Columns Dance and Wellness Centre Founder Sonia Plumb is also Artistic Director of Sonia Plumb Dance Company. MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price reconnected with Sonia to learn about the new dance and wellness space she’s opening in downtown Hartford.
NAN PRICE: How did you come up with idea for Columns Dance and Wellness Centre?
SONIA PLUMB: It had been in my mind that Hartford needed a space dedicated to dance, particularly modern dance, that also had a performance and wellness space.
I also wanted to start a school for dance, which I couldn’t do because I was on faculty at the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts. Also, having my own space means I have a little bit more control to run classes, rehearsals, and showings. I’m not renting space from different places. I knew I needed at least two studios to run a school. And if I can’t set my own schedule, then I can’t run my business.
Sonia Plumb Dance Company needed a home and I knew the rest of the dance community needed somewhere as well. There’s so much talent out there. So, I wanted a space for the community, somewhere people could rent. I didn’t want it under my name because my work is my work and every other dance artist has their own work.
In terms of the wellness side of the business, the idea of integrating wellness goes way beyond just yoga and physical therapy. It’s about our well-being and mental health, which is now coming to the forefront. I realized if I recognized and needed it and dancers in my company needed it, then everyone else is going to need it as they grow.
NAN: Did you tap into any local resources as you were developing the business concept?
SONIA: In 2018/2019, I started to really focus on the creating this business. I attended workshops through the Entrepreneurial Center & Women’s Business Center at the University of Harford and Upward Hartford. I made a whole business plan. I hired a business coach to look at what a for-profit business would look like.
I didn’t know a lot about the for-profit world. I knew how to operate in the nonprofit and I knew I needed money, so I knew I had to figure out the for-profit side of things and create a business plan.
One of the biggest challenges about a nonprofit is that it goes with the whim of funders and donors. It’s hard and I still I love it, but you have to treat it as a business. You have to have revenue streams. I never really knew that and why that would be so important. I just knew I needed space. I needed to teach students. But I couldn’t teach them if I didn’t have space. So, I knew I needed all these components to be a real business.
The other challenge with investments is finding ones that aren’t just for a one-off performance. The investment comes because you can do it over and over and dance can tour. When you get to that level where your dance company will tour, that’s where there’s impact. So it’s about finding the right investment. It’s an investment in the future.
NAN: When did you launch?
SONIA: I filed my business papers in June of 2019. It took me a while to gain clarity about the business and find the space. I knew what space I wanted. What I now have is a microcosm of that space.
When the pandemic hit in early 2020, it halted things. I did do a dance festival in 2020 under the Columns Dance and Wellness name, which was our first outdoor performance in Bushnell Park. We vetted all sorts of artists from the community; however, it wasn’t massively well attended because it was still early in the pandemic. But Columns Dance and Wellness made its debut.
NAN: You said you knew what space you wanted, was it intentional that the space was in Hartford?
SONIA: Yes. I did my initial research and took surveys and even did some startup pitching which helped me decide, too. I knew I wanted it to be near the public transportation to provide bus or train access to the corridor coming from Springfield, New York, and Boston. And I wanted it to be near the airport. So, it needed to be downtown. A lot of dancers don’t have cars. And I want people to have access. This is a great place to be, right in the middle of downtown.
NAN: What’s next?
SONIA: I’m working with the Hartford Chamber of Commerce to plan a ribbon cutting in June. And then I have my eyes on a bigger space. That was the original plan.