Australian ballerina shares the joy and power of dance
The road to being a successful female entrepreneur – be it a restaurant owner, a designer, a gallery owner or a retailer – can be bumpy. In this series, "She Power," we talk to women from different countries and different backgrounds about their experiences and stories of setting up businesses in Shanghai. One thing these amazing women all have in common – they all yearn to build a brand that does good, that gives purpose and fulfillment, and even a palpable sense of joy.
Sydney-born Amy Fabris-Shi toured the world as a ballerina and after settling in Shanghai became a magazine editor and travel writer. She dusted off her dancing shoes again and founded Zy Dance in 2015 together with her Shanghainese husband.
Q: Before we talk about Zy Dance Studio, would you please introduce yourself?
I was born in Sydney and, like many little girls, dreamed of becoming a ballerina. I trained at the Australian Ballet School and went on to dance in ballet companies in Singapore and Germany, and met my Shanghainese husband who was a fellow dancer. After retiring from the stage, we moved to Shanghai to explore new adventures and I became a magazine editor and travel writer. I co-founded my first company, Scribes of the Orient, in 2007 and we continue to work with luxury hotels, branding agencies and media publications around the world.
Q: Why, after living in Shanghai for a few years, did you decide to strike out on your own to build up a dance studio?
We had no intention to run a studio, but my husband – who was teaching at the Shanghai Dance School at the time – was offered the opportunity and we agreed to give it a go. I was busy flying around Asia as a travel editor so, initially, I was mostly involved behind the scenes working on the design and branding. As the studio business grew and my son was born, I chose to travel less and dusted off my dancing shoes. Now I split my time between writing and teaching.
Q: What makes Shanghai's business environment so remarkable?
The entrepreneurial spirit of Shanghai is legendary. Since the early 20th century, people have flocked here to make their fortune, and the current business environment is competitive but also very supportive and collaborative. Growing a like-minded community feels very organic and it's possible to carve out a unique niche even in a mega-city.
Q: What were you trying to bring to the local community?
Purely and simply, the joy and power of dance. This has been our foremost inspiration from the outset. To build a professionally minded, internationally accredited studio that is welcoming, supportive and inspiring, we hope this is evident from the moment you step into the dance space – it's architecturally designed to balance beauty and strength, and to feel personally uplifting. This is what ballet means to us.
Q: What are the biggest challenges setting up a business here? How do you stay motivated?
Like anywhere, identifying your goals and staying true to your values across all aspects of your business is vital. This attracts a like-minded community. Especially in Shanghai, opportunities constantly arise. Being selective and thinking long-term can be challenging but over the years we have learned to prioritize the health and happiness of our studio community, and evolve in a way that suits our goals and lifestyle.
Several of my friends in Shanghai run their own successful businesses and are great sources of wisdom, support and motivation. It's a real treat to be able to collaborate with friends, be it on master classes, photo shoots, or studio parties.
Q: What was the moment that made you most proud?
Training and becoming accredited as a Royal Academy of Dance teacher was a big commitment with everything else going on (I did my final exam class prancing around the studio at 37 weeks pregnant!) but I felt it was important to offer our students a renowned global training structure that follows best teaching practices and enables internationally recognized progression. Having our students be accepted into vocational ballet schools in the US and Australia has been very special. The flushed-face smiles of students after a great class or when they achieve a new skill keep us doing what we do.
Q: What are you working on?
At the studio, we've just launched an Art of Ballet series for adults that explores personal artistry through repertoire classes and salon gatherings. I also have a new book in the works.
Q: Who is a female role model who inspires you?
I have always adored Audrey Hepburn. She was a consummate artist, a devoted mother, a passionate advocate for the less fortunate, a kind and generous soul. I aspire to all those qualities, but I don't have a role model per se. I'm happy to follow my own path.
Q: Do you have any advice for women entrepreneurs?
Surround yourself with people – gender is irrelevant to me – that you love and trust, who inspire you, and who keep challenging you to be your best. Stay true to your values, your intuition and your priorities, which will likely change and evolve. My businesses have allowed me the freedom to work and create in different ways over time. Right now, my priority is being a very available parent to my 4-year-old, and we work as a team to make that happen.