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Becoming a dance entrepreneur: Jessica Marino’s JAMdancer.com

Jessica Marino. Photo by Kitoko Chargois, courtesy of STAYCEE PEARL dance project.
Jessica Marino. Photo by Kitoko Chargois, courtesy of STAYCEE PEARL dance project.

Devoting time and energy to dance involves a good deal of risk. Being an entrepreneur involves a good deal of risk. Putting them together can feel downright frightening. Yet dance entrepreneurs such as Jessica Marino, founder of JAMdancer.com, is one of those who’ve bravely taken the plunge into this area. The site offers various dance-related resources – management services, booking services, a dance retail area and dance calendars – in one convenient online location. Here, Dance Informa speaks with Marino about the development of the site, how she hopes to see it grow and how you – yes, you – can be a dance entrepreneur, too!

Jessica Marino. Photo by Kitoko Chargois, courtesy of STAYCEE PEARL dance project.

Jessica Marino. Photo by Kitoko Chargois, courtesy of STAYCEE PEARL dance project.

JAMdancer.com grew from a synchronicity of events. Marino was working for River City Artist Management that disbanded in 2015. She found herself with time and a need to generate additional income. She was also pregnant, and thus had taken time off from dancing. “I just had to make a salary to help provide for my family,” she explains. Her friends were asking her for help with booking and project management, and she saw an opportunity for another fulfilling, income-generating endeavor in dance. She converted her personal artist site, with JAM as her performer alias, to one focused on booking and management. Marino says that growing up with two parents who each had their own businesses also “absolutely shaped my ideas how I could also take that path.” Then began a period of true change, re-prioritization and growth.

The site has now been running for a little over year, with five main components. JAMpress Management offers artist management services. JAMstation is a video blog of YouTube playlists created to feature projects of JAMpress artists and highlight dance-centric conversations. The JAMshop is a retail hub for dancewear and other dance-related products (now an affiliate of Amazon). There are also calendars which share classes, auditions, workshops, performances and more in the Pittsburgh and Lehigh Valley areas. She saw a significant need for such a resource, where dancers can conveniently learn about current and future happenings in smaller metro areas. At the time, the main ways to find out about such goings-on was through word of mouth, email listings and promotional materials, which can be scattered, varied and not always dependable. JAMdancer.com is also Marino’s professional artist and performer page, featuring updates and promotions.

Jessica Marino. Photo by Kitoko Chargois, courtesy of STAYCEE PEARL dance project.

Jessica Marino. Photo by Kitoko Chargois, courtesy of STAYCEE PEARL dance project.

Marino also has big ideas for where she’d like to see these site areas grow. With JAMShop, for instance, she’s interested in growing partnerships with small business vendors and featuring their products on the site. With the dance calendar, she would love to have multiple rural, suburban and smaller metropolitan areas across the country represented. “I have to expand our team before that can happen,” says Marino, with more of that sobering – but refreshing – realism. Marino describes her current team as “an efficient team of five women – all dancers who double in administrative interests.”

Also growing on the site is a partner platform called TRACKS // Where will dance take you? TRACKS // is a grass roots touring initiative founded by Marino and project partner Kathleen Nasti. The program provides selected artists a path for growth outside of home cities, including NYC, Boston and Lehigh Valley. JAMpress Management currently works with clientele based in these areas, although Marino plans to continue growing this reach nationally. Advertising, such as on the Movers & Shapers: A Dance Podcast, is part of this growth effort. She also defined a need to clarify the JAMdancer.com brand so that it’s immediately clear what the site offers. Marino recognizes additional dance industry needs that may fit into this brand at some point, such as dance style-specific playlists for dance educators and a site to help find freelance musicians.

Dance/NYC Symposium 2018. Photo by Christopher Duggan, courtesy of Dance/NYC Symposium 2018.

Dance/NYC Symposium 2018. Photo by Christopher Duggan, courtesy of Dance/NYC Symposium 2018.

For anyone interested in taking this path of dance entrepreneurship, she advises being truly committed to your idea and yourself as the driver of the idea. Understand your strengths and growth areas, and build a team who can help you with the work associated with the latter. If you’re not great with business and accounting, for instance, bring an accountant and business consultant on board. “You only need to be an expert in your idea,” Marino asserts. “Find people who are experts in the skills needed, who believe in your idea and align with your values,” she adds. She also emphasizes the need for clear communication within a team, communication fueled by honesty and integrity. You might have to tell people things they don’t want to hear, but do it with empathy and respect for them and their time, she encourages.  

Marino also emphasizes the need for setting milestone goals, and clear prioritizing to help achieve these goals. Another driver of achieving goals is having deep knowledge about the field and the market in which you’re entering – both the demand (customer/clientele) and supply (competitors) side. Concerning competitors, Marino believes that there’s value in learning from their models, and that it’s ethical to do so – so long as you’re creating something truly original. She also asserts that it’s okay to fail. “There are people who have started multiple businesses, and they’re not all successful,” she says. “Sometimes, you just have to recognize the need to let go.” Ultimately, when it comes to a business, the guiding question is how are you going to scale and monetize – and therefore be sustainable as an enterprise?

Jessica Marino. Photo by Abby Gleason, courtesy of Abby Gleason Photography & Design.

Jessica Marino. Photo by Abby Gleason, courtesy of Abby Gleason Photography & Design.

That principle is to be blended with a larger vision and mission, as well as a guiding moral compass, to achieve success. Yet how do we define “success”? For Marino, it’s sustainability, which allows your enterprise to keep moving forward. Success can have a very personal definition. Marino describes how being someone with a entrepreneurial vision can be lonely. For her, she is most energized in a team atmosphere. It’s different for others who thrive working alone, she adds. Just as is knowing your idea and the market in which it will exist, knowing yourself is crucial. “I love dance, I love to dance, and this work is how I can support myself as well as the field,” Marino says. Our visions, and what they can offer our field, are unique. That’s one of the things that has made the dance world vibrant and multi-faceted. What will be your part of that?          

Tip: Marino’s favorite free online resources right now are Trello, Streak, and Movers & Shapers: A Dance Podcast.

For more information on JAMdancer.com and the services Jessica Marino provides, head to www.jamdancer.com.

By Kathryn Boland of Dance Informa.

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