Jade Duffy's Bodyelectricdance studio has been so successful there is a waiting list for classes and tickets sell quickly for performances. Photo: Alison Shirley
Before the first Bodyelectricdance Studios live show in 2007, Jade Duffy warned her performers not to be too psyched out if they were dancing to a small audience.
“I had to give them a talk saying, 'Don't be disappointed - we'll be lucky to have between 10 and 50 people',” says Duffy, who runs the business and choreographs the show.
“But then we heard this crowd getting louder and louder and there were so many people crowded in there that people got turned away. We were just really caught by surprise.”
After this first show, Duffy continued to seek larger and larger venues, and the shows just kept on selling out - including more than 1600 tickets sold for Melbourne's Dallas Brooks Hall and later at Palace nightclub.
In five years the dance school has built an underground cult following in Melbourne, with waiting lists for classes and hype around the shows. And their audience continues to expand.
The Bodyelectricdance performers recently filmed a dance for an episode of Channel Ten's popular drama Offspring, they've performed at the Next Wave Festival and as part of the National Gallery of Victoria's Art After Dark season.
“I believe most people want to dance and have an inner dancer inside them and that's really spurred people on,” says Duffy, 36, explaining her studio's meteoric growth and the enthusiasm of the audience.
Duffy studied dance at the Victorian College of the Arts, and started her jazz dance school after being involved in a short film chronicling the early days of 'flash mobs', a spontaneous public dance. Most of the participants in the film were professionals in other fields and wanted to continue to dance for fun.
“Really it started from there and a lot of people wanted to join in. I started a class with 20, then a couple of weeks later I had to start a second class because people were bringing their friends along,” she says.
The following year she was running four 90-minute classes, the year after she had six. And now she is running nine classes for about 200 students in ages spanning 25 to 50.
“A lot of students come from professional backgrounds: there's a lot of architects, a lot of lawyers, a lot of jewellers and fashion designers,” she says.
“The level we teach is beginner to intermediate. Most students are either non-dancers or you find a lot of them have danced when they were kids or teenagers and they're revisiting that.”
Duffy choreographs a different dance for each of her classes with a shared theme for all of them. Her students then create their own costumes for the show.
“We start a costume mood board for each group and they have stitch-and-bitch sessions or 'crafternoons' and get together and make the costumes or buy things from the internet," she says.
"It's a big team effort and it's very competitive - they know what the good costumes were for the previous event so they're always trying to beat that.”
The dance school holds two live shows a year, and the end-of-year show is also a dance-off competition, judged by celebrity judges.
Duffy attributes the success of her school to finding the right balance between fun and discipline for her students.
“When I was training as a dancer a lot of the fun was stripped away from it because it was such serious training and everything had to be perfect … and a lot of people lost passion for it,” she says.
“For my classes, I wanted to inspire people with steps and how they moved to the music and how they engage with the music - really enjoying it and really feeling like it's a release.
"At the same time I also like to have my dancers work really hard to get to that point - there's got to be a lot of sweat and a lot of energy and get fitter and do more complicated steps.”
Duffy attributes some of her school's success to the popularity of the television program So You Think You Can Dance, which sparked a dance renaissance, and says social media has also had a huge impact.
“People like to tell all their friends about the shows - they use all their contacts on Facebook and times that by 200 and it's huge - it's amazing what social networking has done and how quickly it can build up the hype,” she says.
Duffy is happy with the size of her dance studio and isn't planning on adding new adult classes, but her sights are set large to keep building the audience.
“I'd love to apply for funding to get a mini-tour happening for Bodyelectricdance for an interstate tour to Adelaide festival or something like that. Or to go to MONA (in Tasmania) with them, that would be the dream,” she says.