With over 20 years of professional dancing and numerous championships under their belts, Oti Mabuse and Marius Iepure were ready to open their brand new dance studio, Oti and Marius Dance Studio in London in April 2020. However, alongside the majority of other fitness businesses around the world, the pandemic's lockdowns forced them to alter their plans and explore running their studio and lessons virtually.
Not only did they discover that they could in fact provide their clients with effective and meaningful dance lessons online, but that this digital path could prove beneficial to their overall business and growth, the personal and professional development of their clients, and be a way to bond their community across several foreign locations.
Marius shared his insight with us and how they were able to take advantage of the lockdown to build the business they wanted and deliver to their clients both near and far. He also shared his plans for the upcoming relaunch of their studio in London and why online classes will continue to benefit their studio and clients. Follow our interview here to see what he had to share.
I'm Marius and I am the manager of Oti and Marius Dance Studio in Park Royal London. Originally from Germany, Oti and I have each been dancing for 20+ years and prior to moving to London, we opened a dance studio there years ago. We always liked the UK and started having more and more jobs here for various dancing TV productions so we slowly moved to the UK six years ago.
I work with a lot of younger competitive dancers. They go on to championships and competitions and over types of high-level dancing. Some will start at seven or eight years old, but typically our students and clients are between 10 to 20 years old.
In 2020 we decided to open a studio in London and planned on opening in April, exactly when the lockdown happened. We didn't have things quite ready so we waited and managed to open at the end of September 2020. During that time we were able to rent out the studio to some of the TV dance companies and their choreographers. They still needed to work during that time and could, so that was very helpful in the beginning.
When lockdown altered your plans to open your physical studio how did online classes encourage you to continue to move forward?
When the lockdown started and we couldn't open the studio we started with online free classes on social media. We had a huge follower base and we were so happy to help. Then we saw how much people needed it so we developed online classes and hosted them from the studio, from our office, and even our living room. We started with TeamUp right away after doing a lot of market research and saw that it was easy to use, so we joined.
What are the top benefits of offering online dance classes?
You don't always have to be in the studio to teach a great lesson. We are happy to have 100 people come to an online class and we are happy to have five people come to an online class. I can really concentrate on each of those five people. I think online teaching and online dance lessons are a natural development. We are so lucky to have the technology and to be at that level of sharing information because 10 years ago we didn't have it as we do now.
Convenience and distance for both the teachers and students
It was an interesting thing for us because we began private lessons online a while ago. From when we moved to the UK until the pandemic I was flying every week to Germany to teach for a few days then I would come back to the UK to teach with Oti and our other jobs for BBC as well as choreography jobs. I was flying back and forth to Nuremberg and other areas, but after the lockdown started I began teaching those clients and students online. I have managed to go one or two times to Germany this past year, but before it was at least one or two times a month at least. It changed everything.
Flexibility for clients who live far from the studio
We offer a mixed membership so people can just pick and choose when they want to come in person and when they want to come online. People don't want to spend all of their time having to get to and from class especially when it's across London and there is bad traffic. Rather than try to rush to class they can just do their class online and maybe come the week after when they have more time. You can alternate between the two.
I still have my Monday group in Germany that I run lessons for from my living room. Even though my clients are kids they are really really professional. I have one girl from Munich dancing with a boy from Nuremberg, and then I have another couple in Berlin and another couple in other cities and I am in London so we do it all over Zoom. Something which is cool is sometimes they will meet up in Germany and I teach them together over Zoom. It is so much easier for them to be able to get together or to be able to do it from home. It is tiring for both the kids and parents to hustle around and travel for classes and lessons so having the online is a great option. If you want to be the best you have to do whatever it takes.
Increased discipline and development from our students and clients
One to one was not something that anyone would even think of in the Ballroom and Latin Dance world. You would really think it would not work. But our clients and students have been able to develop so much over Zoom so it was possible. You have to be more disciplined because if you're not it's quite difficult, but it's the same as school. It is difficult to school online, the same goes for dance studios, but if you have the structure and discipline it's possible and it was a natural way for us to go.
Boosted confidence and encouragement to learn and progress at your own pace
Sometimes if you are learning a new skill or dance you want to be able to shut the camera off and just dance and go crazy and do the moves. Even if you're doing something wrong, you still get the lesson and engage and get the information. The student then has the option to come to a group class either in-person or online at the next lesson or next week. You can have your privacy and take the time to learn and come to class when you are ready.
It encouraged the parents to get more involved in the lessons and classes
Lockdown forced parents to restructure everything. I think because school was such an example for online lessons early on, it helped us work with that new structure and parents were able to not only adjust but get more involved in the classes and lessons. We had our 11 AM lesson every day and had hundreds of kids participate online during the lockdown. It was an amazing thing to do and even more so because families began joining the classes and lessons. It became a family activity. Parents would be working in one room and kids would be doing their lesson in another and then the parents would come to join for 30 or 45 minutes and have fun and enjoy with their kids before the rest of their day would resume. It connected a lot of people and I think that was something they really enjoyed.
What has been your main form of marketing for your studio and online lessons?
For attracting beginners, we rely mainly on social media marketing. We also use social media to keep in touch with other choreographers and professional dancers. I taught in other studios in London and have a great network. We are going to also start a newsletter and want to get really involved in the area and community. We also work with a lot of charities and donate our funds from concerts. They also book our studio and teachers to give free lessons to kids so we try to help a lot in that area.
What are your plans for your studio now that live in-person classes can resume in the UK?
We opened the studio at the end of September, but we had to be careful because of the numbers of people attending classes. We wanted people to come, but we didn't want too many people coming at once. We work with other streaming platforms and dance lessons. I also want to go into coaching and I have coached for 20 years and I have always loved that side of making a plan together. A dance couple is like a relationship, there are two people and they have to work together. We will do Latin and Ballroom and then the teachers will also teach things that they enjoy and want their students to learn.
Soon, we will have another official re-opening and we should be getting a big amount of people together then. We will also be relaunching and changing the website. We want to make a lot of changes to balance the online and in-person live lessons. That human connection in live classes will always be on a different level than live online classes.
Thank you for sharing with us Marius!
To learn more about Oti and Marius Dance Studio check out their website and Instagram page.