It's brave enough as a teacher and choreographer to start your own studio—and Natalie Fritz, studio owner of Tenth Talent in Monroe, NC, has accomplished that at only 19-years-old and during a global pandemic.
We asked her to share her story and offer some advice to any dancer who dreams of running their own studio.
Dance Spirit: Tell us about your dance background.
Fritz: I started dancing when I was seven, reluctantly. I was a major tomboy when I was younger and I only did basketball. Then a studio opened right down the street from my house, and my mom wanted me to go and try it out. I was crying the whole way there, and once I got there they asked me if I wanted to win trophies, and I was like, "Wait, yeah I want to win trophies!"
I lived in L.A. for a few months after I graduated high school and I was originally planning on staying out there and building my own resumé, but after a few months, I realized that as much as I love dancing myself, my true passion is in teaching and in choreographing. I ended up coming home early and started teaching wherever I could, doing guest choreography and masterclasses, just to get my name out in my area.
(Tyler Allen, courtesy Fritz)
DS: When did you know you wanted to open your own studio?
NF: When I was nine years old, I was a teacher's assistant for my studio's owner. She had me as her assistant so I could demonstrate the things that she wanted and help with ideas, and she told me that when she was too old to run the studio she would give it to me. We pinky-promised that, and from that point on I was like, "I could own a studio, I could be a business owner." It became my dream. That studio closed down so I did not get that studio, but it didn't stop my dream.
You know how when you're younger and you say, "Oh I want to be a doctor," and people tell you that when you're older your mind will change and you won't want to do that? People always told me that by the time I graduated it wouldn't be what I wanted anymore, but never once have I had any other goal for myself.
DS: How did you start choreographing?
NF: I started competition my very first year and I did competition dance from the age of seven until I graduated. I started into choreography as my teacher's assistant in 5th grade, and I taught my first competition dance in 8th grade. All throughout high school that's what I focused on, so even though I am 19 I've been choreographing and making competition pieces for a long time now.
(Tyler Allen, courtesy Fritz)
DS: What makes your studio different from other dance studios?
NF: Our mission statements are "affordable professional fun," and "where you start your journey from a dancer to an artist." I wanted to have a studio where I could provide the same opportunities for my kids as I was given.
I have a lot of opportunities for student choreography and improv, because I feel that it's one thing to be just a great dancer and be able to retain choreography, but it's a whole other thing to understand your style. I can have one mindset and think a dancer is so good in one style, but for all I know they have a whole other side of them that they've never gotten to showcase before.
Each year we have two showcases, our regular spring recital and our student choreography showcase where every single piece is choreographed by the dancers.
DS: What advice would you give to an aspiring choreographer or studio owner?
NF: Don't allow anyone to make you feel like it's impossible. I never would have thought I'd be opening my own business during a pandemic, but this is going to be part of our story, and years from now we'll look back and it'll be something we overcame. It's made me more capable of running a business because we've had these hardships right at the beginning. It's not anyone else's place to tell you if you're capable or not, because if you believe in yourself and you believe this is something that you're ready for, you just need to make the jump and go for it. There's never going to be a "perfect time."