Some of you knows I spent my summer searching for startup ideas related to dance, and thus came up with a few experiments. One of which was highlighted in an earlier blog post on using audio cues of dance practice.

During my search, a former professional dancer and fellow alumni suggested I look into the aging population. Following the Startup Garage design thinking proces, I sought to understand customer need through exploration and immersion.


The Need – Qualitatively

To start, I noticed many older adults when doing Social dancing. Of course, it varies by dance style and Salsa tends to veer younger compared to other Ballroom dances. Upon talking with others who I didn’t meet through dancing, I learned that many grew up dancing Jitterbug, another term for Lindy Hop, or Ballroom.

Yet Social dancing has been hard to keep up over the years. Jitterbug became too fast for many. Whereas some lost their life partners, and it’s less common for their generation to dance with non-romantic partners. Dance events are often at night, but they go to bed earlier now and some don’t go out at night. And some don’t drive anymore so getting to places is difficult.

Even more important, Social dancing has both physical and mental health benefits. Dancing help with dynamic balance and fall prevention, both crucial to keeping older adults mobile (as in able to move, not as in mobile phones). I learned from a conversation with Ellen Corman, an expert on fall prevention at Stanford, that many of the tests for measuring balance and mobility are similar to dance steps — such as stepping sideways or backwards. Also, studies have shown that dancing, in particular freestyle social dancing, can reduce risks of dementia by 76% because it involves “split-second rapid-fire decision making.”

Dancing integrates several brain functions at once — kinesthetic, rational, musical, and emotional — further increasing your neural connectivity.

— Richard Powers, Dancing Makes You Smarter

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The Need – Quantitatively

Of course, as a former engineer and fresh MBA graduate, I need to put numbers onto the need.

Upon signing up as a dance instructor on Thumbtack, I got 90 quote requests for partnered/ballroom dancing within 1 month for a 150 mi radius that covers the entire Bay Area. Among those, 57% of the requests came from age 46 or older. Accounting for the lower internet usage of older adults, that percentage increases to 62%.

The IBISWorld Industry report for Dance Studios listed an annual revenue of $2.9bn. It estimated that senior citizens account for 3.2% of the revenue, approximately $9.3m, and mentioning retirees as a growing market segment and a trend towards dance for personal fitness “as more Americans focus on maintaining healthy and active lifestyles into their senior years.”

What’s Next?

With the need identified, I formulated a hypothesis and partnered with Avenidas, an older adults activity center. The details of this process will be explained in future blog posts. In the meantime, check out this Friday’s event:

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