Sheena Mason has loved dancing since she was 2½, but as a student, she didn’t envision one day becoming a teacher who would help bring up the next generation of dancers.
“I never thought I was a good teacher. I felt like I could never explain things properly,” said Mason, 39.
Mason began her dance studies at a small studio down the street from her childhood home in West Akron. Dance was a way to stay active as a kid with asthma.
“I found out what I love at a young age. I knew I liked dance but I didn’t know that I could change my career into more of an educational route,” said Mason, who founded her own dance studio, Sheena’s Platinum Movements, in West Akron in 2013.
Mason was back in Akron after college at Bowling Green State University when her grandmother, Josie Mason, was taking a tap class at the Northwest Family Recreation Center and learned that the Akron center needed a dance instructor. Mason’s grandmother encouraged her to apply and the 22-year-old, whose knees were bad and who knew she couldn’t perform anymore, landed the job.
She had studied dance in Miller South School for the Visual and Performing Arts’ inaugural class, at the Dance Institute at the University of Akron and in Firestone High School’s dance program, from which she graduated in 2000.
Mason, who quickly learned that she loved teaching dance, said some dancers learn best by touch, others by hearing and others by showing.
“With kids, you have to do all of them. You have to move their arm. You have to say it, you have to show it,” she said.
After 10 years teaching at the rec center, Mason decided she wanted to be her own boss. She didn’t have a business background but did months of research online about launching her own business. She also took entrepreneurship and financial-related classes at the library.
Mason had about 40 dance students when she opened her noncompetitive studio at her first West Market Street location behind CVS in September 2013. She ran a one-woman operation teaching ballet, jazz, tap, modern and musical theater.
With the help of a friend, she built a wall separating the studio area from the waiting room. But she wasn’t able to afford purchasing mirrors for several years.
She moved to her current location next to Gerber’s Akron Beauty School in 2018. Mason wanted to get away from the bars in the plaza near her previous studio after a late-night fight broke out and the perpetrators smashed into and broke her glass studio door.
Mason is certified with Youth Protection Advocates in Dance, an organization that places the emotional, physical and sexual safety of each dancer as top priority. Youth Protection Advocates in Dance stresses inclusion and kindness and focuses on protecting its students from inappropriate social media.
Her business is built on three tenets: nurture, empower and provide. Mason stresses nurturing the individual student and empowering students at every level of ability, while providing a safe atmosphere where kids can express themselves. That includes taking breaks for “girl chats” to discuss issues that she hears her students talking about.
“I just want to provide a cool, calm atmosphere. No judgment, no fear, no issues. …Just a humble place,” Mason said.
Over the years, she’s gained students primarily by word of mouth. Platinum Movements had grown to 90 students by last year, before the pandemic hit.
Mason’s studio shut down from March through August, and 40 students returned in August when she reopened.
“It feels like I took an eight-year step back. It feels unknown and scary,” Mason, who’s largely getting by with her savings, said of her number of students shrinking by more than half.
Now, she takes her students’ temperatures upon arrival and requires them to wear masks at all times. She sanitizes the doors and mops the floor after every class.
Mason still teaches 10 classes, with an average size that’s down to eight students. In August, Mason brought in another teacher for the first time: Elyse Morckel, who teaches musical theater dance.
With fewer than half of her students returning this school year, Mason’s income has taken a hit. The dance entrepreneur has received about $5,000 in funds through the federal Paycheck Protection Program and grants from the Greater Akron Chamber and Leadership Akron.
Mason also works to keep her tuition low, at $35 per class per month.
“I try to keep dance fees and costumes at a low cost. I want to provide dance education for everybody and I don’t want it to be a money thing and I have given scholarships,” she said.
Growing up, Mason found herself in numerous ballet classes where she was the only Black student, she said. Today, she loves and appreciates teaching a racially diverse group of students at her studio.
“Do I feel like a role model? I don’t know. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t,” she said of her role as a Black dance teacher.
“The African American dance community looks small in Akron but we’re out there,” she said.
Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or [email protected].
At a glance
Business: Sheena’s Platinum Movements
Owner: Sheena Mason
Where: 1915 W. Market St. No. 500, Akron
About the series
Throughout the month of February, the Beacon Journal is profiling Black-owned businesses in Summit County. Read more of these profiles at https://bit.ly/3jb0h1e. The Beacon Journal will continue to highlight minority-owned businesses as part of its ongoing regular coverage.
Have a suggestion for a business to feature? Email us at [email protected].