Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Sarah Slipper, Founder of NW Dance Project, located in Portland, OR, USA.

What's your business, and who are your customers?

NW Dance Project is a contemporary dance company in Portland, Oregon, which I founded in 2004 and continue to lead as Artistic Director. NW Dance Project is dedicated to creating and performing innovative and new contemporary dance works from talented choreographers worldwide, all created in an open and artistically stimulating environment. NW Dance Project has fostered the creation and Portland-premiere of over 300 original contemporary dance works to date — an unparalleled number of new works for a dance company. Our award-winning company performs four unique shows in Portland annually and tours regionally, nationally, and internationally. We are also committed to advancing dance education, equity, and community engagement through our cost-free Dance Moves arts engagement and access programs ongoing dance training and classes for youth and adults of all levels, abilities, and in a range of dance styles and special programs for rising, aspiring, and in-transition professional dancers.

Most programmatic elements (creation, rehearsals, classes, special projects, administration, etc.) occur at our light, spacious, and beautiful NE Portland Creative Center, which has grown to become a crucial multi-functional community resource and support center. We serve dance audiences in Portland and beyond as well as all levels of dancers from the recreational to the professional.

Tell us about yourself

Dance is my life; it's not just my profession or "what I do." I had a long and rewarding career as a professional ballet dancer with The Royal Winnipeg Ballet before serving as Ballet Mistress for some companies and later becoming a freelance choreographer. In the early 2000s, I saw many obstacles for many dancers securing professional positions and choreographers not being able to create freely. There was something missing in the field that I wanted to try to provide. NW Dance Project began in 2004 as a three-week summer project. Despite not having our own space, in 2007, we formed our own company from the many, many dancers we had worked with over previous summers and commissioned our favorite and most promising choreographers to come to Portland to create new works with complete artistic freedom. Fifteen years later, we have an 8,500 sq. ft. multi-studio facility, have premiered over 300 works, toured extensively, had four dancers win Princess Grace Awards, and are ranked as the 18th largest contemporary dance company in the country.

I'm motivated by two things: The artistry and power of dance as a means to reach and impact people and dancers themselves. While I still love creating new works, I also thrive on experiencing and guiding other artists' ideas, processes, and work. It's the pure humanity of dance that keeps me eagerly going.

What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?

The 300+ original new contemporary dance works that NW Dance Project has commissioned and premiered. I'm proud that this organization can provide artists with an open and supportive platform to create and take risks — that we don't demand a commercial "hit." I'm also proud of the expansive and inclusive education and training programs NW Dance Project has developed. Securing, raising money for, designing, and managing the build-out of our beautiful Creative Center in Portland is a source of pride, even though the process brought a few more grey hairs.

What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?

Consistently finding (or faking) the courage and strength to lead others towards your vision.

What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?

  1. Focus on what you love.
  2. Always strive to do better.
  3. Build a great team...or army, as needed.

Where can people find you and your business?


If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.

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