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Veteran dancer takes lessons to the edge
Chris Bornes started Chris' Dance School in 1978. It later developed into CDS The Edge Performing Arts Center at 1645 Montana Ave.

In 30 years of running a dance school, Chris Bornes has seen it all.

A studio space she was renting burned twice, the second time in the middle of the school's dance season. And during the early 1980s, when the local economy took a big dip, it was only the wealthy who could afford luxuries like dance lessons for their kids.

It was during those lean years she developed a soft spot for the single mothers who sacrifice so much to keep their children in dance school.

"We at CDS believe there is a Gershwin, Picasso, Ailey or Stanislavski within us all," said Bornes, who runs CDS The Edge Performing Arts Center at 1645 Montana Ave. in Billings.

"Our duty as educators is to provide an environment that allows a student to learn, grow and create. We are dedicated to the total artist," she said.

The school can be reached at 652-3539. Here's what else Bornes said about starting a business and the struggles and rewards of sticking with it through three decades and beyond:

What is the nature of the business?

Chris' Dance School was established in 1978 and prides itself on great dance training in quality surroundings. With a qualified staff that includes professionals, the utmost care and thought is processed by our team to establish the best curriculum for each level of dancer. Our goal is to provide dancers with all the tools and training they will need whether dancing for recreation or looking forward to a career in the arts.

Why did you start this business?

When you start training as a youngster in the arts, you develop such a love for all forms. I started dancing young, and it was just as important at home as my math and science grades.

I danced through all my schooling, and then I felt that there was a lack of contemporary training and forms of dance in Billings. So on a shoestring budget and a prayer, we opened our doors.

Where did startup funding come from?

When the doors of Chris' Dance School first opened, all funding was by my husband and student income. The first expansion paid for itself in growth, but as times changed, I borrowed from family for another expansion and a home equity loan for the last expansion.

How long have you been in business?

Chris' Dance School opened in the Fall of 1978!

What have been the biggest challenges in running the business?

One of the greatest challenges has been getting dancers to be as respected as athletes and artists. The regimen of both mental and physical dedication is so underrated for dancers, yet the demands are equal to any athlete. Plus, once all skills are in place, it has to be performed to music perfectly. Even in theater, dance is "low man." The actors are chosen first, then singers, then dancers. Yet it is the production numbers that bring the excitement and energy to any theatrical show.

Personal challenges have been, like for any woman in business, balancing family and work. Many times, family priorities trump business needs. It has cost me, but I wouldn't change it for anything.

Some other great challenges through the years have been: 1. Office fires. The studio space we rented burned not once but twice, with the second fire closing the building for repairs when we were mid-season. 2. The economy in the 1980s, when folks were leaving Montana in droves to survive and we lost our whole middle class. The students who kept dancing during that time were those who were wealthy and could afford the luxury of training. 3. Year-end venues for final performances. It is always a challenge to find an accommodating venue. Spring is busy, and scheduling an appropriate venue at an affordable price that can accommodate a huge cast in a positive manner has been a yearly challenge.

What was done to overcome those challenges?

Education. As we educate dancers and parents, they educate others. As parents begin to respect and support their dancers at home, we see real results at the studio.

Overcoming situational challenges occurs in any business all the time. Surrounding yourself with qualified professionals, loyal clientele, and supportive friends and family who offer new ideas and inspiration can fix just about any problem. It is important to keep your eyes and ears open, the next great idea is just around the corner, and it may not be mine.

What is being done to expand the business?

Good teachers, good work, good shows.

It is also true that in our last expansion, we stretched as far as we could. We moved downtown to be in the arts district. We have had artists and photographers display their work in our studio for the last 10 years. Now that we have an 8,000-square-foot facility, we have immense areas of wall space for showings. We also wanted to be located in the center of town to accommodate all our supporters.

Our entire faculty is also on board for giving back to our community. We are involved in Relay 4 Life, we choreographed the Miss Montana Pageant for 20 years, we were involved in Special Olympics, and we will be working with Senior High on establishing a new dance team.

Our Web site,, has been a real benefit to us. We send information home, but it is also on the Web for dancers and parents to reference. We include faculty biographies and picture and video galleries, so it is fun for students and informative for parents and studio shoppers. All price and policy information is online, so we can be totally checked out before anyone even calls the studio.

What have been your best business decisions?

I think that finding long-term, qualified employees has been key. Taking the time and investing and educating an employee is imperative. Good dancers come and go. But to find a good dancer who can teach is invaluable.

Moving and expanding every five to eight years has also been good. Every move generates excitement, energy and grand openings.

What has been your worst business mistake?

If I would have to pick a "worst" it could be a name change. We were going to keep up with the times. I operated as Chris' Dance School for years, and then when we changed to CDS (to keep the original) The Edge (because we moved the studio to Elysian Road on the edge of town) Performing Arts Center (we had high hopes of expanding into acting and singing and dancing). The name change and such high goals as a sole proprietor set the standard higher than I could achieve alone.

What advice do you have for someone running a business?

Listen! Continue to educate. Love what you do. Don't be afraid of change. Take that chance. Use technology.

How many workers do you have?

Twelve dedicated employees.

What's your five-year plan for the business?

At this point, I need to consider going nonprofit. As an established business, I need to realize that this is the next logical step for a business in the arts. The business can continue to grow, we can establish a company of dancers for Montana, and the business can keep moving ahead years after I am gone!

What question would ask other entrepreneurs?

Was it worth it for you?

If you weren't doing what you are now, what would be your dream job?

Producing. This business is as fun as it is hard work. After this many years and with my experience, I can lay out shows, pick talent and put it all together well. I guess I would like to be Simon Cowell — except not so mean!

"Entrepreneurs" appears regularly in the WorkWeek section. The feature will help readers become familiar with new businesses, as well as educate others in the challenges of starting a business. If you have been in business for at least one year and would like to tell your story, please contact: Chris Jorgensen

Billings Gazette

401 N. Broadway

Billings, MT, 59101

657-1311, office

657-1208, fax