Dawn Branch: Parlaying a Passion for the Arts Into a Business

From working with celebrities to creating the next set, through dance

The arts have and will always be around as long as there is talent and an audience that thrives to be entertained. Thus, in theory, the business of the arts will also continue to grow as long as there are people willing to be artistic.

The arts as we know it, encompasses so many aspects that it takes on many forms, and has various functions to a variety of people. Dance is a fluid component that shows grace, poise and it’s such a great art form that, let’s face it, who doesn’t appreciate it?

Dawn Branch, dancer/businesswoman, started working on her passion at the tender age of 2 and hasn’t looked back since. Growing up in New York has its advantages and Dawn made sure it worked for her. From a young age, she’s known nothing but prestige in her schooling, having enrolled at the Bernice Johnson Dance Company and was a scholarship student with the Alvin Ailey American Dance School. After attending the world famous LaGuardia High School of the Performing Arts (Which spawned international celebrities from Billy Dee Williams and Ben Vereen to Tichina Arnold and Marlon Wayans), she received a BA in Media and Communications from State University at Old Westbury.

In May of 2012, Dawn launched the “Dawn Branch Works Contemporary Ballet Company” housed by Raskin Dance Studio in Kissimmee, Florida. She recently was a guest teacher at The Florida Dance Theater in Lakeland, Fl., and choreographed the opening act for “BP” corporate events for the 2012 Olympics courtesy of The Center for Contemporary Dance.

Who says you can’t enjoy what you do?

BlackEnterprise.com: How did your passion for dance and the arts formulate and what made you decide to take this career path?

My dancing abilities were noticed by my mother at the tender age of two. I would win all the dance contests at the local birthday parties and she knew that I had a gift. She enrolled me at The Bernice Johnson Cultural Arts Center in Jamaica, N.Y. where I was placed in the Children’s Professional Program. There I was taught by broadway performers and movie stars. I knew then that my dreams were attainable, and that I was in the right school for success.

You’ve worked with some esteemed people throughout the years, could you tell us some of the people you’ve worked with and could you tell us how you were able to get those opportunities?

One of the perks of joining the Children’s Professional track was that it gave me access to many famous teachers and choreographers. Some guest teachers included: Michael Peters (choreographer for Michael Jackson’s Beat It and Thriller videos) and Valerie Pettiford (understudy to Judith Jamison in the Broadway play, SophisticatedLadies, and lead character in the TV sitcom Half & Half). Performance opportunities were made easy for students at Bernice Johnson’s school; all of our auditions were closed to the public and we had direct contact with producers and directors. Some clients were, Sydney Poitier, Ben Vereen, Lionel Ritchie, Diana Ross, Emmanuel Lewis, Michael Peters, and the infamous tap dance legends Sandman Sims and Bunny Briggs.

In addition to Bernice Johnson’s School, I studied at the High School of Performing Arts in New York City, and was a scholarship student with the Alvin Ailey American Dance School. I studied under the guidance of Madame Darvarsh, Penny Frank, Denise Jefferson, Kevin Austin Hunt and Kevin Iega Jeff, the founder and artistic director of the Chicago-based Deeply Rooted Dance Theatre.

I’ve also had the honor of working with great choreographers such as Michael Peters, Jamel Gaines of Creative Outlet in Brooklyn, N.Y., Roger C. Jeffrey of Subtle Change, Inc., Obediah Wright of Balance Dance Theater in Brooklyn, N.Y., Desmond Richardson of Complexions, Troy Powell of The Alvin Ailey 2nd Company, and Lloyd Whitmore.

Dawn Branch Works is currently housed at Raskin Dance Studio in Kissimmee, Florida under the direction of Valerie Raskin and Sunny Raskin. We have also been blessed with a merchandising sponsorship with The Dancewear Corner located in Orlando, Florida. They supply my dance company with ballet shoes, apparel, and bags. They are awesome!!!!

In May of 2012, you launched the Dawn Branch Works Contemporary Ballet Company in Kissimmee, Florida. Congratulations! What is the purpose of the company?

As a dancer you age out of the system as many athletes do, but you still have a lot to say (laughs). I wanted an opportunity to continue a dance career and give back all that was given to me. My purpose for The Dawn Branch Works Contemporary Ballet Company is to establish a strong set of technical dancers who can perform my works — works that have meaning, soul, and what I like to call, “The Give Back.” It’s so important for dancers to remember that we don’t perform for ourselves; we perform to communicate with our audience. There is an exchange that takes place between the performer and the audience. If I can help to mold these young dancers into recognizing “The Give Back” or the exchange, then I’m fulfilling a purpose.

Another purpose is to help continue the legacy of the dance repertoire that originated with the Bernice Johnson Dance Company. I do not want these great works to die.

You have an artistic background and you’ve been in business several years now, how do you combine the stresses of your artistic vision and your business practices?

Combining the two worlds of artistry and business has been very overwhelming for me. You may be familiar with the stereotype of the artist who ignores her business while focusing too much on the creative aspects and who is willing to “give away the store in the name of art.” I can relate to that image, because I find it much more fun to choreograph a dance piece than to balance a budget. So I’ve enlisted the help of my mother, Linda Stewart, for advice. As a former advertising executive, she has the ability to say a firm “no” when I tend to “give away the store.”

What advice would you give to someone who wants to operate their own business in the arts?

Contracts, contracts, contracts! That is my advice. It’s okay to work with friends, but you must have a strong contract so that you can remain friends. Also, seek help from the Small Business Administration. They can help you write a business plan which will help you to understand your demographic, geography and competitive markets and establish your budget parameters. And finally, I would say that you should know your worth! Do not sell yourself short! Believe in yourself; believe in your dream!

What future plans do you have for your business and ballet company?

In the future, I’d like to see D.B. Works, as it is affectionately called, become an international company that tours the world. I believe in my choreography, I believe in my dancers, and I believe in God!

We are currently seeking strong male and female technical dancers with contemporary ballet and modern backgrounds. We will be holding auditions in January 2013 for dancers aged 18 and over.

How do you balance family life, dance and running a business?

That is a tough question; it’s extremely wearing since I’m married and have two children. Due to my schedule I work from home during the day on the business aspects of the company; at night I’m outside of the home teaching, choreographing, or sometimes traveling out of town. Both my husband and mother step in a great deal to help out when I’m gone.

Being away from my family does take a toll, but I must admit, if my children call and cry for mommy, I try to make adjustments to make it home faster. And I hope that I can offset my absences by being a good role model for my daughters – that of a strong, creative business woman.

If you can go back in time and do something different that you feel would help you with your business, what would it have been and how do you think it would have been different for you now if you did make that change?

Save your money before you put your plan into action, have a business plan, have contracts, know your demographics. If I had all this in place ahead of time, I know I’d be a lot further ahead financially and more confident in my decision making.

For more information visit the following website:
www.masterdanceseries.com; subscribe to us on YouTube/ Dawn Branch Works; and like us on Facebook/Dawn Branch Works.

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