As a young girl, Olamidun Majekodunmi fell in love with dance while growing up in the United States of America. Born in Ibadan, Oyo state, she moved to America at the age of 9 and took her first contemporary dance class at the age of 10. Now aged 21 and back in Nigeria, she is passionate about giving other young children the kind of opportunity she had and has set up a one-of-its-kind contemporary dance school, The Studio, where she helps young children develop their talents with professional dance classes.
Situated in the heart of Abuja, Olamidun and her team of professional dancers offer classes in ballet, hip-hop, theater, music, creative arts and fitness classes with the aim of helping children nurture their talents and build their dreams. The Studio also serves as a play centre and offers children’s party planning services
In this exclusive interview with Adeola Adeyemo, she speaks about her journey to setting up The Studio, the challenges she faced and her plans for the future.
Tell me about your growing up and how you discovered your love for dance?
I was born in Ibadan, Oyo state and moved to North Carolina in America at the age of 9. I took my first contemporary dance class in school at the age of 10. I wasn’t the best back then. In fact, I was uncoordinated, shy, and I felt very out of place. But I soon realized I got better and better each day and I fell in love with the art. Through the years, I was part of some of the best dance companies and ensembles in town. I took a few theater, creative arts and music classes and I also taught children’s dance classes.
At 21, you have quite an optimistic entrepreneurial spirit not common among people your age. What would you say is responsible for this?
I grew up fast with lots of older siblings and my friends are much older than I am, which I guess could serve as an explanation. But I think it’s because of the strong faith I have in God and in myself. Confidence is the key to it all. I’m confident in my abilities and confident in the favour of God to make up for anything I may lack.
What did you study at the University?
I studied Business Management at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County before transferring back to school in North Carolina. I graduated with high honors from North Carolina A&T State University in December 2011 at the age of 20.
Graduating with honors in Business Management would surely have been a good start for a professional career. Why didn’t you pursue the option of a ‘9 to 5’ with your degree?
Before I graduated from college, I thought long and hard about what I wanted to do. My father always made it clear that I was never going to have a career in dancing, so I knew that wasn’t an option. I toyed with the idea of going to law school, getting a Masters Degree in Business Administration or getting a corporate job. So to keep my options open, I applied to different schools and also got interviewed for jobs at some of the best companies. I got some good job offers but I knew that wasn’t where my heart was. I was urging to pull a wild card and do my own thing, be my own boss. So instead, I jumped on a plane to Nigeria. I didn’t know exactly what I would do when I got here but I wanted to think outside the box.
How do you intend to turn this venture into a profitable business, recoup your investments and make this a long-lasting business?
With passion, determination and great customer service, everything else will fall into place. Right now, we’re working on breaking even and creating a steady growth. Slow and steady really does win the race. It’s not about the money just yet, but establishing a strong foundation and winning over the market.
How has the response been like from the public so far since you started?
Given the fact that this sort of business is pretty unique in Nigeria, the response has been quite favorable. We also have a strong marketing plan so we’re reaching out to our target market every possible way we can. People always call to say how they’ve been looking for a place like The Studio and they love the idea behind it. It makes me feel really good.
About how much (average amount) did you spend on making your dream a reality and how were you able to raise those funds?
I’ll say I did spend more than I budgeted but then I got more than I bargained for, in a good way of course. My startup budget turned to be barely 25% of what I ended up spending . When I made up my mind to set up The Studio, I had no idea where the money was going to come from. I prayed and fasted about it and the money simply just came in at the right time. I never even had to ask for money, it just came, almost like magic but I know it was God. My family did play a big role, which I am very grateful for.
How has it been like, adjusting to life in Nigeria after spending over a decade of in the US? Although I practically grew up in the States, my parents were still based in Nigeria and I visited frequently, sometimes twice a year. But living in Nigeria and visiting on holidays are completely different experiences and adjusting once I moved back wasn’t so bad. I can be quite carefree and I tend to go with the flow so I try not to let the everyday struggles get to me. Having family and friends around makes it easier.
Most people would say there are more opportunities in the U.S.A than in Nigeria where there are peculiar problems faced by people running their own businesses. Why did you decide to take that leap despite all the negative comments you must have heard and return to Nigeria?
Not everyone takes the same roads to get to the same destination. What may seem like a good opportunity to one person may be a step in the opposite direction for the next man. I’ve always had the mind to move back to Nigeria because I feel like I personally can create better opportunities here for myself. Not only have I seen my parents become successful right here in Nigeria but I’ve also seen lots of younger people do the same, despite the difficult environment. Those success stories inspire me to work hard to create my own path here, no matter how difficult. I’m not saying there aren’t great opportunities in the US but that’s not where my heart is right now.
What sort of dance, music classes were you involved in throughout your stay in high school, and in the University?
I did mostly modern contemporary dance although I spent a considerable amount of time doing ballet as well. I took a tap dancing class in high school and as unbelievable as it sounds, I took a break dancing class as well. I danced throughout middle and high school and I taught children’s dance classes during my later years. I took one or two music and theatre classes along the way but to be honest, that’s not where my talent is. Unfortunately, I got preoccupied with other things in college so I wasn’t able to dance as much but now that I’m done, I’m right back at it.
How were you able to find qualified teachers to meet the standards you set for your dance school?
This was one of the hardest tasks I had to accomplish because I set high standards for all of our employees and it was very hard to find qualified people. I posted ads online, asked around and consulted hiring agencies. I conducted lots of interviews that were so bad I didn’t know whether to cry or laugh afterwards. It took me two months to find the staff I have now and they are well worth the wait. I feel very lucky to have them on my team.
What is the schedule like for your dance classes? Do you run classes on weekends, afterschool….
Each class is allocated at least three hours every week. Some classes are everyday, while some are every other day. We also try to offer every class on Saturdays. We do have a formal schedule that’s posted on our website. www.thestudioabuja.com. We are currently offering ballet, hip-hop, theater, music, creative arts and fitness classes. We also serve as a play centre and we do children’s party planning.
How has the reception been like for the sort of dance classes you offer – ballet, hip-hop, considering that they are not really ‘African’?
I think that’s exactly why the reception has been so good, because they’re not “really African” and they are not as easy to find around here. People want something different, something that can set them ahead of the pack and that’s what we’re offering them here. An opportunity for kids to be well-rounded even with arts that may not necessarily be part of our culture.
How affordable are your dance classes for the average Nigerian child. For instance, if I want to send my eight year-old kid to learn ballet, how much would I need?
We are very affordable. That was one thing I wanted to focus on when I got the idea for The Studio. I wanted to make our services affordable to those who would understand the quality and importance of the service they are receiving. Our tuition for members is on a monthly basis and it’s even cheaper than what you would pay for monthly internet service.
What opportunities does a child who is passionate about dancing have in Nigeria?
They are some opportunities ranging between school clubs and occasional church performances or something. But it is very hard to find structured classes in the arts we offer. Opportunities are often limited to cultural dancing where the kids are simply taught a dance routine and made to perform it. The Studio classes aren’t just physical but we actually teach terminology, history and technique. Our classes are very structured and will give a passionate child all he or she needs to know.
You mentioned that your father said you were never going to have a career in dancing. How does he feel now about your achievement with The Studio?
(Laughs) I try to sell the business side to him more so he can feel better about it but he has grown to understand how passionate I am about this. I’m older and more mature now so he’s a little more hands off. He assisted me a great deal with making my dream a reality although he never hesitated to let me know he still has his reservations.
With your degree in Business Management, you must already have a good eye for business risks and threats. However, what are the peculiar things about the Nigerian business terrain you’ve experienced that you weren’t really prepared for?
My business degree could make me an expert , book wise, in the American business world but I didn’t know much at all about conducting business in Nigeria. The economy is so unstable that nothing is ever a hundred percent for sure. Not everyone keeps to their word and it’s hard to hold people accountable due to the lifestyle here. I’ve learned to be more firm yet patient and trust no one. I could go on and on about all the things I wasn’t prepared for while doing business here but what’s important is that I’m learning and adjusting everyday.
How long did it take between the time you formed your idea and launched it into reality? What were the steps you took in planning and organizing?
It’s been years since I first had the idea to open a performing arts school. I was probably fourteen or fifteen when I imagined it all in my head and scribbled all my ideas on paper. But I always imagined it very big and not something I could accomplish right out of college. I had other plans but as God would have it, things just fell into place and I decided to go for it, but starting on a much smaller scale. I worked out a business plan in February and two months later, we were open in April.
What were the steps you took in those two months to make your dream a reality?
I was working round the clock, everyday of the week for two months. I knew I had to avoid failure at all costs. I redesigned the entire place from scratch, I sought and hired the best teachers and staff. I did everything I could to reach out to our target market and to make the place look as presentable as possible. It took a lot more than I ever imagined but all my hard work is clearly visible.
What were the challenges you faced during the time you were setting up The Studio and how have you been able to overcome them?
I faced quite a few challenges within the short period of time it took me to set up The Studio. A funny example was when I went to buy a generator. I know absolutely nothing about generators but I was so used to doing everything myself. I simply walked into a store and said “hmm…this should be fine,” and bought a generator. When we tried installing it, I realized it was too small for what I needed and I couldn’t return or exchange it. I went home, cried over it and even contemplated giving up. But the next day I consulted a few people and realized I could manage the generator until I could afford a bigger one. That was a hard lesson learned…whenever in doubt, seek advice from experienced people!
Please sum up in a few sentences, what you hope to achieve with The Studio?
At The Studio, we believe in using the talents one has been blessed with and developing new talents along the way. Our goal is to provide children with the perfect environment to nurture his or her talents and to discover and build new ones. We are excited to offer Nigerian children a sort of place they could usually only find abroad. I was privileged to enjoy these sorts of opportunities abroad and if I can make other children fall in love with the arts like I did, then I’ve done my job.