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Name: Deborah Mason Dudley

Business: Deborah Mason School of Dance, a dance school for the community of Sommerville

Industry: Arts & Entertainment 

Location: Somerville, Massachusetts, U.S.

Reason for starting: I grew up in a tough neighborhood, where many of my friends died before the age of 18 from drugs. I was fortunate enough to take dance classes, which kept me off the streets most of the time. I‘ve always known that the arts could be a force of change in children’s lives, and I wanted to reach out to the community I loved by sharing my passion. I also knew dance could be a beacon of light to the kids in the community and I wanted to share my knowledge, because I lived it as a kid. I wasn’t aware then, of the responsibility of how many lives I would change and how many I would possibly save. I wasn’t thinking that I’d spend 40 years of my life in a studio dedicating a lifetime of work to a community I loved.

Related: Read about another Arts & Entertainment entrepreneur here. 

How do you define success? “To laugh often and much, to win respect of intelligent people and the affection of children. To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others and to leave the world a bit better knowing even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Biggest Success: Seeing my students go to college because of the focus and discipline they acquired from the arts, watching them perform on a Broadway stage, in movies and on television. Knowing that heir dance education has positively influenced their lives. Many of my former students now have careers in business, law, and medicine. One of my students was born with her knee caps on the opposite side of her legs. her mother brought her to me after several operations to see if I would work with her. I called her doctor and asked him what her limitations were. She spent her entire childhood and teenage years at my studio. I worked around choreography for her, she participated in competitions. She went to college, was captain of the cheerleading squad and became a medical marvel. I realize the impact I made in her life. The school gave her the confidence to know she could do anything! 

Related: Do You Have What It Takes to Start a Business? 

What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it? Having to move 5 times because of development. Serving 400 students a year. Each time we had to move it got more difficult to balance. Loosing talented students and families who couldn’t afford tuition. Through in-kind services from faculty and administration and donations from local businesses, we were able to permit some students to work at the studio and earn part of their tuition while subsidizing other student’s. The school routinely allowed students to continue training and began operating an informal scholarship program. It became apparent, that this was depleting the school’s resources. I had to cut corners in other areas to make up for lost revenue. In order to continue I established a non-profit organization named Cambridge Youth Dance Program. Through CYDP, the program would be able to raise funds and apply for grants. Since then we have raised $300,000.

Who is your most important role model? My parents and family. They have worked hard and never complained or asked for anything from anyone. My teachers who guided me and gave me inspiration, believing in my dreams and cultivating my creativity.

Twitter   @DMSD

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