A new house for dance

Jungle House Dance Company officially opened Sept. 1 downtown on Regent Street. (Submitted by Samantha Shea)

Disclaimer: The author of this story, Pierina Rivas, teaches dance at Jungle House Dance Company. 

Dancers Brittany O’Sullivan and Samantha Shea connected in February 2019. O’Sullivan saw Shea was teaching dance classes in a small classroom at the University of New Brunswick’s Cultural Centre and wanted to make it into something bigger.

“We met for a four-hour conversation on a coffee date where we talked about everything from our backgrounds and sort of what we wanted to bring to the city, and … Jungle House was born,” said Shea.

Jungle House Dance Company officially opened Sept. 1 downtown on Regent Street. The dance studio offers a variety of classes for adults, pro or beginners, including hip hop, contemporary, jazz funk and reggaeton.

O’Sullivan, 29, and Shea, 30, are the owners of the dance studio whose mission is to empower the community and facilitate personal growth through dance.

The balance of the two, one with formal experience and one without, provides a safe and welcome environment, said O’Sullivan.

Shea is able to teach in a way that students would understand because “she has been in their shoes.” According to O’Sullivan, she helps her students not only as dancers but also as people.

“I took some dance classes in Toronto and every teacher was like ‘I dance with Drake, I danced with Rihanna,’” said Shea.

“They had this big real work they have done, but I never had any of that. I am just passionate about it.”

The dance studio offers a variety of classes for adults, pro or beginners, including hip hop, contemporary, jazz funk and reggaeton. (Submitted by Pierina Rivas)

Making the investment

Business is steady with between 10 to 15 people in most classes.

They might have all the dance moves, but their biggest stretch was financial. Shea said they didn’t have money to put into it, so it was a struggle.

“I think we underestimated how much money it was going to take,” said Shea.

“As things went on, we realized it was going to cost more.”

They had to work hard to raise funds to renovate the space. Before it was the dance studio, it was an ugly basement with a cracked floor.

Shea said there is no book that explains how to open a business when you know nothing about it. Their only solution was to ask people in their support network, friends and family for business advice.

“It was just finding things as we go, and asking people with experience,” said Shea.

“The community aspect was very important for us even in opening the business,” said O’Sullivan.

Learning to dance

O’Sullivan started dancing when she was just two years old. Her mom took her to a ballet class, even though they only taught dancers who were three and above.

“I went over to the director and said, ‘I am only two, but can I start dancing?’ and she answered with a smile in her face, ‘Anyone who comes and asks me that is old enough to dance.’”

While dancing is a great exercise and a creative outlet for O’Sullivan, it’s also been a way for her to let go of stress and shut off her mind.

“I feel like I really get to take all my frustration and negativity and put them into one spot, especially with contemporary dance.”

Three years ago, she moved to Charlottetown, P.E.I., and said she was going to stop dancing to focus on herself and grow as a person, but when she stopped she realized just how important dancing is in her life and was soon teaching again three months later.

“I can’t stop dancing. I always dance and I always will.”

Shea didn’t start dancing until she was in her early 20s.

“I didn’t grow up with dance, so it was new for me and it was something I had to work harder for as an adult.”

A place for connection

O’Sullivan and Shea said they have worked incredibly hard in order to fulfill their expectations and overcome all the financial disadvantages and business inexperience they faced on the road to building the studio.

“Our main focus has always been providing a space to people to connect, a space where people can feel empowered, authentic, themselves and confident just by dancing,” said O’Sullivan.

Even though they are still working on how to organize their sales and make the best use of their time and sources, they believe they are taking the necessary steps.

They would like to grow as a dance studio and, in the future, open more locations in nearby cities, such as Saint John or Moncton.

“For us, there will always be things that we are going to be working on and improving,” said Shea.