CHRIS DUNCAN, DANCELIFE PTY LTD trading as DanceLife Australia, DanceLife Unite, DanceBoss

After extensive training in all genres of dance, Chris opened her first of two studios at just 19, directing successful students to careers across the globe. In 2005 Chris transitioned to the roles of Agent, Manager, Adjudicator and Producer of Dance-related media, events, and competitions. She was the Australian Casting Agent for Ringling Bros & Barnum Bailey Circus (USA). She sponsored US-based Celebrity Choreographers to teach in Australia and facilitated numerous Australian Celebrity Choreographers’ workshops & tours while also assisting multiple dance companies. In 2012 Chris purchased DanceLife Pty Ltd. She developed ‘DanceLife Unite’ from one Sydney-based dance competition to a National network of events. She is the Managing Director of ‘DanceLife Australia’ – leading industry FREE digital news service. Chris recently published ‘DANCEBOSS’ summarising 35 years of business knowledge into a ‘go-to’ handbook for dance business owners. DANCEBOSS recently hit ‘No. 1 Bestseller’ in multiple categories on Amazon. 

When did you start your business?

I started my first business in dance at just 19 years of age – a small dance studio which was my first of many businesses in the dance industry. 35 years later and I have created, developed and sold several dance-related businesses. I purchased my current business DANCELIFE PTY LTD as a fledgling very small business in 2012. My business – DanceLife Pty Ltd – is multi-faceted. Under this banner I operate DanceLife Australia Digital Magazine & Marketing, DanceLife Unite National Dance Competition and DanceBoss. DanceLife Australia is our media arm, servicing the Australian Dance and Musical Theatre Industry with an online forum for news, reviews, audition notices, show announcements and much more. This is a FREE service to the industry which is funded purely via client advertisements on our blog & digital newsletter service. Each week we publish an industry newsletter to our extensive email database and social followers. DanceLife Unite is our National Dance Competition events program which offers valuable financial and mentoring prizes together with international travel and training to successful competitors. In a non-pandemic year, DLU offers performance opportunities to over 25,000 dancers. DANCEBOSS is my new passion! First step has been to publish my book ‘DANCEBOSS – From Start-Up Enterprise to DancePreneur’ which recently hit No.1 BESTSELLER in multiple categories on Amazon. My aim is to develop an online course and mentoring program using my book as the first step on this journey. 

What was the inspiration behind starting this business?

I have had multiple businesses over my 35 year career in Dance however when the opportunity to purchase DanceLife Pty Ltd came my way I knew I could develop it from the small enterprise that it was, into a greater vehicle to support the Australian Dance industry and next generation of dancers. My greatest inspiration has always been my absolute LOVE for Dance and the Performing Arts and my PASSION to support the industry and particularly the next generation of dancers. As a teacher, studio owner and choreographer, my goal was to help kids become exceptional talents. When I became an agent, I realised that work in our country is incredibly scarce and under-supported by government and corporate sponsorship. It then became my mission to support the industry to create more work whilst also sourcing opportunities overseas for Australian dancers. DanceBoss is now an extension of my passion to support our industry by offering my knowledge and mentorship to other dance business owners of all types and stages of growth.

What are you most excited about in your business?

Our business is unique in its foundational support of the Australian Dance Industry. I feel very proud to have a reputation within our industry of providing valuable support to enterprising individuals and businesses to help grow employment opportunities within our industry. We do this using our media portal to assist with marketing, brand awareness and education and our events business to provide employment for professionals and valuable mentoring and prizes to the next generation of dancers who are currently ‘in-training’. ‘DanceLife’ as a brand is well recognised and respected for its professionalism, attention to detail, customer service and passion for the performing arts. As an extension of my DanceLife operations, my new book DANCEBOSS is designed to educate and empower existing and aspiring business owners to fast-track their road to success by understanding the five major pillars of business and the scaling journey from ‘start-up’ to thriving business. I am also planning an online course and official mentoring service to compliment this new endeavour and further support the industry I truly love. 

What has been the most challenging thing about starting your business?

Like many business owners, my greatest challenge to date has been navigating the pandemic and managing to stay afloat whilst retaining the loyalty of my customers. The dance competition events arm of our business, ‘DanceLife Unite’ – which is our greatest source of income – was shut-down by government mandates in early 2020 just prior to our first event for the season. We were then unable to operate a live event until December of that year. This meant that all expenditure for the entire season including multiple staff interstate flights, accommodation, merchandise, trophies, medals etc had all been purchased by early 2020. This left a massive gap in our finances. We also struggled to travel to each state to deliver our competitions around lockdowns and state border closures. To address this we offered more online dance competition options than ever done before, extended credit options, multiple event transfers and online Zoom workshops with leading Australian and International dance icons. We also developed remote teams in many states to run our events on our behalf where restrictions allowed. We managed to retain 100% of our pre-pandemic clients. 

What advice would you give to other women thinking about starting a business?

  • Do your research in every aspect of your prospective business and the industry that surrounds it
  • Become self-aware of your strengths and challenges and work on these in tandem with developing your business plan and strategy
  • Own your place as a leader in your industry – don’t be shy!
  • Constantly work on your MINDSET to ensure you stay healthy and not overwhelmed
  • Remember your PASSION and your ‘WHY’ always

Why did you enter the AusMumpreneur Awards?

I was very honoured to be nominated by two very respected industry peers in the AUSMUMPRENEUR of the Year and the Events Business categories. I decided to honour the faith these two amazing ladies have in me and my contribution to my industry by following through and accepting the Finalist nomination when it came through. This is my first year being involved with the Ausmumpreneur Awards and I have heard only good things from the ladies who have participated in previous years.  

What did you enjoy the most about being part of the awards?

I love the sense of community and feeling embraced by such an incredible body of talented and courageous women. It blows my mind to understand and recognise the diversity of skills and industries that the Ausmumpreneur community represents and the ethos of helping each other strive and thrive. The collective knowledge of so many women together is inspiring and makes for an incredible platform for us each to grow and learn from. 

What surprised you most about the awards?

The open-heartedness and willingness to share knowledge and networks of so many women really surprised me. It was genuinely lovely to hear the stories of others and feel valued for my own journey regardless of how different our backgrounds and businesses are. 

How did the awards help you in your business?

I believe the greatest benefits are yet to come with a long-term relationship with the Ausmumpreneur community. But for this, my first year, I felt extremely honoured to place 3rd in the Ausmumpreneur of the Year category. This honour has continued to grow my personal branding and establish me further as an expert worth listening to in my industry. The credibility that this affords me is priceless and I am genuinely humbled and grateful for this recognition.  

What advice would you give to other mums thinking about entering the awards?

Just the process of entering and being a part of the Ausmumpreneur Awards is a positive journey within itself. The process requires us to reflect on our successes and how we have overcome our unique challenges to arrive at a place of business success in our careers. To make time within our normal daily lives to reflect on what we have achieved – and how – is not something most of us would normally take the time to do. So having to write down our journey and all the highs and lows of it, in itself, is an empowering exercise. Then to speak about these things to total strangers, and to be lucky enough to be recognised with an award from a community of like-minded entrepreneurial females, is a soul-boosting experience.  

What has been the best thing about starting your own business?

I would have to say the greatest lesson being in business has taught me is RESILIENCE. Learning to pivot when the wind gets knocked out of your sails; having to improvise when things don’t go to plan; learning to think on your feet when unexpected issues arise or things start ‘falling apart’ … all these things build strength and resilience and force you to grow as an individual, as a leader and as a business owner. I have learned to trust and rely on myself more as the years have progressed and my experience and knowledge has grown. Learning to navigate difficulties in business has helped me become more resilient in my personal life as well. I now approach every ‘problem’ as an ‘opportunity’ with a challenge prefacing it. Developing resilience has given me a sense of empowerment and confidence that was not always there in my younger years. I believe the services I currently offer under the umbrella of ‘DanceLife Pty Ltd’ are of great value to the Australian dance industry on several levels. I feel honoured to be considered a representative of this industry. I have developed a business which has a great reputation and exceptional support from industry experts. I am a pioneer in terms of developing a new business model for our National dance competition which has never been attempted. Through our dance competition we have ‘given back’ over $1.5million worth of prizes to the next generation of dancers via international travel, mentoring, cash, training, photography portfolios, video productions and holiday packages. I provide regular and valuable paid work to members of our industry. With our media portal we educate and entertain over 25,000 dance and musical theatre enthusiasts each week while supporting both professional and amateur enterprises with marketing their productions and services.

What’s happening next in your business?

Within the next 2-3 years I would like to have all states licensed for our DanceLife Unite competition business. I am also looking at selling international licences specifically in Asia. I would also like to have my intended evergreen online business course completed and servicing hundreds of dance business owners each year helping to empower them to prosper.

What are your big plans for the future?

Developing more paid work opportunities by way of my own dance company is within my big picture for the future, together with new events that I believe will fill a ‘hole’ currently existing in the Australian dance industry which I have not yet developed. I am excited to be developing new relationships with international business owners to create more opportunities for Australian dancers into the future. 

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