Diversions: Meet Those Dancing Feet

By 
Angel Abcede, Senior Editor/Tobacco, CSP

After running her stores, Lisa Dell’Alba (right) shuffles off to the dance studio.

That tapping you hear is not Morse code. It’s retailer Lisa Dell’Alba sending a clear message: Tap dancing rules.

Dell’Alba, president and CEO of nine-store Square One Markets Inc., Bethlehem, Pa., has always danced, having been involved with all the disciplines—tap, ballet, jazz, modern—since she was 3 years old. But as an adult now into the family business of running a thriving retail business, she keeps her passion for tap dancing alive by performing and teaching the craft to neighborhood youth.

She recently spoke to CSP about her work and art and how she strikes that important balance.

So how did you start dancing?

I started with ballet and tap and added classes as I got older. I got my bachelor’s degree in dance. Then I got a second degree in psychology and spent time in human services. But I knew I wasn’t supposed to be there. I began giving my dad ideas about the business, and he said, “Why don’t you just come and do it?” That was the scariest moment of my life, but I found so much of what I learned applied to business—in training, operations and execution.

How do things such as dance and psychology relate to operating stores?

Certainly, there are issues of motivating staff and the discipline of routine, and starting with small movements and leading into bigger ones. And in terms of the store being like a stage, everything behind the scenes is as important as what’s in front. You’re focused on what’s happening in the back room and then creating the environment that people experience—everything from presentation to how you merchandise or your promotions, even music they hear.

So tell us more about your performing and teaching.

I teach six classes a week at a local studio called East Coast Dance Connection in Whitehall, Pa. It’s a studio that’s interested in the artistry of the kids. There’s one group that’s there every night for 4 hours, studying ballet, hip-hop, tap and jazz. It’s a multi-discipline approach. I teach a tap and a ballet class for about 10 students.

In terms of performing, I take two tap classes a week myself, which culminate in local performances. Our next big performance will involve a major conference with a group of teachers in my area committed to promoting tap. It’ll be in Allentown in May on National Tap Dance Day. It’s an actual day signed into law that’s on Bill “Bojangles” Robinson’s birthday.

Of all the disciplines, why did you gravitate toward tap?

I actually didn’t start out loving tap. Growing up, it was just something I always did. But over time, I fell in love with it. It was more intricate and more difficult for me than doing ballet or modern. There’s so much detail to it. Mastering it is an effort, and you discover the different shadings and sounds that are louder and softer.

It must be hard keeping up with dance and running a business.

Yes, but I don’t do well if I’m not doing something with dance. It’s one of the things that gets me up in the morning. It’s a part of me.