by Martin van den Hemel - Richmond Review Aug. 30, 2013
It was a leap of faith when Grand Ballroom owners Andy and Wendy Wong jumped into the dance studio business nearly 20 years ago. The couple, married in 1981, had dreamed of tossing their careers aside and opening a ballroom dance studio. At the time, he was a pharmacist, she was a seamstress, and together they had great chemistry, both on the dance floor and in life. For about a dozen years, they had competed as amateurs, and as that chapter of their lives came to an end, they wanted to embark on a new adventure.
Despite having no money, no business experience and no students, they opened their first studio on Mayfield Place in April of 1994, a spot they leased for a decade. But they had to turn elsewhere when the landlord had other plans. So they came to a fork in the road. Either give up the business, or build their own place. To the delight of the roughly 18,000 students they’ve taught over the years, they opted for the latter. Somehow, they managed to convince a bank to lend them the money to do something that nobody else had done.
“We were taking a big risk opening an 13,000-square-foot studio.”
And so they jumped in with both feet, purchasing the land and constructing their own studio in 2004. But they also developed an exit strategy, realizing they couldn’t teach forever, and as self-employed people, needed to set aside a nest egg for their retirement. Their plan, all along, was to build the studio in such a way that it could be easily converted for industrial use again for the next owner, Andy Wong told The Richmond Review this week. Looking back, Wong said it was fortunate they built in 2004, as within a year, land prices jumped. Had they waited, they wouldn’t have been able to build.
Andy Wong said it’s truly been a labour of love. Peek at their financial bottom-line, and it’s unlikely anybody else would be willing to do what they’ve done, making the sacrifices to regularly work around the clock.
“We were successful because we love what we do.”
It was in December of 2012 when Andy and Wendy decided to stick with their plan and wind down the business. Within a month of contacting a commercial realtor, a buyer came forward. When those negotiations fell apart, another company, Canadian Phytopharmaceuticals, stepped in. And so they broke the news to their students.
“The whole studio is in mourning. We’re not gong to see many of these people again. It’s bittersweet, very bittersweet. It’s like orphaning our student base.”
With between 4,000 and 5,000 students enrolled, about 1,000 of which he described as hardcore regulars, that’s a lot of mourning.
“My decision to retire was very, very tough.”
Andy Wong said he’s humbled by the fact some of his students have been around for nearly 20 years. “We’re just very humbled and thankful for the community’s support. I hope they continue dancing in some for or other and make it a lifelong enjoyment.”
Both Andy and Wendy are 57, and plan to take a good long break for the next year.
“My wife will certainly be busy with her chosen activity, which she doesn’t know yet.”
They’ll also continue to teach private lessons at other studios. The studio will close on Dec. 15, but the memories will last a lifetime.
Andy & Wendy’s achievements and the success of The Grand Ballroom have garnered them the highest respect and admiration from their colleagues not just in the local dance community, but across Canada and the United States. They have done something that no professional has ever done before and very likely never to be duplicated. But the qualities that really set them apart are not their skills as entrepreneurs, but their genuine devotion to their students, kindness and generosity, attention to details, and their passion for teaching. It is not a coincidence that their group classes were consistently the largest in Canada and their students stay loyal to them for many many years. The method of teaching a class is like watching a maestro conduct a symphony orchestra. Many have tried, but nobody does it better than Andy & Wendy.
The legacy of The Grand Ballroom and the unparalleled success of Andy & Wendy's group classes is now preserved in their library of 78 instructional DVDs which have garnered over 14 million views on YouTube and sold over 50,000 copies throughout the world.
“ What we did on the videos is to reproduce exactly what we teach in class. We are very proud to present the most complete and detailed instructional videos ever produced in Canada. It is a collection of 78 DVDs that represent the very best of The Grand Ballroom. We hope you enjoy them and find them invaluable to your dance training.”
- Andy & Wendy