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

Shortly after moving to the United States in 2001, Ivanova’s mom set her up on a blind date. She did not enjoy the Argentine tango class she and her date attended but was drawn to the music and dancing of the salsa class that followed. 

However, because of her family’s deep roots in education, she knew that dance would never be a serious pursuit. She felt compelled to earn an advanced degree. When plans for a career in law fell through, she shifted her focus to anesthesiology, obtained a nursing degree and worked toward her residency.

While Ivanova was in nursing school, she aggressively pursued salsa dance as a hobby and taught classes at Salt Lake Community College, the University of Utah, and Utah Valley University to fund her education. There were few resources in Utah for salseras and salseros, so she attended workshops and festivals in Los Angeles, New York and Boston and learned Spanish to help her better understand the Latin culture, all while working as a registered nurse. 

“It turned out that I really love teaching. And it turned out that, you know, people like how I teach.”

Turning point

Ivanova remembers the exact moment when her priorities changed. It was while she was filling out the application for anesthesiology residency. Her schoolmate of five years asked her, “Why are you doing this?”

Although she thought dancing was fun, she said, anesthesiology offered her consistency. 

“He said, ‘Well, as long as I’ve known you, the last five years, the only thing that’s been consistent is your dancing.’”

So Ivanova quit nursing and focused on dance.

“It’s difficult to just go for what you love, of course. It’s risky. But it’s true. That’s the only thing I’ve consistently always done and consistently always loved. So it just made sense, what he said.”

Ivanova’s passion for dance has spilled over to the success of DF Dance Studios.

Lindsey Nielson, an instructor at the studio and former student of Ivanova, said many dancers are attracted to the studio's atmosphere.  

“There’s a very positive energy about the place,” Nielson said. “We have a very personal touch, I’d say. We get to know the students. We care individually about the students.”

The studio offers classes in ballroom and Latin, Argentine tango, salsa, swing and country, and employs instructors who are at the top of their fields. Instructor Carlos Gomez, who recently placed third in the World Salsa Summit, said he would not have chosen to work for DF if he did not know it was the best studio in town. 

According to Philips, in addition to meeting a specific niche, successful businesses need to innovate in order to maintain growth. This means employing new technology or methods to meet the demands of a changing market. 

DF Dance Studios is undergoing an expansion that will increase its size from 5,000 to 8,000 square feet. Ivanova plans to use the expansion as an event center that will allow them to host competitions and bring attention to the city’s salsa community she helped pioneer. 

Ultimately, Ivanova would like DF Dance Studios to become a city center where people can experience art and music and take supplementary courses, such as Spanish language classes. As a step toward accomplishing this goal, the studio takes part in Salt Lake’s monthly art gallery strolls.

Her mother, Nina Ivanova, said Maria has loved art and music from a young age. She is pleased that her daughter is able to do what she loves.

“I’m very proud of her. It takes a lot of courage and strength when you have a big dream to follow it,” Nina Ivanova said. 

Ivanova is quick to admit that the success of her business lies in the quality of her instructors and their shared passion for dance, something they try to share with all who enter their studio doors. 

“I feel like to be good at anything, you have to love it,” she said. “You have to love it. You have to live it. It has to be you. You can’t fake it. “

E-mail: wevans@deseretnews.com

Twitter: whitevs7

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