- Associated Press - Saturday, May 24, 2014

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) - One Huntington entrepreneur’s work keeps her dancing with joy after she learned how to turn her passion into her business.

Bridget Rowsey, owner of Bridget’s Dance Academy, grew what began as 20 students in an after-school program into a successful business with around 200 students of all ages. The West Virginia Small Business Administration recently recognized Rowsey’s business success and commitment to the economic development of her community by naming her its Young Entrepreneur of the Year.

“This is a statewide award - it’s a huge honor,” Rowsey said. “I had the opportunity to move away, but I love Huntington, I love Marshall, and I wanted to stay here to contribute to the city that I grew up in.”

Born and raised in Huntington, Rowsey’s passion for dance was kindled when she was at Huntington High School. She said once it hit, it was all she could see herself doing. Her fire continued throughout her time as a business major at Marshall University, where she balanced her studies with being a member of the university dance team. Continuing that balance, and her dedication to sharing her love of dance, Rowsey is now the coach of Marshall’s dance team.

She has been teaching dance in Huntington for seven years, and has been busy developing her business for the past five years.

Her academy, also known as BDA, expanded to its new location at 801 10th St. after it became apparent the business was growing too large for its previous location on First Street. Rowsey said the new location has been a blessing because it is now closer to Ritter Park and downtown Huntington.

Rowsey said the move could not have been possible without the help of family and friends who did the renovations for BDA’s new studio.

The new location has allowed Rowsey to expand her client base, offer more classes and, most recently, to sell branded merchandise.

Both she and Amber Wilson, business coach and center manager for the West Virginia Small Business Development Center, said her move to the 10th Street location also benefited the economic development of Huntington because the building and lot sat empty for years after Blockbuster vacated it. Wilson nominated Rowsey for the young entrepreneur award.

“Vacant buildings are bad for a city, and so Bridget’s taking this one over, renovating it is a great contribution to Huntington’s economic growth,” Wilson said. “I nominated her for young entrepreneur because she has had amazing growth in the last few years. I think it’s encouraging to other young entrepreneurs to see someone who took their passion and turned it into a viable business.”

One of the things that impressed Wilson most about Rowsey was how she seemed to do everything right, Wilson said. She said Rowsey did not just run with her passion, but stopped to think and contacted her office to get information and resources for small business owners.

Rowsey said she credits her Marshall business education for that.

“I remember being kind of afraid when I was developing my business plan,” Rowsey said. “It was definitely a learning experience, and I’m glad I had Amber to help. In school, you read all the theories, but then when it’s time to actually apply it, you kind of learn a lot of it is just figuring it out as you go. You have your basics, people helping you, but every business model is different.”

After years in business, Rowsey said many of her initial fears have been quelled, although she now is facing some new ones. The balance she has maintained since her college days is beginning to tip as she matures in life and business. Rowsey said she wants to continue teaching as much as possible but is beginning to find she will eventually have to assume a more managerial role and delegate class responsibilities to her instructors.

“I realize that is a good problem to have, but I love being in front of the class sharing my passion with the students,” Rowsey said. “But this is a business, and I have to think of it as a business. I want to become more involved with the business community and continue to grow. I know I will have to step back from teaching to make that happen, but I don’t see myself ever fully giving it up.”

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