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A Sense of Family

How one Wilkinsburg entrepreneur is creating a community through dance.

  • Kontara working with one of her dance classes.

Kontara didn’t always love dance. In fact, she hated it.

Her mom wanted her to dance, and she eventually went to CAPA, where she finally started to enjoy it. After attending Wright State, she got the “entrepreneurship bug,” and was eager to start her own dance company.

When she came in second place in the Urban Innovation 21 grant program, that $7,500 grant finally gave her enough momentum to start K-Theater in 2014.

Back then, she was teaching in her church. They’d often have rehearsals in the street, and she would use her car to play music. That’s where she learned that you have to really love something to stick with it.

“It really is a passion,” Kontara said. “And I want it to become a passion for my students just like it became a passion for me.”

When she found the business incubator at Community Forge, she was thrilled at the opportunity.

“Being creative and teaching dance is the easy part,” Kontara laughed. “And I love to incorporate theater and stories into my dances, that’s really fun for me. But my business mentor Trish was a lifesaver. She’s helped me come up with a business plan, encouraged me to network, and helped to show me how to build a team and overcome hurdles.”

With guidance from Tricia and a dance studio space in Community Forge, Kontara has been able to grow her business. She’s hired five new employees, and is teaching ballet, jazz, modern, and hip hop to groups of girls ages 7-17.

“I want my students to feel a sense of family here,” Kontara explained. “I teach them dance etiquette, performance readiness, discipline – I want to give them skills that will help them outside of dance so that they can get good grades, have confidence, and hold their head high.”

Being a role model is even more important to Kontara than teaching dance classes. She notes that many kids in areas like Wilkinsburg, Homewood, the North Side, and the Hill District don’t have easy access to arts programs. That’s why she especially wants to make her classes available to kids who might not otherwise be able to afford them.

“It’s really important to preserve things like community theater and dance, those pieces can help to fight gentrification,” Kontara adds. This commitment to the local community is another reason why she loves Community Forge.

Peoples saw this same commitment, too, when Community Forge first reached out about a 2019 partnership. The goal of Community Forge’s business incubator program is to help provide resources for local entrepreneurs, and we were excited by this community-based approach to business development.

K-Theater was the second business to join the incubator program, and that’s where we had the opportunity to get to know Kontara. After hearing her story, it was evident that Community Forge is creating a supportive environment for local businesses to grow.

“Community Forge invests in all of their tenants,” Kontara said. “They’re not just providing a space, they connect with you and bring people together.”

“They provide answers to questions, resources—they treat you like family,” she said fondly. “My seven year old son loves it here, he loves Mike and Jackie. I see such a need for what they’re doing. And I’ve grown to love it here, too.”

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