Today we’d like to introduce you to Ashwin Raju.
Ashwin, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
Growing up in Southern India, I had never danced much, unlike what Bollywood movies would have you believe. There was very little breaking into dance routines at train stations that ever took place. After finishing up Engineering school, I moved to a different city in India (Bangalore), where I came across Salsa dancing while looking for things to do in a new city.
In 2010, my work as a Software Engineer brought me to Atlanta and I was able to pick up where I had left off. What had at first been just a few classes a month, soon became more serious. Before I knew it, I was dancing up to six nights a week and traveling with the dance team I was on, to different parts of the country and performing at Salsa festivals. I was also teaching classes several times a week. Around this time I met my future wife, Kristen, at a dance event.
In 2015, Kristen and I competed at the World Salsa Summit and placed first in our division (Amateur Salsa Cabaret), after which I switched to competing in the Sala solo division.
A lot of the decisions I make tend to happen when I am driving and let my mind wander. I was on my way to meet an old colleague, when the idea of starting my dance studio struck me as suddenly and as hard as anything has ever struck me before. So, I got to work on convincing my wife to join me in this crazy idea. I like making business plans, and so I did.
Within a couple of months, my wife and I made the bold decision to start our dance studio. We decided to keep our full-time jobs as a Software Developer and Forensic Scientist respectively. We opened our beautiful studio in Chamblee in June 2019 and have been growing rapidly ever since. We have already taught hundreds of new students and are continuing to grow. Our goal is to give a home away from home for all the beautiful souls we meet in the dance scene to come together, learn, and share their love for dance.
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Dance is a very difficult field to make a career out of. Moving from a different country, learning the culture, and a completely new skill while in my 20’s and 30’s has been very challenging. People raise an eyebrow when they learn that I am Indian teaching Latin Dance in the US. After they see me dancing, I get a lot of questions about where I am from. They expect me to be from a Latin country or from the Caribbean. No one in my family dances and most of them haven’t even heard of Salsa! So, it is sometimes hard to explain what I do when I visit family in India.
I also had no experience with running a business. No one in my family had ever run their own business and I never imagined running a business myself. Most of my peers started with teaching at other dance studios and then moved on to renting space at studios to teach. We instead decided to start our own dance studio, while holding on to our regular 9-to-5 jobs. We did this, not because we didn’t believe in our ability to run a dance studio full-time, but because we were equally passionate about our regular careers.
Balancing a full time job, running a dance studio and running dance teams at the same time has been immensely challenging. But the sense of satisfaction from running your own business, and touching lives makes it all worth it.
Please tell us about your business.
We are a Latin Dance Studio specializing in Salsa & Bachata instruction. We are known for being able to train people of all backgrounds and levels. We have been very successful in molding dancers who have never danced before and started with two left feet. We pride ourselves on being the place where people new to the city of Atlanta can come together and find their home away from home.
For any scene to thrive, their needs to be a nourishing environment with the right ingredients and atmosphere. So we aim to provide a platform where everyone can find inspiration, work together and grow together. We are in it for the fun and the fulfillment. We don’t want it to ever become a chore.
What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
There have been a few. Placing first at the World Salsa Summit in 2015 is still one of my proudest. Being an immigrant, living the American dream and re-inventing myself while inspiring others is another. I’m also proud of working with so many people and getting them to explore and discover a new side of themselves through dance.
I’m very proud that I’ve been able to start a business in a field I would not have dreamed of just a few years ago.
- Drop-in classes $20
- 10-Class cards $120
- Unlimited membership $85/month
- Address: 3308 Laventure Dr
Atlanta GA 30341
- Website: www.aatma-dance.com
- Phone: 4049844482
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/aatmadance/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/aatmadanceatlanta/?modal=admin_todo_tour