With the right degree to leverage every opportunity, that passion project could turn into a fully-fledged business.
One degree of separation between a side hustle and a business
Alana Giaccio went from university graduate with a communication and media degree to a full-time small business owner in under three years. During that time, she also turned her twin passions – dance and disability advocacy – into a unique and growing dance school.
Find out about UniSA’s Communication and Media degrees here.
As far as side hustles go, All Abilities Cheer and Dance is in a league of its own, being the only studio in Adelaide to offer recreation, competition and online cheer and dance classes for people of all ages and disabilities.
Starting out as an online-only activity following South Australia’s introduction of COVID restrictions in 2020, All Abilities is now a fully-fledged business with more than 110 regular participants and a team of seven dance coaches.
Founder, director and senior coach Alana Giaccio said she started the sessions in response to non-essential disability services closing their doors.
“I have two brothers with a disability, so all their day option programs and service activities were closed,” Alana explained.
“People with disabilities thrive on that community access, and that social engagement and building of capacity was taken away from them.”
“I thought, well, I know a lot about dancing as I’ve been [training and competing in dance] my whole life, and I know a lot about disability, so I’ll put on some dance classes for people with additional needs.”
Hosting the online dance classes started off as a hobby while Alana pursued her chosen career in communication at the University of South Australia, but enrolments for All Abilities Cheer and Dance soon skyrocketed to 75 regular participants in the first few months.
“It became really big, really fast,” she recalls. “I turned it into a side hustle because how could I not?!”
With a Bachelor of Communication and Media from UniSA, Alana says she was well prepared to run all the communications channels for the new business – from website to social media – and to make the most of advertising and PR opportunities, which has seen the business featured on TV shows and news segments.
“All Abilities is definitely known from word of mouth, but it’s also very heavily impacted by social media – and that’s how we promote most of our services.”
Looking back now, she says the core and elective subjects at the time such as Professional Writing, Digital Design Essentials, and Public Relations Theory and Practice provided invaluable knowledge and skills.
“The Communication and Media degree was so broad, I’ve used those transferable skills in every role that I’ve had since graduating,” she says.
“Onstage with dance, I had all the confidence in the world, but in my everyday life, I was not confident at all. When I went to uni, I met all these people that had the same interests as me, or were like-minded creatives.
“The lecturers were so supportive – when I got my first high distinction, my tutor was just as excited as I was!”
After graduating in 2017, one of Alana’s first roles included presenting at school-run career events, which led to her next position providing student pathways and careers support at Immanuel College while still running All Abilities on the side.
Upon completing a further qualification in Disability Studies, Alana cemented her understanding – “I have so much lived experience” – and in late in 2022, she was able to focus on All Abilities full-time.
This has included training up three dancers – Hayley and Hannah, who are both autistic, and Sarah, who has Down syndrome – to become student assistants.
“They are really dedicated students who saw what I was doing and wanted to be even more a part of it,” Alana says.
“We’ll continue to train, mentor and support them, but I’m really, really pleased with how they’re going.”
She intends to keep adding new classes and more opportunities.
“We started doing competitions in Adelaide and around Australia and our goal is to make sure everybody is ready for competitions,” she says.
“It’s not about the winning. It’s about getting people on stage and building that confidence and that spatial awareness.
“Dance is this unconventional creative therapy, as I like to call it – you gain so much from it, like you would in any therapy session.”
She says participants blossom physically, emotionally and socially, while the parents also find a new and supportive network of friends.
Alana says having the Bachelor of Communication and Media behind her ensured she got the messaging and tone right in her communications with the different people she’s in contact with, from parents and students to cheer and dance organisations, and in her role as the SA state dance coordinator for Special Olympics SA.
“It’s great being able to run my own business and do the marketing, communications, PR and media,” she says.
“I’d always tell people when I was working at UniSA and Immanuel, if you want a practical and creative university – where your ideas are welcomed and you can grow them and make them amazing – UniSA is really good for that.”
UniSA offers a range of Communication and Media degrees, delivered on-campus and online, with multiple intakes each year.
Apply now to study in 2024.