Dance enthusiast makes the leap to self-employment


Oct 11, 2007

special to the star


It was a huge leap for scientist Kerry O'Donoghue to trade in her lab coat at Cambridge University in England for a pair of dancing shoes in Vancouver.

O'Donoghue, who has a PhD in molecular biology, planned to move to Canada with her husband, but was dismayed to realize Vancouver was lacking her favourite form of entertainment.

"If I moved to Canada, there was no CEROC, and I was really, really going to miss it," O'Donoghue says.

CEROC – it's pronounced sir-rock and is derived from the French C'est le Roc (It's Rock) – is a popular dance in England, combining modern jive moves, salsa and a bit of rock 'n' roll. CEROC does not require a partner and is much easier to learn than the individual dancing it's drawn from, O'Donoghue says."I tried a bit of salsa and a bit of swing, and I just got bogged down by the technicalities of it."

Getting permanent residency in Canada took three years. O'Donoghue took the time to mull over starting a CEROC dance business.The dance is popular in many places, from Australia to Spain and Dubai, but not in Canada – yet.

"You tell people CEROC, and they think it's a type of toilet cleaner or something," O'Donoghue jokes.

She says she was naive when she started out in May 2006. She had taught some CEROC classes in England and she thought her new job in her own business would consist of mainly teaching people the dance moves.

But first she had to educate people on what CEROC was, and she found she spent more time promoting and explaining the dance than teaching.

She does not have a permanent studio, but rents halls in different neighbourhoods to help expand the reach of the business. Instead of having people sign up and commit for a certain length of time, she offers drop-in sessions. The 39-year-old says her career in science was useful as she made the change to being an entrepreneur.

"Running my own business, that was new to me. When you're working in the lab, you're left on your own to do your own projects," she says, and those lessons in self-discipline are helpful now that she spends days alone, organizing and doing paperwork.

"Being home, just me and the dog, it's a big adjustment," O'Donoghue says.

She has had some help getting started. CEROC is a franchise and O'Donoghue says the network of teachers and enthusiasts is invaluable. The company has a private computer network where they can share information.

"Franchise owners get to log on and get their business manuals and any news. It keeps everyone on the same page."

The dance is always changing, with 50 to 100 new moves a year, so the network also helps make sure everyone is keeping up. O'Donoghue holds the rights to further sub-franchising in Canada. A British couple plans to open a CEROC business in Calgary. "Toronto will be our next market. I have a feeling it will be way more successful in Toronto," she says, pointing to the city's cultural diversity. O'Donoghue says she gets a lot of support by working within the franchise structure. It helps a great deal, as well, that her engineer husband, Alex, has a steady income to keep the family going while her business gets started.

Having a franchise provides a lot of support to O'Donoghue, as well as a steady income from her husband Alex, an engineer.

"I have a massive safety net in Alex," she says."I think the brave people are the people who take out massive business loans and start. I don't know if I would have done it in a brand new country."

She can always go back to her career in science, but she loves talking to people and dancing. With two new teachers hired and the subfranchise on the way, her lab coat may stay in the closet indefinitely.

"I was at a point where I was confident enough that I could say, `Okay, let's try something different.'"