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Yes, we think you can dance

At the award-winning Not Just Another Dance Studio, learning the steps is just one part of the success story.

A steady stream of parents file through the entrance of a building on Upper James. They’re trying to catch up to their kids, who are all dressed in a rainbow array of leotards and jumpsuits. As the purple studio door swings open and shut, the soaring rhythm of Lady Gaga’s “Take My Hand” can be heard. Witness yet another weekday evening at Hamilton’s Not Just Another Dance Studio (NJADS).

This scene is so familiar to my family that it’s hard to remember a time when our kids weren’t a part of this homegrown Hamilton studio. Attending weekly classes, and rehearsing for the big end-of-year-recital, are yearly benchmarks on our monthly calendar. But beyond the performances, NJADS has helped give our kids a sense of purpose while inspiring a love of creativity and self-expression. That a dance studio has so profoundly impacted our entire family like this is quite a success story.

But founder Amanda Jeffery explains, this is precisely why she started NJADS back in 2002. “It’s the idea of the studio as an extension of home,” says Jeffery. More than simply a dance school, she sees NJADS as a space where self-expression and exploration are accessible to everyone no matter their skill level. “It suggests a space where people feel safe, accepted, and valued, not just for their dance abilities but for who they are as individuals.” 

Trained at York University’s bachelor of fine arts program, Jeffery says NJADS is a start-up with humble roots. Her first full-time job at a husband and wife owned manufacturing company taught Jeffery the importance of giving back to the community, while clarifying how such connections are a boon to success. “One of the ways we stand out,” says Jeffery, “is to believe in our mission and purpose, and not worry what the other dance studios around us are doing.”

Not just another dance studio provides recreational and competitive dance
instruction.  PHOTO: Andy Yu Photography

This independent spirit is a hallmark for the entrepreneur. When facing a sudden layoff, Jeffery saw it as the push she needed to start running her studio full-time. Though it started with a one-studio space in Mount Hope, the growth of NJADS was rapid. “After our first two years, we’d already outgrown the space” and operations soon moved to the current two-studio building on Upper James near Mohawk Road. Demand only increased, so Jeffery added a second location in Ancaster in 2019, followed three years later (amidst the chaos of the pandemic) with a third studio and dance shop at the Hamilton space.

Jeffery credits NJADS growth, when other businesses were shuttering, to the sense of connection the studio provides. “We’re inherently social beings, and meaningful relationships are crucial to our well-being. We try to position ourselves as a bridge, offering not just dance instruction but a place where people can genuinely connect, share joys, and support each other through challenges.” For Jeffery, and her entire staff, the phrase “we are a family” is more than a cliché. 

“It encapsulates a vision of inclusivity, warmth, and interdependence.”

Alongside its recreational dance programs, NJADS has developed multiple levels of competitive classes, including a pre-competitive program (six hours of dance or less per week) and a competitive program (six hours or more). As Jeffery points out, these class tiers are geared solely towards the needs of the student. This is really what differentiates NJADS from other studios: there is no expectation of moving from the recreational program into the competitive program. Students learn and explore dance at their own pace without any pressure to perform.

For Jeffery, this speaks to the studios’ core philosophy of “progress over perfection”. Indeed, there are many students who’ve been part of NJADS for years yet never been part of the competitive stream. Instructors teach a wide variety of genres ranging from ballet, jazz, lyrical, and contemporary to musical theatre, hip hop, acro, tap, and modern dance. Classes are offered to students as young as three up to 18 years. And, for those with two left feet, the studio holds adult contemporary classes. 

But Jeffery is adamant that the goal of NJADS goes beyond dance. “We want to teach our dancers transferable skills,” she says. “The kinds of things that come into play outside of dance, like academic presentations, job interviews, and professional team building.” In this way, says Jeffery, “the studio doesn’t just produce great dancers, it cultivates people who are prepared to tackle life’s challenges with grace and determination, embodying the lessons learned through their journey in dance.”

Fundamental to the students’ successes are the instructors who work with them week after week. Building a diverse, professional team has been crucial for Jeffery to ensure the values of NJADS are passed on to the students. “They bring not just their individual artistic talents and accolades but a deep commitment to fostering growth, artistry, and a sense of community among our students.” For Jeffery, this commitment means a vision of dance education that supports what she calls “the holistic development of each student.”

NJADS offers a range of dance instruction, from ballet, jazz, lyrical, and contemporary to musical theatre, hip hop, acro, tap, and modern. PHOTO: Andy Yu Photography

It’s a vision that professional dancer and choreographer Alyssa Nedich has embraced since joining NJADS six years ago. “I’m so grateful for a space that lets staff and students alike show up how we are, and how we meet ourselves where we are at.” For Nedich, NJADS allows her to impart “a ‘what if’ attitude” to her students. “That flexibility and growth,” she says, “has helped me find my voice as an educator, and those lessons translate to the students.” Recently, NJADS received the 2024 Dance Studio Owners Association’s Inner Circle Impact Award. Presented to a dance studio that is impacting its community through innovation, creativity, and leadership, it’s a distinction Jeffery credits to her entire team.

Even as NJADS continues to grow, Jeffery remains mindful of what it takes to thrive in Hamilton. “In the heart of every successful company lies a commitment not just to business goals, but also to the community that surrounds it. At NJADS, we’ve always believed that our responsibilities extend beyond our studio walls. Dance isn’t just about doing a dozen pirouettes, it is about telling a story.” For Jeffery, and hundreds of dance families like my own, the story of NJADS just gets better and better.