Renee Tan is the owner of Groove Dance School and I’m really lucky that she is also my pole instructor, given how busy she is running the studio. I’ve always been amazed by how cheerful and passionate she is, so when the idea of interviewing people who inspires me came up, she’s the first I thought of.
Groove started as a salsa and exotic dance school run by the previous owner. Renee, then a successful insurance agent, joined the exotic dance classes as she really missed dancing. In a short period of time, she became a part-time instructor at Groove. When Renee and a couple of other instructors first heard about pole dancing in Australia, they became intrigued. Isn’t pole dancing some kind of sleazy dance performed in clubs by strippers?
But they soon realised how beautiful pole dancing is. It can be sensual, but it is also a powerful fitness tool. At that time, there were no pole dancing schools in Singapore, so they convinced Groove’s owner to ask Jamilla Deville, a well-known Australian pole dancer, to teach them. Having dance background themselves, all three of them learnt quickly and started teaching pole classes.
“And Groove became the first dance studio in Singapore to offer pole classes.”
However, Groove’s owner started thinking about closing down Groove after she got pregnant.
“She approached me and asked if I was thinking of setting up my own studio and if I wanted to buy over from her. At that time, I’ve been an insurance agent for 11 years and was getting referrals from clients all the time. I guess they like me.” Renee said modestly.
“I did not have to make cold calls anymore. Life was pretty good as an agent. I did not have much time at all to decide if I wanted to buy over. By then, Groove was encountering alot of issues that the owner did not want to deal with and business had dwindled to almost nothing. But I wanted to continue teaching pole and spread it as much as possible in Singapore. So I took up on her offer.”
So in 2010, Renee became her own boss and decided to re-brand Groove as an all-ladies pole studio. But running Groove was a far-cry from her cushy agent days.
“I tried to continue as an agent, but I simply did not have the time. Those days were super tiring on my body. I had to teach every single weekday classes myself including one-on-one private classes during lunch time. I could not afford to hire an admin, so I had to pick up all calls and do all admin work myself. The other 2 instructors had full time jobs and could only teach during weekends. I wake up with my body aching every day.”
And having been through Renee’s classes myself, I can only imagine how much she had to push herself through then. She doesn’t just stand there and tell us to do our own warm ups. Her torturous 30-min “warm ups” were anything but easy. And she does it with us every single time while counting out loud. Renee is the reason why I’m finally able to do a front split =D
“And during class, you must have energy. You have to motivate people. It is not just about you being physically there in class, teaching this move or doing that exercise. It’s about making people happy, making them enjoy what they are doing and laugh. The energy! You need to transfer this energy to them.”
I can attest to that! Even if I was depressed or having a lousy day, I always leave Renee’s class feeling happy!
“It’s my school, my business. I have to make it or die. You just have to do it. Plus there’s simply no time to think how tired I was. Every day I wake up and think ok I have to do this and do that.”
And how far did Renee had to push herself?
“I found out that I was pregnant with my first child in October 2010. Luckily, by then I was training another instructor to take over the classes. I continued to teach classes till I was 6 months and trying to hide my pregnancy from everyone by wearing looser clothes.”
And after announcing her pregnancy, did she finally get some rest?
“I continued to teach classes verbally all the way till I gave birth. The instructor I was training demonstrated the moves while I explained the moves to my students. I did not want to abandon my students just because I was pregnant. Our teacher-student relationships are very close. I returned to Groove 1.5 months after giving birth to Axel and started teaching again after 4 months.”
Referring to my class, Renee said, “I started teaching you all 6 months after I gave birth to Alex (her 2nd son).”
Best Part About Setting Up Groove?
“Empowering girls. And see happy people. And to see people feeling good about themselves. It’s to see people who were not confident about themselves, and when they become more confident, they look better and they are stronger. That’s really the best part. That I have changed a lot of lives.”
“During that time, pole helped me. So that’s how I feel that pole will help other people as well. That’s why I want to help girls who do not have self confidence, girls who feel fat and unattractive. I want to help these people to be more confident, to be happier.”
“Sometimes on horrible days, I go into class pretending to be happy, but I leave feeling really happy. It’s the girls, the students. I pass them energy and they pass me back more energy and that makes me really glad teaching the class.”
Differentiating Groove from Competitors
With the growing popularity of pole dancing and the number of pole studios mushrooming, how is Groove differentiating itself from the rest?
“Groove is still known as the fitness based studio. We really focus on fundamentals. And we have a very long history. Nowadays, there are other schools who try to do something more fanciful, more attractive, but end up we hear more people with injuries.”
Sounding affronted, Renee continued, “So many people injured now! Versus back then when there were just 3 schools, now we have people injured here and there. Which is seriously not I want. I’m not here to teach pole and see people get injured. Groove has structured classes to really teach strong fundamentals. If you want to learn this move, fine. But show me you can do that move first. We want to condition the student to be strong enough to do something.”
Any regrets leaving the cushy insurance job and entering the stressful life of running Groove?
“No, no regrets. I’ve changed lives.” Renee smiles.
And knowing what you know now, would you start Groove all over again?
Looking hesitant, Renee replied, “I don’t know? It’s very hard now because of the competitors out there. Back then it was very different. I wanted to bring pole to the masses. But I’m happy to keep the school going if I can.”
An Exclusive All-Ladies Pole School
“Yes! I never wanted or intended to accept guys in my studio. By necessity, we need to wear just sports bra and pole shorts to class. It’s uncomfortable for many girls, especially the bigger girls and those who are not confident of their bodies to have guys in their class. And it would make them not dare to do what they would have dared to do without guys in class.”
Any advice for people thinking of starting their own business?
“Just give all you have. I gave up my condo and stayed with my parents for awhile. I gave up my S2000 (Renee is a huge sports car fan). I gave up everything just to focus on Groove.”
To give up a very comfortable lifestyle and essentially everything for her passion. And refusing to compromise her standards in order to attract more students who are only interested in the latest pole trick without concern for fundamentals.
That’s Renee for you.
104 Amoy Street
If you are an entrepreneur or know someone who would like to share about their journey, do let me know!