Rhythm & Revenues

A ballroom dance champ finds his footing owning his own studio


Garry Gekhman, right, shows off the skills that made him a national champ.

Garry Gekhman, 41

Salary: $110,000

Position: Ballroom dance instructor and dance studio owner

What He Does: People take up ballroom dancing for many reasons: socializing, exercising or hobby hunting. Gekhman spends 10 hours a day making sure they want to stick with it.

“If you go to work and you’re either bored or just stressed and then you find this other activity, people get addicted,” Gekhman says. “It’s very contagious.”

Gekhman caught the bug early and competed for many years. After earning national titles, he retired from professional competitions in 2008 and moved to McLean. Va. He now teaches private and group lessons in tango, foxtrot, meringue, salsa and swing at his 2,000-square-foot in-home studio, Falls Church Dance Spot and at Chevy Chase Ballroom & DanceSport Center.

He also coaches competitive dancers, Olympic ice-dancing teams and couples preparing for their wedding dance.

Gekhman says lesson planning, music selection and choreography take up the bulk of his time.

“I create the plan for each student for each visit,” he says. “Preparing is always a big part of my job. Even when you sleep, you sometimes dream about it.”

How He Got the Job: Gekhman started dancing at age 6 in his native Tomsk, Russia. He took a hiatus but returned to the sport at 14. “Since then, I never stopped,” he says.

Gekhman, who has an engineering degree from Tomsk Polytechnic University, studied ballroom techniques in Moscow and then in Israel, where he moved in 1992 and became a seven-time national champion. In 1999, he took a job at a studio in East Brunswick, N.J., with an eye toward owning his own place. “We invited the best coaches from all around the world to teach us business skills for social-dance studios,” he says.

In 2010, he opened his home studio and became a co-owner of Chevy Chase Ballroom, managing four instructors.

Who Would Want This Job: If you’re thinking of giving dance studio ownership a whirl, being a dancer helps but isn’t necessary. Focus, however, is.

“As a business owner, you’re thinking about this all the time,” Gekhman says. “You’re lying there at 1 o’clock at night and some kind of business idea comes into your mind.”

Competitive dancing isn’t enough to pay the bills, but teaching it is. “It’s also recession-proof,” says Gekhman, whose rates start at $15 for group classes and $100 for private ones. “The more people are in trouble, the more they dance. It takes your brain away from reality.”

How You Can Get This Job: If it’s dancing or teaching dance that interests you, perfect your performance through practice and mentorships, Gekhman says. Check out dance classes such as Gekhman’s or those at Joy of Motion Dance Center. County recreation programs also offer beginner classes, while universities provide more formal dance training.

If you want to run a studio one day, polish your entrepreneurship skills with mentorships, internships or business-degree programs at local universities.

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