Danceworks began as a concept for Whanita whilst she was simultaneously juggling freelance teaching in Coventry, Swindon and for Stagecoach Theatre Arts plus running her own small ballet school in Highnam in the early 1990s. In September 1998, a potential premises presented itself at 62 Swindon Road in Cheltenham, and it was there that Danceworks was able to make its first mark with a signed lease agreement for Whanita and John at the end of that year.
This first Danceworks premises was started on less than a shoestring… Whanita had £1200 in savings and the business was started with that. The first rent was £900 for 2 months and the rest of the money paid for clearing the premises, painting and making good with tremendous help from John’s Mum and Dad. John convinced Whanita that they could hang up the Danceworks sign themselves on the front of the building, and so, lying flat on the roof and hanging over the edge, looking down onto the pavement, they slid the two part Danceworks sign into the existing frame. Whanita was absolutely petrified, especially when a gust of wind caught one of the boards as they were about to slide it into the frame!
Back on sturdy ground, Whanita applied to the Princes Trust for a loan and was awarded £2000 to be paid back over a 5 year period on 3% interest. She had to make a stressful pitch in front of a panel of three people and was nearly denied the loan as a farmer who was on the panel couldn’t understand why anyone would want to come to dance classes!
Using the Princes Trust money to buy a second hand cheap stereo; a hoover; an advert in the Yellow Pages and to pay for the electric, gas and telephone to be reconnected, Whanita and John were able to get Danceworks to the stage of opening the doors to classes in January 1999. There was no computer, (all invoices / receipts were done by hand), no internet, and a plaster box for a till!
On day 1 Danceworks had two customers come in and ask for a dance class! Whanita asked what they would like to learn and provided a modern class on their request, earning £7! Initial classes included baby ballet through to teen classes in ballet, modern, tap and street and by the end of the first year the studio had 50 students. John’s wages supported Whanita in the studio through the first few years as Whanita was not able to take a wage from the school for the first five years and not properly for a further two years.
John spent much time on the roof of the Swindon Road studio, trying to fix never ending leaks. When they eventually left, the roof had 17 different leaks; it would rain down the mirrors! Danceworks stayed at Swindon Road for seven years with Whanita as the sole teacher, but eventually with a continuously growing school and teaching staff, a new venue was needed!
John had a standing joke about ”the building with 7 windows on St Georges Street, wouldn’t that make a nice dance studio” whenever he and Whanita walked past it, but the joke become a reality when they found out that the first floor of the premises was possibly available for hire. They went into St Georges Street unannounced (John chomping a roll and pea soup) and were shown around by the owner landlord and told that the building had received a lot of interest. They knew they had to act fast to secure the premises.
In 2003, Whanita and John became legal business partners as they took over the St Georges street lease, John giving up his work in surveyance and they married the same year after winning a wedding competition!! The initial lease concerned the top floor and a shop space below, in practical terms just one studio at the front (Studio 1) and a small make shift changing area. Danceworks became a split site school for two years between 2003 – 2005, as Whanita and John ploughed every penny earnt by the studios back into the St Georges Street site for its development into a fully functioning multi room studio and by 2005 Swindon Road was closed as a Danceworks venue. Studios 2 and 3 were completed respectively at St Georges Street in 2005 and 2006, and Danceworks was able to take on additional teaching staff and reception staff to cope with the swelling numbers of students in the school.
Danceworks was able to expand further in 2006 with the opening of the Charlton Kings branch school, which initially started with just 25 students. Bishops Cleeve branch school followed in 2008, initially as a small school in the community building but grew steadily to a substantial 150 student studio.
At the St Georges Street site, the school grew in popularity and reputation, and the repertoire of dance genres expanded continuously to the requirements of the students, both children and adults. Whanita pulled back from teaching slightly to have her lovely girls; Mariella was born in January 2010 and Serena in November 2011, although she was still doing the splits the week before Mariella was born! In 2016, Morea Performing Arts started to hire Danceworks once a week for 4 hours and steadily began to use Danceworks more and more as a venue for their pre-vocational school and now use Danceworks as one of their permanent training venues.
By 2016 Whanita had fully come back into teaching and in 2017 Danceworks was given the opportunity to take over the downstairs of the St Georges site. In August 2017, Danceworks took over the keys and ground floor and this is where the next chapter begins! With John acting as project manager on all site developments, the work is now complete on two new downstairs studios, complete with changing areas and toilets, plus office and storage spaces.
In March 2019, the Danceworks theatre school Stageworks was opened, based in the brand new downstairs wing of the studio.
Yet to come…at the front of the building, on the ground floor, Danceworks will shortly start work on a coffee shop which will provide a relaxing space to enjoy delicious coffee!