Cheri Lindell, MDE
Cheri Lindell, MDE and founder and director of Dancenter North, hadn’t planned on forming one of the north suburb’s largest dance studios; it just happened. In 1974, she was performing in musical theater and choreographing professionally. Some of her fellow cast members asked her to teach their kids ballet, and thus began Dancenter North, a studio that has taught dance to two generations of students (so far). It’s taken Lindell on a journey she was not planning for when she started as a professional dancer, but one that she’s happy she undertook. “I love choreography and teaching, but I also found out I love the business side of owning a studio too,” Lindell says.
Dancenter North grew from those first 30 kids to nearly 1,500 students and 24 teachers in five studios today and is located in Libertyville, Ill., in the northern suburbs of Chicago. In 1980, Lindell moved her business to its current location – a 100 year-old former vaudeville theater in Liberyville’s historic downtown. “We renovated the space, but it was set up nicely,” Lindell says. “Our location, being halfway in between Chicago and Milwaukee, also helps with professional networking and performance opportunities.”
In addition to its original focus on ballet, Dancenter North also offers voice classes, fitness classes and courses in modern, tap and jazz dance for all ages – from pre-school through adult. The curriculum is reviewed and restructured every year, and all teachers are required to attend an annual, full-day retreat to focus on how to improve the curriculum and their teaching technique. “We spent a lot of time on the curriculum,” Lindell explains. “Kids change, so we have to change with them.”
Lindell’s studio has a well-respected professional faculty, one for which she says she doesn’t have to spend a lot of time recruiting. “We are very picky, and I think because of that we don’t have to recruit. Teachers tend to come to us.” Dancenter North’s teachers regularly attend workshops, serve on committees and take classes to keep their skills current. “Plus we’re all professionals who still perform professionally, so we’re always learning,” Lindell says. “We stick to our format and stay consistent with our teaching, but we still understand kids are kids.”
Lindell herself doesn’t teach anymore but does produce and choreograph their annual performance of the Nutcracker. The recent economic downturn has caused some enrollment declines, but she’s seeing positive signs of growth again recently and has increased her marketing to help grow her enrollment. Lindell couldn’t consider doing anything else, no matter how tough the times get.
“You have to meld the business side with the artistic side. I would advise anyone starting out in studio ownership to have a good plan - and a good accountant,” Lindell concludes. “We feel so thankful to be in the dance business that sometimes we don’t think we should be paid for our skills. But we should.”