Ali Phillips is the founder of Bust A Move Dance (BAMD) – a dance program for teens and young adults with disabilities. A dancer since the age of four, she has been teaching dance since leaving high school, and in 2009 began her social business by leveraging her skills in dance to create an inclusive dance troop for teens and young adults with special needs. Ali has successfully blended her passion for dance, her skills in performing and her awareness of inclusive communities to build a fulfilling and inspiring career as a dance teacher.
Ali believes that everybody on earth can dance whether they’re trained or not. For this reason she supports those who aren’t traditionally considered ‘talented dancers’ by giving them a chance to explore their potential as movers, story tellers, performers, team mates and athletes. Ali takes her skills seriously and has recently completed a bachelor of fine arts majoring in Dance and a Graduate Diploma of Secondary Education at the Queensland University of Technology.
Alongside her studies Ali teaches in a number of locations around Brisbane, including local dance schools, high schools and community centres. She has led Bust A Move Dance (BAMD) through many performances including charity event days, G20 celebrations, Community Open Days and commercial dance competitions. Bust A Move Dance’s most significant performance to date has been the Special Olympics Asia Pacific Games Opening Ceremony in front of 40,000 people and next year Ali will be taking her troop to perform at the Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles. Her main purpose for running the classes are to encourage young people with disabilities to become independent, resilient and creative adults living life with a purpose, as well increasing skills of team work, self efficacy and social emotional skill building.
I have an amazing team behind me, supporting, challenging and contributing to my ideas. I’m also never afraid to ask for help. I’m confident enough to ask every person I know, to ask every person they know to help us!
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Tell us a little bit about your idea and what made you decide to take the plunge and make it happen?
BAMD was actually not my idea. In fact growing up I was never personally affected by disability nor did I know more than one person who actually had a disability. In 2007 my sister started her own Non profit called SPACE (a community centre that has an interest in special needs) and I volunteered there during my last year of high school. I felt like I had found a really caring and safe community and getting to know the students’ opened my eyes immensely. In my first year of University, my sister asked me if I wanted to start a dance class for those who attended SPACE. I thought it was a pretty cool idea and thought I’d give it a go – never for a second thinking it would go further than a community dance class.
However, once I took my first lesson and the parents started telling me how much they appreciated it and that it was the only thing of its kind, I decided to pursue BAMD – make it my focus and really channel all my energy into it. As much as my teaching skills were improving, my independence and leadership skills were being challenged and I felt like I had to grow up super fast, I just had the best time with the young people that I knew it was what I wanted to do, forever!
Please explain your business model
BAMD’s greatest asset is its simplicity. It is a fee for service business model whereby students pay for dance lessons (upfront before each 10-week term).
What are you working on right now and what are you most excited about in the next three months?
The next 3 months are our quietest because it’s school holidays – meaning classes stop. However the most exciting project we’re working on, and the most exciting project we’ve EVER worked towards – is performing at the Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles next July.
Last November, BAMD were given an opportunity to perform at the Special Olympics Asia Pacific Games in Newcastle and were even asked to light the cauldron to open the entire games. It was an incredible experience and afterwards I made it a goal of mine to take as many dancers, volunteers, parents, community members to LA to perform on the world stage. After 6 months of emailing (pestering) the organisers in LA they finally came back to us last week with a YES!
This is our next project – organising PR, marketing, sponsorship and everything in between to take as many people as we can to experience this once in a life time opportunity!
How do you make ideas happen?
I just do! There’s no looking back once there’s an idea… BUT in terms of the actual ‘making’ part – I have an amazing team behind me, supporting, challenging and contributing to my ideas. I’m also never afraid to ask for help. I’m confident enough to ask every person I know, to ask every person they know to help us! I’m also known for just taking the plunge, which sometimes backfires.. But I’m really happy to put absolutely everything on the line without any planning.
What does your typical day look like?
There is no typical day in my life. I do up to 3 to 4 things in one day, in 3 to 4 different locations. I get bored easily and therefore need to continuously move around and be around different people! I do without a doubt however take a dance class each day. Whether it’s teaching the class or taking it, I always need to be dancing at some point every day!
What challenges have you faced when starting or growing a business/organisation in Australia?
The greatest challenge we’ve faced is asking for financial support when we’re a business making money. Unfortunately even though we’re community-based and creating real social change, when organisations know we can successfully support ourselves, they’re less inclined to support us financially.
Other than that, because our greatest asset is the simplicity of our business model, the actual growth of the business has been easy – the idea is fun, the classes are cheap and accessible, our teachers are professional and it’s the only one of it’s kind in Australia – so we’re not in competition with anyone else!
What role do you think business can play in affecting social change?
I think that by running a business the sustainability is greater and therefore there is more chance to scale and affect more people. For example – the money BAMD makes allows us to say yes to more performance opportunities, and so giving more advertising to our classes, which is resulting in more young people with disabilities attending our classes.
Are there opportunities for people to get involved with your idea (e.g. are you looking for funding, interns, marketing help)?
All of the above! In our venture to LA next year to perform at the World Special Olympic Games we are really interested in recruiting people to join our team! We are looking for anyone with marketing, PR, events, management, business skills to help out!!
We are also, always recruiting volunteers to participate in our BAMD classes during the week! We can never have too many people getting to know the students, encouraging and supporting them.
What’s your favourite bar/café/restaurant?
Bar – Cobbler in West End.
Restaurant – Sake at Eagle Street Peir / Chur Burger in the Valley / Alfredo’s in the valley.