economy to fishing. If fish aren’t biting, no matter how good a fisherman is, he is not likely to catch anything. Similarly, the business opportunity pond into which people fish is directly correlated with GDP growth; the United States’ GDP historically has fluctuated, and shows an overall decline, especially in recent years.

“Small businesses are facing a challenging environment because over the last 60 years on average, growth in the American economy has slowed. And slowing growth, all other things being equal, means more limited opportunities,” Philips said.

So how does he account for the success of a business like DF Dance Studios?

Luck, and an ability to fill a niche.

Like the kind of luck Ivanova had when she discovered salsa dancing and subsequently founded her studio.

Philips said businesses can create their own opportunities and success by watching for an upswing in the market and by filling specific niches.

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