Dance has been part of Jess Novotny’s life since childhood. Growing up in Dyersville, she danced. In high school, she commuted to dance classes at an Iowa City studio. She was a dance major at the University of Iowa, and when she moved to Chicago with her husband Dan, she worked for a studio for […]
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Dance has been part of Jess Novotny’s life since childhood. Growing up in Dyersville, she danced. In high school, she commuted to dance classes at an Iowa City studio. She was a dance major at the University of Iowa, and when she moved to Chicago with her husband Dan, she worked for a studio for about four years while helping to raise the couple’s first child. But then came the time for a relocation — one that set Ms. Novotny on a path to business ownership. “We decided (Chicago) was not where we want to raise a little person,” Ms. Novotny said. “And for me to open a small business in that area was just out of reach economically. Plus, there isn’t the same embracing of small businesses that we have here in the Corridor.” So the Novotnys moved to Cedar Rapids in May 2013, and the next month, Ms. Novotny opened Prestige Dance Studio at 5005 Blairs Forest Lane NE. It was a bit of a gamble, she said, for a few reasons. “We didn’t know anyone here,” she said, “and I didn’t have any work experience here. But I knew exactly the type of studio I wanted to have, and I was able to do some market research and realize there wasn’t one that fit the needs of a certain clientele.” Still, the Cedar Rapids market is full of dance studios – 13 in total, Ms. Novotny said – so there’s a bit of risk with entering a saturated market. “We’re not short on studios,” she said. “But there really is a studio for everyone. They all have different strengths and weaknesses. And with that kind of big city experience I had for those years, I was able to bring a different dynamic.” After enrolling 72 students in the studio’s first year, Prestige now has grown to employ 25 instructors running 110 dance classes per week in four different studios, with a total of about 500 students, Ms. Novotny said. The studio offers baby and me classes, ballet, tap, jazz, hip hop, lyrical, cheer and tumbling classes, and caters to students at various interest levels. “That’s one of the reasons we are different,” Ms. Novotny said. “My goal has always been to offer a studio that provides everything you could want, but feels like a family … We have kids that are going to be dance majors, and we have kids that dance until they’re in sixth or seventh grade and then go out for show choir and are completely prepared. It’s not that everybody has to go in this or that lane. If you want to go preprofessional, we can get you there. If you just want to have your kiddo move a little more, we can do that. Early in her career, Ms. Novotny admitted she struggled when she and her husband would attend business meetings with men, who would primarily focus their attention on her husband. But now, she says, being a woman and a mother has been beneficial. “I have four children,” she said. “And I have found that I’m able to relate to my clients more authentically as a mom in that aspect. I think that, if you didn’t have children, or you’re a man, there just isn’t that level of, ‘OK, I can relate. I’ve truly been there.’ Then taking that education on to the staff, it trickles down. So that is an advantage.”