Still On Pointe, After 17 Years
Jessica Barlow has led Perfect Pointe Performing Arts Studio through challenging times to its most successful year yet — and she shows no signs of slowing down
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
It’s one of the most common questions adults ask of children, but when young Jessica Barlow heard it, she knew her answer would be judged…literally.
“I did beauty pageants, and when you would go on stage, the judges would always ask that,” Jessica says. “It would be the typical pageant question. And truthfully, since the time I was like 10, my on-stage answer would be, ‘I want to own a dance studio.’”
How many pre-teen pageant contestants actually make good on those words? Jessica did. Three decades later, this bubbly, vivacious mom of two is currently in the midst of celebrating her 17th year at Perfect Pointe Performing Arts Studio in Sparta, NJ. The same building she purchased in 2005 at the tender age of 22, and later expanded to include three large studio spaces, is home to 300 dancers.
Those healthy enrollment numbers are just one bullet point on Perfect Pointe’s impressive resume. From the positive feedback her staff continues to receive from dancers’ parents via email and social media, to the stellar reputation Perfect Pointe has earned in the local community, to the waitlist she’s had to create for some of her classes, to the overwhelming response to this year’s recital — she had to find a bigger venue at the last minute! — Jessica can confidently say that 2022 is her studio’s best year yet.
At this point, any uncertainty or instability brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic seems to be a distant memory.
“I have never had a waitlist, ever!” Jessica says with a mixture of surprise and excitement.
Who could’ve predicted that the little girl with the huge stage presence would one day own a thriving dance business and be a role model for scores of young performers? Well, anyone who has known Jessica since she started dancing at age 2…
In fact, when she was a dance major at Desales University in Allentown, PA, in the early 2000s, Jessica drew up the entire Perfect Pointe business plan for her senior project. In it, she detailed everything from budget to location to staffing to where she’d get all her dance equipment.
“I knew I always wanted to do something with dance, and I knew my heart was in a studio,” says Jessica, who grew up a short distance from Sparta in the borough of Hopatcong, NJ. “Being a small-town girl, it wasn’t in my heart or my plan to move to New York City and tap into the big industry world or the commercial setting in LA. I’m blessed to have a great support system in my family, and they’re the first ones I always thank: my amazing parents and husband. When I opened this place, I was really just a baby, so with the support of my family, they were able to back me and kind of guide me a little bit, and I’m grateful for them every day.”
While she has had plenty of help in building her business, there’s no doubt: Jessica’s vision, passion and determination have always been the heart and soul of her studio. Her upbeat personality and boundless energy have kept Perfect Pointe going, and growing, through some pretty challenging times.
“There were a lot of years that I didn’t know if I was going to make it, and I’m saying like pre-COVID, because again there are a lot of studios in the area, and times change and people shift,” Jessica says. “That stuff used to stress me out. But as the years pass and the more confident that I become and the more comfortable I become, the stuff I used to lose sleep over, like losing clientele, I know that’s the nature of the business, and that’s OK, and I’m OK with that.”
During the pandemic, Jessica put every ounce of creativity and positivity she could muster into running virtual classes her kids would love. She and her staff developed a colorful series of themed classes, from Beach Day to Pajama Day to Circus Day to “Dancing Through the Decades.”
“So many businesses shut down and so many people lost their spark, and I feel like it ignited my spark,” Jessica says, thinking back to the spring of 2020. “I was decorating my room upstairs, I was hanging streamers, and my family thought I was nuts, but it was what we had to do. I didn’t want everyone to drop off and not want to dance. So I was working three times as hard from home to create these over-the-top classes so the kids could feel something through the computer screen. I needed them to feel the same energy that I have when we’re inside the room together.”
From Day One, back in 2005, Jessica’s mission has always been to make her dancers feel at home. She started Perfect Pointe, hoping to recreate the kind of family atmosphere that she experienced in her childhood dance studio.
“We’re not a factory,” she says. “I’m not a big powerhouse studio. I never was, and I never want to be that. I like to think of Perfect Pointe as a small, intimate private school.
“A lot of that comes from the staff, and a lot of it is my new office manager, Margo, who is the face of our studio. Our customer service is top notch, so even on her worst day you’re going to be greeted with a smiling face when you walk into the studio. My parents are still rolling through there, and they know the kids by name, and they’re saying hello and greeting the parents. So it really does feel like home.”
Since opening Perfect Pointe, Jessica has started her own family. She and her husband, Mike, just celebrated their 11th wedding anniversary, and together, they have a 9-year-old daughter, Kendall, and a 6-year-old son, Kade, who are the center of their universe.
With her beaming face and a perpetual bounce in her step, Jessica is a well-known figure at her children’s schools. She regularly volunteers to help out at fundraisers and field days, and to the students, she’s both their friend’s mom and “Miss Jessica,” the beloved dance teacher from Perfect Pointe.
“Just last week, I taught hiphop at recess, and it was awesome to have those kids running up and yelling, ‘Miss Jessica!’” she says. “These kids, when they are screaming for me, I feel like I’m doing something right.”
Not surprisingly, Jessica has passed her love of performing on to Kendall, who is a competitive dancer and costume model who shines in the studio, on stage, and on social media as a Dazzler, Costume Gallery’s team of brand ambassadors.
Witnessing Kendall’s journey and having to balance the roles of wife, mom and studio owner has shaped Jessica’s approach to teaching.
“I think my teaching has evolved emotionally,” she says. “I’ve always loved kids, obviously, but since becoming a mom and actually going through the whole dance journey now with Kendall and kind of shifting gears — one day, being studio owner, and the next day having to put on my mom hat — I can really relate to the parents of my dancers. When I’m having these conversations with them, in one breath I’m being the dance studio owner and in the next breath I’m saying, ‘It’s OK. I hear you, because I’m living it with you.’
“It’s the craziest, wildest ride ever, having a kid that goes through your dance program, but I feel like since having kids, it’s been important to be able to know what the kids in the studio are feeling and what they need. I think that comes from being a parent and having the parental nature and being able to nurture them and love them.”
Jessica has more or less grown up at Perfect Pointe over the past 17 years. She has evolved as a woman while blossoming as a business owner, weathering personal and professional challenges and learning some important lessons.
“The key is that I’ve surrounded myself with good people,” she says. “I feel like when I started, in the beginning, it was a one-man show. I had to do it myself and I was a perfectionist, and if anybody would ask, ‘Do you need help?’ the answer was, ‘No, I’ve got it!’ And then my family came along and my roles started shifting and I realized, it’s OK to ask for help. Sometimes, when you ask for help, things go smoother than you anticipated. So yeah, I just think that when you surround yourself with good people and people who want the same thing as you do for the kids, it works. The equation works.”
What’s next for Jessica? These days, that’s the question she gets asked most frequently. Believe it or not, despite her youth, people have already started to inquire if she has plans to retire.
“I’ve turned this corner now, and I think when it’s time to stop, you know, and I’m not there yet,” she says. “I’ll see where I go with Kendall and where that takes me, and kind of just take it year by year.
“I don’t know what the future holds, but it’s been 17 years, and I started this thing at 22, so I kind of feel like nothing is going to stop me now.”
Costume Gallery would like to thank Jessica Barlow for taking the time to share her experience, wisdom, and photos from her personal archive. You can find Perfect Pointe Performing Arts Studio online at https://www.perfectpointestudio.com, on Instagram @dance_perfectpointe_sparta, and on Facebook @danceperfectpointe.
Stay tuned to our blog for more inspiring stories from the world of dance, and while you’re here, browse through our incredible selection of costumes for dance recitals, dance competitions, and spring and summer parades.