Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in dance education but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Didier Jean-François, Founding member and Owner of Studio 88 Swing, located in Montreal, QC, Canada.

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

Studio 88 Swing, founded in 2001, is a company composed of an artist collective passionate about and focused on the period from the 1920s to the 1960s and the modern revival of that period (Neo Swing and Electro-swing). We have been in countless shows, including Showcase Weddings on CTV, Seasons 1 and 2 of the Quebec hit Revolution dance show, and the last four seasons of the previous #1 TV show in Quebec, called Les Dieux de la Danse, which consists on teaching NON-DANCERS in only a few hours to perform a dance style and choreo on TV! One of our couples with one of our routines, "Joannie Rochette et Jonas," even won season #1 Other shows include Mémoires Vives and Being Human Saisons 2 et 3, Star Académie, La Fureur, Le Match des Etoiles, En Direct de L’Univers, La Voix, Frankie Drake Mysteries, Heure de Gloire and many more

We hold the most awards of any swing dance team in the Americas, and we were the 2019 winners of the European, American, International, and Canadian swing dance championships. We participated as supporting choreographers in the musical comedy "Footloose" by Serge Postigo. We have been in films such as Gleason 2002, The Reagans 2003, Race 2016, and Midway 2019. We teach other top-level artists such as le Cirque du Soleil, l'École Nationale de Cirque and Cirque Eloize artists and participated in the creation of several shows by former companies such as:

Viva Elvis by Cirque du Soleil:
ENC Annual show 2013:
Banana Schpeel by Cirque du Soleil:

We have even helped choreograph the routine of the Canadian Champion junior ice dancers a few years back, and we regularly are called out by our colleagues and peer elite dance teachers to help them with swing and acrobatic content in their projects.

We teach hundreds of people how to dance swing every week in Montreal, and we have organized weekly dance events all of this for more than 20 years now, since 2001!

Tell us about yourself

Love for music and jazz music in particular, and then a passion for movement and dancing, as well as the desire to connect deeply with others, all led me to swing dancing as a partner dance. When friends of mine saw it, they knew it was for me, and they told me, "you must go to this place at this time on this day to meet these swing dancers... this is something for you"... They were not wrong.

Quickly though, the people leading the community at the time came up with some challenges in operations, cash flow, and management, and that's when my aptitude in those fields stepped in! I was asked by some of the key people to get involved in the running of things because of my business background (at the time, in Pharmaceutical sales and import and sales, both of which involve managing extensive budgets.)

Nowadays, on the first level, one can see that I am motivated by the achievement of top rankings for our competitive dancers and good placements and technical proficiency for our amateurs... All of this is for the main reason FUN!!! You really have MORE FUN when you are proficient!

Also, on a personal level, even after all this time, I really still personally love dancing, teaching, and performing myself! But deeply, I am connected I feel to all of my identities; as a half Belgian, half Haitien, and 100% Canadian and Quebecois, I get a lot of personal pride watching my community shine internationally and not just on the top levels... regularly traveling students from the studio get asked where they learned and then the follow up to their answer usually is "oh yeah, so many great dancers in Montreal"... Helping my community thrive in an artform created by some of my ancestors is truly a great source of pride and joy to me.

What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?

Hard to pick one specific thing, but I guess it's always "Start with the end in mind" of Steven Covey that I guess would stand out... in the early 2000s when we decided to open Studio 88 Swing, there were a few reasons:

  • The Montreal swing scene was shrinking, and we were imagining our team Swinging Air Force in a city where you can barely swing dance
  • Dancers in the USA dominated all categories of competition, and many people thought Canada didn't even have swing dancing
  • Beginner swing classes only had a few people in them, like 5 to 12...
    When we set out, we wanted to win in some USA competitions, make sure our scene in Montreal thrived with great venues and parties and get up to 70 people in a beginner class, which most people thought was an unachievable number (30 was thought to be a lot).

We put a system in place to achieve all that, and we did, so much so that before the pandemic in 2019:

  • We won all the biggest competitions that year with several 1st placements in Europe, USA, and Canada!
  • Our scene had events with up to 800 people per day
  • Almost all of our beginner cohorts had no less than 50 people, and we broke the 70 people target on many occasions

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

Responsibility... As the Peter Parker quote would go, "With great power comes..." This pandemic is a great example... when everything shuts down, you still have a responsibility to your staff and to your clients, your suppliers, and partners. You need to communicate with them, find solutions... So even though you are losing money, you still have to work, sometimes HARDER even, to do the right thing!

Outside of the pandemic, it's similar in the sense that no matter what happens between members of your team, between members of your team and the clients or partners... You ALWAYS have to take responsibility for it and deal with it... Same with all the requirements from safety, insurance, and government compliance... Most people who are not business owners can understand this sometimes when they think of their family or their primary residence (if they own it or treat their rental as if they owned it #besttenants)... There just is no Punching OUT from being an owner; if a city inspector calls, you have to answer even if it has nothing to do with swing!!!

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

  1. Old African proverb... If you want to go FAST, go alone; if you want to go FAR, go together... our motto at Studio 88 Swing is "Together, spreading the roots of our passion"... If you think that alone you are good enough at EVERYTHING... first you are wrong and go get your ego checked! Second, even if you are immensely competent at certain things... Imagine what you could do with someone as good as yourself, but at things, you are BAD at!!!
  2. From Collins and Porras's "Have a Big Harry Ambitious Goal" or a "BHAG" for short... if you aim low, no matter where you end up, it will be mediocre... but if you aim for the moon and miss... you may wind up in the stars... I have found this true for many of my business ventures which ultimately did better than I thought would actually happen! But since we really tried for crazy awesome, that's what we got!
  3. Find mentors... don't reinvent the wheel... look around for people killing it in your field or comparable things... ask their advice, benefit from their experience... always be open to change, sure, innovate, of course! But seriously... the wisdom in the people that have gone before should not be something that is anything but center stage in your plan.

Is there anything else you'd like to share?

Please be kind to businesses but especially just people in general after this pandemic... people have suffered, gone through shock or depression... and some are still doing that... think of the introverts now being asked to return to work "in person"... There is a lot of trauma going around beyond those who lost loved ones or who have long COVID themselves or their family.

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.

Turn your craft into recurring revenue with Subkit. Start your subscription offering in minutes and supercharge it with growth levers. Get early access here.