Interview with Barney Aqualino, Dance Entrepreneur

Barney Aqualino, Co-Founder of Dance Obsession (Dance Company)

Barney & Debbie Aquilino have been teaching ballroom dancing for 30 years and have owned Dance Obsession for over 25 years. After only a few short years of dancing together professionally, they won the US Rising Star Ballroom Championships in Foxtrot, Bolero, Swing and Mambo. In the years following that accomplishment, they placed in the top 6 finalists in every professional competition they entered.  After their first child, they took a break from competing but returned several years later competing in a new division—International Latin. They retired from professional competition in 1998 to add another child to their family. During the time that they were competing professionally, Barney & Debbie opened Dance Obsession and continued teaching students.  They love dancing and have retained all their professional techniques, which they freely share with their students.  As Barney says “In addition to being fun and great exercise, the benefits of dancing are endless.  It can totally change your whole world.  When you study ballroom dancing, you become part of a world filled with glamour, excitement and lots of fun.  Most ballroom dancers stay in great shape and appear ageless.”

1)   What role, if any, does a business plan play in building and launching an arts company (as a business pursuit)?

No, the business fell into our lap. The owner of the business went bankrupt and left us with nothing. My wife and I were instructors and the next day we went to work, the place was closed. My wife and I decided to go for it with keeping our existing clients. When we went to landlords, we had to change everything. We worked for the studio and knew nothing about running a business. We quickly surpassed the success of our old boss and went on to make Dance obsession what it is.

2)   What three pieces of advice would you give aspiring artist entrepreneurs about planning?

First advice point would be to put your heart and soul into any business you open up. It was never about making money. When we started, we had to honor all the lessons that were paid for because the past owner ran with the money. This left us in a weird spot. But by caring for the individual client and co-workers, we were able to double our business with in a year.

So to say again, CARE ABOUT EACH PERSON INDIVDUALLY!! Clients or staff, this is what kept our dream alive.

3)   What do you believe are necessary qualities, if there are any, for artist entrepreneurs to possess or develop? An example might include a person speaking about focus, discipline, quality pitching skills, etc.

Don’t be afraid to spend money to make money. Always put money back on your business. We still spend so much money on making sure that we have all the latest steps and are up to date with the aspects of dance. It was so important to be persistent throughout our building process and to continue to be. If you care, and want something bad enough, you can achieve it, even when you least expect it.

4)   Q: what were some of the biggest problems you ran into?

One of the biggest overall issues was a change in location. We weren’t allowed to stay at our studio when the owner left and that was a blow for us. The space was known too the community as a dance studio and we didn’t want to lose that reputation. Finding new dance space is difficult, but it was something we had to overcome.

Interview by Nicholas Pappas, SMU student 

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