Danielle Lewis was a professional dancer for 18 years before she retired and took on a new career as a residential home care supervisor for adults with intellectual disabilities.
“I tried working behind a desk, but it just was awful! Not for me,” Lewis said, laughing. “I like to be active and keep moving, so when I read the responsibilities of a home care supervisor, I felt it would be the perfect fit – I get to help people, and I’m always on the go!”
Many of her clients came to know that she was a dancer, and during their sessions, they would beg Lewis to teach them how to dance.
“It was funny because all of my clients who wanted to learn how to dance were males! They were like, ‘We really want to dance! Teach us to dance!’ And I love to dance, so I was serious when I asked them, ‘You really want to dance?!’ and they would always say, ‘Yes!’” Lewis said, remembering all the times her clients expressed interest in dance lessons.
Lewis went to work, researching dance studios in Indianapolis that offered classes to adults and children with mental disabilities. Unfortunately, she kept coming up short.
She saw the disappointment in her client's eyes.
“You know, it just wasn’t fair. They should be afforded the same opportunities as anybody else so they can dance,” Lewis said.
Lewis couldn’t give up on her clients and decided she would provide dance lessons to them. She would also offer the classes to others in the community with intellectual disabilities who would like to learn.
The 32-year-old took it a step further and developed a nonprofit business plan. Lewis then took the plan to an Indy Parks location, where the building manager reviewed it and eventually allowed Lewis to use the building’s studio space two days out of the week for her dance classes.
“I wanted these classes to be completely free to them because a lot of their finances are really managed. So many of them, for instance, might get $25 allowances a month,” Lewis said. “I was able to get that going for them for two days a week; one day a week it was just for the intellectually disabled. And then, on Fridays, it was for everyone – kids, teens, and adults.”
Lewis is trained in numerous dance variations, including, but not limited to, ballet, modern jazz, hip-hop, salsa, and capoeira. Although she can teach all of these styles of dance to her clientele, she does have to tailor the way she teaches the classes in terms of discipline and attention span.
“Thanks to the Entrepreneurship Program, I am an operating entity and looking to serve this community, specifically, because they deserve to be seen and heard."Danielle Lewis, owner, Dannie's Dance
Danielle Lewis, owner of Dannie's Dance, poses for a photo. Photo Provided by Danielle Lewis.
“There are a lot of different strategies and drills I do to keep this particular community engaged, entertained, and focused on the class. I approach it completely differently from just like your regular choreography class,” Lewis said. “For instance, we do things like community circles, STEM dance, and mirroring in the classes. I set up obstacles, and we also do partner work.”
Right as things were ramping up, 2020 rolled around, and it’s the unfortunate story many of us are all too familiar with – the COVID-19 pandemic happened.
Lewis’ smile waivered at this point. She took a big sigh. “When COVID hit, everything else kind of hit.”
However, instead of getting frazzled in March 2020, Lewis took the time as a good window to return to school. She decided to enroll in Ivy Tech’s Garatoni School of Entrepreneurship and Innovation.
“Such great things have happened since then,” Lewis said. “My business would not be where it is today without the Ivy Tech Indianapolis Entrepreneurship Program.”
Lewis credits the Indianapolis campus’ Entrepreneurship Program with helping her figure out how to do the business side of starting a dance company. She had the passion and the skill; she just needed to know how to start.
“Oh my gosh, my professors! Steve Thrash helped me look at my business idea entirely differently. And Ms. Tearra Dotson – she is amazing. She really lit a fire under me that was just crazy!” Lewis said.
Through the program, Lewis decided on a name for her business – “Dannie’s Dance” – decided to be a for-profit entity instead of a non-profit, and so much more.
Lewis is now at the point where she does private in-house dance lessons while she finds a space to lease for future classes. She is now working in the Carmel Clay School District, taking her clients on river walks and executing karaoke nights. She hopes to bring Dannie’s Dance programming through Carmel Clay in the fall.
Although there is a lot still swirling with what's next for Dannie’s Dance, Lewis says she will not give up.
“I had a client who only hummed his very first class with me. He was non-verbal. Then, in his second class, he started singing the songs I played while teaching the class. Then, before you know it, he started to snap with the songs,” Lewis said. “ And ever since then, his mom was like, ‘When are you going to get a studio?’ ‘When can I bring my son back to your classes?’ And it's them for me. I’m doing it more for them now. And when I established my business with the state on March 7 of this year, 2023, it was huge for me. Because I really, really want there to be something like this for them.”
Lewis says everyone deserves a safe space to express themselves.
“I want them to have a safe space to come to and feel comfortable and just to let go, let it out, and learn. I want them to learn what self-expression can mean to them because dance does a lot of different things to different people. But one thing I know for sure is it helps them, and it's therapeutic,” Lewis said.
When Lewis took the job as a residential home care supervisor, she did not anticipate that she would be able to mesh her passion for dance and movement with her passion for helping people.
“This fulfills me. It really fulfills me,” Lewis said. “Thanks to the Entrepreneurship Program, I am an operating entity and looking to serve this community, specifically, because they deserve to be seen and heard. I believe that with the right mindset and patience, you can achieve anything. I strive to be the change I want to see for them because they deserve the same opportunities to dance just like anyone else.”
“My business would not be where it is today without the Ivy Tech Indianapolis Entrepreneurship Program.”
– Danielle Lewis, owner, Dannie's Dance
About Ivy Tech Community College
Ivy Tech Community College is Indiana's largest public postsecondary institution and the nation's largest singly accredited statewide community college system, accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. Ivy Tech has campuses throughout Indiana and also serves thousands of students annually online. It serves as the state's engine of workforce development, offering associate degrees, long- and short-term certificate programs, industry certifications, and training that aligns with the needs of the community. The College provides a seamless transfer to other colleges and universities in Indiana, as well as out of state, for a more affordable route to a bachelor's degree.