Sisters Olivia & Deandra raise the barre for dance lessons with a focus on teaching over trophies.
From dancers to directors! Just four years ago former students Deandra Filippo and Olivia Filippo-Paternoster bought their childhood dance school, becoming co-owners and directors. Though the timing wasn’t ideal – COVID-19 struck just six months after their start – the sisters stayed strong, and the school continues to boast a wide array of disciplines, along with classes full of excited pupils. Originally established solely as a ballet and workout school, demand led to more styles including hip hop and acro, a Cirque Du Soleil-style technique. Rather than push students through taxing and often stressful competitions, the school focuses on nurturing the love of dance for both budding professionals and curious beginners.
Rogers Business: Before you became co-owners, how did you first learn about the Woodbridge School of Dance?
Olivia & Deandra: The founder and original owner, Gilly Chaplin, lived on the same street as our family. After meeting in the neighbourhood, our mom enrolled us in weekly ballet classes at the school. After our first few classes, we loved it so much, we were hooked. We started around ages four and six and danced at WSD all the way up until we graduated high school. It’s always been a second home to us. We knew we wanted to own a business together, and originally went to Gilly for advice because she’d run a successful business for many years. It turned out she was looking to retire and wanted someone to take over the school. The rest is history!
Rogers Business: How do people hear about the school?
Olivia & Deandra: We have numerous second-generation families who were former students like us and are now bringing their children, which is so beautiful. Most people hear about the school and its reputation through word-of-mouth from a friend or family member.
Rogers Business: What’s the best part of co-owning the school?
Olivia & Deandra: We love working together. As sisters, it's special. We have a lot of fun, and we support each other. But for both of us, we can agree that our students are the best part of our job. Seeing their love and joy for dance flourish, and the relationships and friendships they form in the studio is so fulfilling.
Olivia and Deandra discuss co-founding the Woodbridge School of Dance, pandemic challenges, and advice for women in business.
Rogers Business: What do you do if a potential new student is shy or nervous?
Olivia & Deandra: We make it a point to always learn the name of every student. We want them to immediately feel like part of the community. We show them around and let them peek into or even try a class. We also have student teaching assistants who volunteer their time to work with the younger students and make sure everyone feels comfortable and safe.
Rogers Business: The school does not participate in competitions. Why is that?
Olivia & Deandra: The school was founded with the value of education over competition. Our focus is providing a high-quality dance education in a professional and nurturing environment. We provide the opportunity for all students to participate in examinations and performances. In addition, we are teaching more than dance technique. The lessons learned in the studio (commitment, self-confidence, discipline, resiliency to name a few) are transferrable to everyday life. You don't necessarily have to go through a competition-focused program even if you want to pursue dance professionally. There’s a special sense of accomplishment when a dancer is being driven by their own passion and love instead of externally by trophies or competition.
Rogers Business: Since buying the business four years ago, what’s been your best memory?
Olivia & Deandra: Last May we had our first performance in a theatre since before COVID-19 and it was an incredible experience. We felt like the students, faculty, and WSD families had all made it through a hurdle together. Just getting back on stage for a performance has been a huge goal throughout the industry. It was our first time running the performance as directors and it was amazing to see everyone enjoy it.
Rogers Business: What advice do you have for other young women hoping to run a small business?
Olivia & Deandra: Build a strong team of mentors and supporters who can guide and advise you. There will be challenges – but be persistent and resilient in the face of setbacks. If you’re passionate and love what you’re doing, running a small business is incredibly fulfilling and will be one of the greatest adventures of your life.