28 July 2023

Griffith dancer recognised for outstanding customer service as studio enters tenth year

| Oliver Jacques
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Shannon Hart in a garden

Shannon Hart has battled the odds to establish her business. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

A Griffith single mum who started giving dance classes in 2014 “out of necessity” to feed her baby daughter has been recognised for her commitment to her students during the decade she’s run her small business.

Shannon Hart, 48, owner of SDS Dance Studio, is a finalist in the Griffith Business Chamber local customer service awards, which recognises businesses that provide outstanding client service.

The nomination, which was determined through votes from members of the public and an independent judging panel, represents a triumph for someone who’s overcome several obstacles to build one of the most popular dance academies in regional NSW.

Region caught up with Ms Hart to find out about her journey, how dancing has changed in the past 40 years and what it means to give good customer service.

You say you were a tomboy growing up. How did you get into dancing?

I had no interest in dance at all. I was into sports like running, basketball, netball and soccer and I used to go out hunting a lot with my father. I knew more about cars than makeup.

Things changed when I was nine and went to an acting workshop at the PCYC during the school holidays. I was dancing in the lunch break and the teacher said, “We want to speak to your mum when she picks you up.” I thought I was in trouble, but they told her, “Your daughter has natural dance ability, you need to pursue it professionally.”

I started with jazz; I did my first competition in Leeton and came first in the Leeton Eisteddfod.

How is dancing different now to when you were younger?

Back then it was very different. You had to weigh a certain weight, you had to look a certain way. You had a lot of rejections, for being too short, too blonde etc.

But now there is a lot more inclusivity – there’s short people, tall people, light-skinned and dark-skinned in productions. Today, dance is for everyone.

I also teach dance movement therapy to children with autism at Griffith Post School Options Inc (a support service for young people with disabilities).

Jessika Griffith and Lara Salvestro in cheerleader outfits

Lara Salvestro (right) was a student of Shannon Hart and is now a Roosters cheerleader. Photo: Supplied.

You used to teach dance in the Middle East. What was that like?

I moved to Kuwait in 2005 where I was the head of a dance academy for three years. I had to work around the religious laws in terms of dress costumes, boys couldn’t dance with girls etc. I lived in a Kuwaiti house with locals, I got to go to Kuwaiti weddings and to sit in on an arranged marriage. I learned basic Arabic and so much about the industry.

Why did you decide to start your own dance studio in Griffith?

I became a single mother in 2014, when I was living in Sydney and my baby daughter was just six months old. I had no family support, so I jumped in my car and we drove back to Griffith.

I thought, “What do I know how to do?” which was dance. So I started teaching classes at the CWA Hall out of necessity to feed my daughter. Two or three days a week turned into six days, then I had to get more teachers and by our second year we hit over 100 students. We moved to the Peter Piccolo indoor sports centre and we now teach classes in jazz, hip hop, tap, ballet, acrobatics, lyrical and contemporary.

What’s more important for an aspiring dancer – natural talent or hard work?

I have a poster on my wall that says, ‘Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard’.

I have seen many children with amazing talent, but because they are so gifted, they don’t work hard. But you have kids who work hard and come up against them and eventually beat them because they’ve applied themselves.

You do need both to succeed because it’s such a cut-throat industry.

Why do you think you’ve been recognised for your customer service?

One thing we do is make sure every student is seen.

It’s different to owning a shop when you close the doors at 5 pm. I get messages at 10 pm at night, I get videos sent on Sundays. I try and make sure I’m always accessible. You’re there as a second mum for girls in competitions.

Further information on SDS Griffith – Shannon’s Dance Studio can be found on Shannon’s Facebook page. The winner on the Griffith Business Chamber local customer service award will be announced at a gala dinner on 5 August.

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