Shehnaaz Jagasia, Shehnaaz Dance Academy {Our NJ Mompreneur of the Week}

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As a girl growing up in Bombay, India,  Shehnaaz Jagasia, our NJ Mompreneur of the Week, danced and performed whenever she had the opportunity. Yet, as Shehnaaz grew and pursued her career as a geneticist, she put her passion for dance on the back burner and assumed she’d probably never return to it. But a turning point came when she was in between jobs, living in Jersey City, and answered an ad to teach dance. That decision was life-changing, and Shehnaaz eventually followed her passion to open her own studio, Shehnaaz Dance Academy, and has never looked back. Over a decade later, the business has grown exponentially, offering diverse classes and workshops, including dance for kids and adults, traditional Bollywood and Bharatnatyam dance classes, language classes, camps, corporate workshops, and more. We caught up with this Jersey City mom to Aaliya, 12, and Zoya, 8, to discover how she found her way back to dance, the exciting new business venture she just launched this summer, and a go-to Hudson River spot to spy incredible art installations. 

Shehnaaz Jagasia, Shehnaaz Dance Academy face

Shehnaaz Jagasia, the Founder and Creative Director of Shehnaaz Dance Academy and our NJ Mompreneur of the Week.

Please share a bit about your family and background. I grew up in Bombay, India, and moved to the United States in 2008, settling in Jersey City. Bombay is a city similar to New York, with lots of hustle and bustle, and Jersey City has those city vibes that I love, but it also has such beautiful places where you can chill and just be. The views of Manhattan are stunning. Jersey City is perfect for my husband, Rahul, and me to raise our two girls, Aaliya, 12, and Zoya, 8. 

Shehnaaz Jagasia, Shehnaaz Dance Academy family

Shehnaaz Jagasia, her husband Rahul, and daughters Aaliyah, 12, and Zoya, 8, enjoy the outdoors together.

You started your career as a geneticist. Why did you decide to pivot, and what led you to open up this particular business? I hold two Master’s degrees, one in Biochemistry from the University of Mumbai, India, and the other in Human Molecular Genetics from Imperial College London. I’ve held research positions in Stem Cell Banking, Blood Cancer Disorders, and Melanoma. When I got laid off due to the economy, I struggled to find another job in the field, and it was important for me to make an identity for myself. Because I’d always been very independent, not having an identity career-wise was very hard for me. I wanted to create something for myself. When I saw a poster in our building lobby looking for a dance instructor, I knew I could do it. I had a hunger to create something out of nothing, have a voice, and have a name and a place within the community. Also, I’ve always been passionate about dance and have always known I’d work very well with children—it feels so good to do my part to make them feel more confident. I loved this work from the start and found I was coming home without carrying any stress. After I had Aaliya, I took a job as a dance teacher at my children’s school and officially launched my business soon after without ever looking back. 

Shehnaaz Jagasia, Shehnaaz Dance Academy stage

Shehnaaz Jagasia, the Founder and Creative Director of Shehnaaz Dance Academy, front and center at a SDA performance.

Where did your love of dance come from? I’ve been dancing since I was 3 or 4 years old—it’s intrinsic to the Indian culture. I remember being very young and performing with friends on stage, which gave me such a high. I continued to dabble in dance classes throughout my younger years. I enjoyed the less structured dance classes as a teenager and continued dancing throughout my school and university years. I never thought I’d return to it, but it was such an aha moment when I switched.

How has Shehnaaz Dance Academy changed since you first launched it? For a few years, I ran SDA like a mom-and-pop shop, but by 2014, I realized I couldn’t do it single-handedly anymore and hired staff so it could grow. We’re ten years in, and we’re at many schools, have numerous studios in Jersey City, Hoboken, Millburn, Short Hills, Edgewater, and New York City, and continue to grow location-wise. And, though we started as a children’s dance school, we are so much more than that–we’ve added adult dance and fitness classes, language instruction, performing arts, birthday and event packages, school break camps, and more. In addition to being SDA’s creative director, I also focus on business development and expansion. 

Dance Academy and wonderworks

Shehnaaz has partnered with Apnavi Pareek, the owner of Buzy Bugs, a theme-based camp for kids business. Together, they’ve created WonderWorkz, a STEM, Sports, and Performing Arts Camp.

What’s next for SDA? I’m excited for SDA to partner with BuzyBugs for WonderWorkz Summer Camp, an Arts and Sports camp that blends performing and visual arts with sports-based activities. You can expect themed weekly activities in subjects like acting, music, STEM, various sports, and more. 

What is your favorite thing about owning your own business? It’s a compilation of a few things. Initially, I thought I’d have flexible hours, but when you own your own business, you’re always working. SDA started with me wanting to do something for myself and have an identity and financial independence, and once I had that, it became something much bigger. I couldn’t have gotten to where we are by myself—encouragement from family and friends played a significant role, and I was able to create a team of similar-minded women (and a few men) who also wanted to have an outlet and their own identity and collaborate with others to create something beautiful. The whole is always greater than the sum of its parts. 

team photo

Shehnaaz Jagasia, the Founder and Creative Director of Shehnaaz Dance Academy in a Shehnaaz Dance Academy’s Team Photo.

Does your family play a role in your business? My girls have their own extracurricular activities, but they enjoy being a big part of SDA when they can. Since my oldest turned 9, she’s been helping out and is involved in activities related to drawing and crafting—she’s very creative! My 8-year-old enrolls in all the different types of classes we have and loves to perform as much as possible. Both girls also help with everything, from setting up the rooms for our camps to cleaning up after the activities. They both have an excellent work ethic, which they’ve learned from a young age. And Rahul helps out as much as possible. I couldn’t have done this business without my husband—in that regard, it’s a family business. He’s accommodating, encouraging, and does whatever is needed to help things run smoothly. He’s cleaned stages, done ticketing for events—this year, we had 700 attendees—and troubleshoots when unexpected things happen. 

Shehnaaz Dance Academy perform

A Shehnaaz Dance Academy Holi Performance.

Are there any particular businesses and local spots you can recommend? Along with catering, Jam Cakery Events hosts fantastic Jersey City supper clubs once a month. It’s the perfect go-to with friends. The owner, Tere Fox, also makes the most amazing cakes–her carrot cake is the best. Exchange Place on the waterfront has the best views, and it’s my favorite place to take a walk or go for a jog—plus, incredible art installations are popping up there now that are so worth seeing. I also love Pedestrian Plaza in Jersey City, which has lovely bars and restaurants and is incredibly kid-friendly. Zeppelin Hall Beer Garden has a beautiful outdoor area with over 100 different beers on tap. It is my favorite place to do outdoor socials and team meetups. 

What’s your best practical advice for a mompreneur just starting? Don’t let the setbacks stop you. Use them as fuel to do better. Also, I think we created this beautiful business that I love so much because I take everything personally, but doing so can sometimes take an emotional and personal toll. It’s good to step away from the emotions of certain situations and remember that sometimes, it is just business. 

For more information on Shehnaaz Jagasia and Shehnaaz Dance Academy, please see their website, Facebook, and Instagram pages. 


 
 
     

About Author

Nancy Weinberg Simon lives in Summit, NJ with her husband and two children, a 20-year-old son and a 21-year-old daughter. She's a former beauty editor whose work has appeared in print and online in Family Circle, Ladies' Home Journal, Better Homes & Gardens, smartbeautyguide.com, zwivel.com, and beautyinthebag.com, among others. After living in NYC for almost 20 years, Nancy returned to the Garden State when it was time to raise her family. She loves reading everything and anything she can get her hands on, entertaining friends and family, traveling the world, scouring estate sales, and crafting jewelry.

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