To say it started “small” wouldn’t be an understatement to describe the early years of Rachel Turnage’s Pointe of Dance studio. Even more accurate would be to say she came from what she knew.
This year, the lifelong dancer and studio owner, along with her dancing families and staff, are celebrating 20 years in the business. A business that started in 2002 in the two-car garage of his Burchell Hill home.
“I think I was so naive. I just loved to dance. There was no business plan,” she said of opening the business at the start of the year. Fall 2002. “I knew some things about business because I worked for my dad, so I understood some things about business.
She also knew a lot about passion and how a passion could translate into a successful business if paired with hard work.
Turnage herself started dancing at the age of three learning from the late Juline Frowein Schmitz.
“She started in her garage and I started dancing lessons in her garage when I was three,” the local studio owner explained.
Turnage continued to take classes with the Juline School of Dance in Modesto until college. She then started cheerleading and dancing with other valley dance programs. By the time she was at Oakdale High School, she knew it was a passion she hoped to pursue beyond graduation.
In her senior year, she won a scholarship through the Oakdale High School Dance Production Team to travel to Paris and dance in the Universal Dance Association Parade.
“So much fun,” she said, remembering the opportunity. “We stayed there for a week and we did two performances, one in Paris and one outside Paris. I was 17.”
After graduating from the OHS, she married Jason Turnage, had children, and began teaching at the Juline School of Dance.
“I wanted to learn from people who were obviously older than me and had been in the business for a lot longer,” she said of her return to teaching.
The opening of the studio in the garage was a much different time and space than what is now Pointe of Dance located in the Hi-Tech Center. In 2002, she had 15 dancers in total, while juggling three children at the same time. Now the studio occupies a large space with several rooms, a team of teachers and 150 registered dancers.
But implementing his passion in a company from the start has not always been easy. Eventually, husband Jason, founder of Apparel Graphics, had a little heart-to-heart with his wife.
“You can’t give dance lessons for free, which I probably would have,” the avid dancer said of the early years.
Spending their first two years in the garage and another two and a half years in a rented space on F Street, the young couple had identified a space they wanted to build their studio. Built by his father and his business partner, improvements to make it a studio depended on the Turnage family and their creativity. With thousands of dollars spent on flooring, air conditioning and interior construction, the studio owner shared that it was her husband’s wisdom that was a game-changer in her business.
“There was just a lot of money for it,” she said of setting up the studio, noting her husband Jason shared with her, “It can’t be a hobby. It has to be a business.
From there, his mindset changed.
“He helped me understand that you have to be profitable. Not only am I taking care of my own family, but I have staff who are also taking care of their families,” she explained. “Luckily it is, because if I hadn’t made a business out of it, I wouldn’t have been able to support my three children after he left. It would have just been kind of a waste.
“Gone” by the way. In 2008, Jason was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer; a diagnosis that completely caught the young couple off guard.
“He was diagnosed during the recital, which was really upsetting and I had no idea what was going to happen over the next few years,” Turnage said.
The young mother, wife and business owner shared that she was unprepared for everything that was to come. Doctor appointments, running two businesses as well as managing a young family. Offer kudos to his team who “really took matters into their own hands and helped.”
Turnage shared that the couple were also hopeful and shared moments of feeling as if they would overcome the battle of his diagnosis.
“For me, the studio became my space to not think about cancer. It was kind of my place to not think about those things for a while,” she shared of a journey that s would span almost four years.
“If he were to die, I’d have to raise three kids on this,” she said of her thoughts on earning the business during this time.
Her husband Jason succumbed to the disease in March 2012, he was then 39 years old.
“That’s why I love when women can figure things out, because you just don’t know,” she said of being independent and preparing for the future. “Having systems in place and a strong team has been instrumental in keeping the business going and being successful.”
The avid dancer shared that she also finds it important to network and partner with other studio owners as a valuable tool to learn and grow.
“I’m still learning. Business moves fast, all the time and you have to stay on top of that,” she said. “The biggest thing you can do is find a network of people who are in the same field as you and who do it very well. People with ideas, people with support, everything.
It was a network that proved incredibly useful in 2020 as studios had to learn to navigate during the pandemic.
“COVID has definitely impacted the business, the teaching and the dancers. Some of the two-year-olds had never been out of the house,” the owner shared, adding that now staff are looking to modify for the many students and families as they move into a more “normal” dance environment.
Since starting her business in 2002, Turnage has not only learned to adapt to the changes in her personal life through her loss, as well as the struggles of COVID, she has also moved to Reno and opened a second studio.
The move came, she said, because she felt she had accomplished what she needed in Oakdale and wanted a fresh start for her family.
“I basically built another Oakdale studio in Reno in five years,” she said of the years since her husband’s death. “We had an incredible clientele. We were doing very, very well, but I couldn’t get people back to work after COVID.
Eventually, Turnage is expected to close this studio, but the Oakdale studio continues to thrive and house a strong clientele.
“There’s no sign it’s going anywhere,” she shared of the local studio and what she’s most proud of 20 years later. “We’ve built a really solid foundation that it would be really hard for someone to mess that up.”
As for what motivates her most, two decades later, Turnage notes the network of strong women she’s found in the business, sharing that she’s always surrounded herself with those who do it best, always striving to grow as a person as well as a business owner.
And as for the studio and clientele, she shared, “Building those memories with those kids who still call me today or contact me today. Who are now married or have children. These are the best things. Relationships are important and the fact that we can do that through what we do is really special.
Ten years after her passing, the avid dancer shared that she felt her husband would be truly proud.
“To be honest, he was instrumental in why it lasted so long,” she concluded. “If he had never told me that it should run as a business and not as a hobby, it might never have worked as a business,” she said. “He’s my mentor.”