Businesses built on passion - Haven't Stopped Dancing Yet
I first spotted Nikki Spencer across the room at the F:entrepreneur #ialso100 2020 breakfast at the House of Lords to celebrate International Women's Day. It wasn't only Nikki's outfit that sparkled, she had an amazing positive energy. I'm really pleased Nikki agreed to share her Haven't Stopped Dancing Yet journey on our blog, she is totally inspiring and I am grateful for her honesty about the impacts of COVID-19 on her business.
If you like what you read why not join the Disco Bingo Party on Friday 26 June from 8pm - 10.30pm. It's a joint Disco Bingo Party with Enjoy Social Isolation who organise fabulous virtual musical bingo nights. There’ll be bingo and lots of dancing!
Haven't Stopped Dancing Yet - Nikki Spencer, Director of D.I.S.C.O
Tell us a little bit about your business.
Haven’t Stopped Dancing Yet - as recommended by everyone from Time Out & BBC Radio 4 to Stella magazine - put on feel good 70s and 80s disco nights for grown-ups in London and the south east. We also do private parties and corporate events and festivals. Since Covid-19 hit we have started virtual disco dance classes every Saturday lunchtime at 12.30pm and Wednesday evening at 6.30pm( £6 per person, book via the website) and we also offer disco birthday parties via Zoom.
What inspired you to set up your business?
I started Haven’t Stopped Dancing Yet when I was in my 40s as I wanted to be able to go dancing, but didn’t want to feel like I was gate-crashing one of my teenager daughters’ parties.
I tried to go out clubbing with my friend Alison in Soho one night but we didn’t even make it through the door. The long queue and possible humiliation of being turned away for being too old was too much to bear and we ended up back home dancing around my kitchen table - which was fun, but not quite what we had in mind.
I just kept thinking “we can still dance, so why shouldn’t we still dance” and in the absence of anywhere to go, I decided to start my own events for people like me. One night I was listening to the radio and the 1979 track Haven’t Stopped Dancing Yet by Gonzales came on & that was my “eureka” moment. I had a name and now I just needed to make it happen.
I found a beautiful venue (the upstairs ballroom at the Trafalgar Tavern in Greenwich) near where I live in south east London and borrowed some money from my brother to pay the deposit.
I persuaded a friend of a friend to DJ, and another friend who is a designer created some posters and flyers. I also asked my daughters’ street dance teacher, Michelle, to lead flash-mob style dance “line-ups” to classic tunes, such as Car Wash by Rose Royce and of course our theme tune Haven’t Stopped Dancing Yet, at the start so there was never an intimidating empty dance floor.
The local paper did a great article about us which really helped get the word out and over 200 people came to our first event and left clamouring for more.
Since then we have put on over 100 events at a variety of venues across London and the south east and just before lockdown we celebrated our 10th birthday with a big party back at the Trafalgar Tavern where it all started.
What gave you the final nudge/ push to go for it?
I talked about it for so long without actually doing anything that it got to be a bit embarrassing! Friends would say “so when are is it happening?” so that definitely helped spur me into action, and once I did set a date they were really supportive and all bought tickets. My only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner.
It's very scary trying something new - and I think that was what was holding me back - but if you don’t give it a go you will never know if it will work.
What has been your biggest challenge to date?
It has to be Covid-19. There have been lots of challenges along the way - like the night we had 700 people coming to an event and there was a burst water main and no water at the venue which thankfully was fixed just in time - but this crisis has had such a huge impact on us.
When lockdown happened we were looking forward to our busiest year ever. Venues were now approaching us to bring our nights to them and we had a packed programme of events lined up for the rest of 2020 as well as private parties. Everything stopped overnight and it was very hard to stay positive, especially as it became clear that there was going to be little to no government support for small limited companies like us.
To be honest I struggled with it all and it took me a few weeks to realise that now more than ever people needed the feel good vibes that Haven’t Stopped Dancing Yet brings. I started by just sharing lots of positive stuff on our social media channels and then I began exploring what we might be able to do online.
As my daughters will tell you I am not great with tech, and like so many people I had never heard of Zoom before all this, but I decided to give it a go. One of the good things to come out of this crisis is how so many small business owners have helped and supported each other and I’d like to give a shout out to www.littlefolknurseryrhymes.com www.glamavan.com and www.brockleynordicwalking.com who gave me loads of advice about going virtual.
I then worked together with one of our dancers, Andrea Rose, who was a dancer with Kylie Minogue back in the day, to create a disco dance class format that would work on Zoom and the response has been wonderful, with the Saturday classes selling out. I host the classes and every week Andrea Rose teaches everyone a different 70s or 80s routine like Footloose or I Want to Dance with Somebody, plus we do some freestyle dancing as a warm up and warm down.
We are also offering private parties via Zoom. I think there is bit of Zoom fatigue now so just an online drink with your mates doesn’t feel that special but we rock up and get everyone up and dancing and turn it into a proper party.
What’s great about doing things online is that people can join us from wherever they are in the country or the world. We have regulars who join us from Scotland and Ireland, and we have even had people from Hong Kong, plus you can do it on your own or can dance with your kids or whole family.
It has been a steep learning curve and you just have to work with whatever you have got. I’ve turned my living room into my disco space with sparkly curtains over the mirror and an ironing board for my laptop - who knew an ironing board would come in so handy in lockdown!
Describe your greatest success/ the thing you are most proud of?
It is so hard to choose as there have been so many great moments. First up, it has been amazing to take HSDY to places I would never ever expected.
We did a big Xmas party for EE at BAFTA on Piccadilly after their Brand and Marketing Director saw us doing a set at a local festival, and I was so excited when were asked to put on a series of retro dance classes on the Grand Terrace at St Pancras Station, as it’s a place I have always loved. Last summer we were booked to do three nights of pre-Spice Girls 90s pop parties for over two thousand people each night at Boxpark Wembley which was all a bit mid blowing. I got to say “hello Wembley” on stage!
I studied politics at university and I love that what has taken me to Westminster and the corridors of power is actually disco! A few years ago I was invited to a Small Business Saturday reception in Downing Street and this year I was chosen as one small business campaign, f:Entrepreneur’s #ialso100, a collection female entrepreneurs from around the UK who were invited to the House of Lords on International Women’s Day.
My biggest success though is that HSDY has brought smiles to people’s faces. At some point during every event I try and stop for a moment at the back of the room and watch everyone having fun.
It’s the same with the online classes. Watching people enjoying themselves is such a boost and I can’t help but grin from ear to ear.
Dancing just makes us feel so good and it’s great that while people are dancing their socks off, we are raising a bit for charity too. My mum had cancer when I was in my 20s and I give 10% of profits from the nights to Cancer Research UK. We decided to keep doing this during lockdown and we currently give £1 for each class to CRUK.
What motivates you to keep forging ahead with your business?
What keeps me going is all the people that party with us, and all the wonderful comments we get and the stories that they share.
There’s the couple who moved in together after meeting on the dance floor at HSDY, the group of women who come to party in memory of their best friend who dies of cancer, the widow in her 40s who says she got her groove back after regularly coming to the nights, and we’ve celebrated hundreds of birthdays and hen and stag dos and school reunions.
Dancing is so good for us both physically and mentally and we get so many lovely messages about how much joy our events bring to people. One person said recently that HSDY should be on the NHS.
Dancing is so good at lifting our spirits, particularly in lockdown. Some of the people who join us at our virtual classes are living on their own and to dance with others makes such a difference to their day. We also get families in different parts of the country coming together to dance, and that includes my youngest daughter, Flo, who often boogies with us from Brighton where she now lives and works. Dancing together just makes it all better somehow.
As to the future. It is not going to be easy. What we can earn online is just a fraction of our income from real life events and I have no idea when we will be able to start these again. I trained as a journalist and whilst that industry is not in great shape either I have managed to get some temporary freelance writing work to help pay the bills, but I am not sure how long this will last for. All my crew are freelance and luckily most of them have other jobs that are still paying them for now, but it is so hard for everyone in the events industry.
I will do my damndest to keep positive and keep dancing though!
Thank you so much to Nikki for sharing her story with us here at Cat's Pajamas. We always feel inspired hearing about the journeys of others.
If you would like to find out more about Haven't Stopped Dancing Yet you can visit:
Instagram - @haventstoppeddancingyet
Facebook - @haventstoppeddancingyet
Twitter - @H_S_D_Y