PORTLAND, ME—Looking on proudly as her afternoon tap class got underway with only three paying students, local DanceWorks studio owner Hayley Caslin expressed a deep sense of satisfaction to reporters Thursday at achieving her lifelong dream of running a poorly attended, unprofitable dance school.
“Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve always wanted to open my own dance studio that offers a variety of ballet, modern, and jazz classes, most of which I have to cancel because not a single person enrolls,” Caslin said, flipping through the week’s mostly blank appointment book. “I feel so fortunate. It really is a dream come true to work frantically 90 hours a week for absolutely no tangible results, and then have to fire the instructors I just recently hired because I’m literally forced to choose between retaining them and keeping the lights on.”
“Just a year ago, I could have never imagined I’d leave my promising dance career in New York, come back home, and sink my life savings into a studio space that’s so bare and empty that the sight of it makes even interested potential patrons uncomfortable,” she continued. “But look at me now: I’m two months behind on rent and I’ve made myself physically ill from stress and lack of sleep. It’s like a fairytale.”
According to Caslin, realizing her dream of owning such a financial disaster has not come easily. The entrepreneur said she has put in months of dedication and perseverance to make her vision a reality, working late seven days a week and promoting her studio at dozens of school activity fairs and local events where she is routinely ignored, all the while having to constantly convince herself that she did not make the worst decision of her career.
Caslin stated, however, that the feeling she receives from running her own unsuccessful business has far exceeded her dreams. As the sole proprietor of the failing establishment, she said she considers herself “blessed” to spend all of her waking hours surreptitiously slipping promotional flyers under windshield wipers around town, begging students from her free introductory classes to come back again, and calling the local utility companies to ask if they would not mind waiting several days to cash her checks.
“It’s the little things that make me pinch myself and realize all my hopes and wishes have come true,” Caslin said. “Things like failing to sell any Groupons even at 90 percent off, or losing old friends because they’re tired of me pestering them to spread the word about my studio, or adding morning classes only to realize too late that they don’t work with most peoples’ schedules—this is the culmination of everything I’ve worked so hard for.”
“But when you start getting angry calls from parents asking when the recitals are, except there is no recital because you don’t have any money to rent out a venue, that’s when you know you’ve really made it,” she added, smiling.
Caslin said that she often can’t believe that she was able to turn her childhood fantasy of tying her entire future to a failing choreography studio into a reality. According to the woman who is now $50,000 in debt, goals that once seemed out of reach, like having to call her mother and father to ask them for another loan and hearing them reply “Fine, but this is the last one,” are now commonplace in her daily life.
Telling reporters that she is now “dreaming even bigger,” Caslin confirmed her desire to invest further money she does not have into new equipment to compete with several established dance studios that already more than adequately fill the small city’s demand for dance lessons, as well as possibly hiring a contractor to expand her studio space so that her classes feel even emptier.
“It’s been a wild ride, and I feel like it’s just getting started,” she said, pausing momentarily to turn away the third walk-in this week by saying, “No, I’m sorry, we don’t offer Zumba.” “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go clean the bathrooms myself, and then gracefully invite myself over to a friend’s house to dinner so I’ll have something to eat tonight.”
Added Caslin, “Just like I always imagined.”