A Chat with Bonnie Lister Parsons, Founder at Dance Class Community Platform: School of SOS

SOS have created the world’s most empowering dance classes, connected through one global community and platform. 

We’re on a mission to empower a generation of women to believe in themselves, using dance as a source of strength, power and confidence which they can carry through to every aspect of their lives. We do this by making the pop-inspired dance tuition that A-list stars such as Beyoncé, Lizzo and J-Lo receive, accessible to the mass market both online and in-real-life, for the first time.

You can find an SOS class by…

Searching for a local SOS class taught by our incredible certified instructors (who we call BOSSES) via our marketplace
Signing up to SOS On-Demand, where you can learn directly from the A-list backing dancers who bring the power moves of the artists they work with including Beyoncé, Lizzo, JLo, Rihanna, Dua Lipa and Little Mix, straight to your living room

Crucially, the same routine is taught across ALL SOS in-person locations, and on-demand, so whether you’re dancing in Melbourne or Brighton, you get exactly the same experience at the same time.

Our students (who we call Queens) can then practice routines ahead of and in-between in-person classes directly with the A-list SOS choreographer who created it via our on-demand video subscription, creating one seamless hybrid experience.
School of SOS - YouTube

How did you come up with the idea for the company?

I started my career as a professional backing dancer and I got the idea for my first business in between rehearsals on the set of The X Factor live shows. I wondered if any of the 20 million people watching at home wanted to dance like the artists and dancers they saw ‘on screen’, just like I did when I was growing up. I did my research and couldn’t believe nothing like it existed, so I founded my first company, Seen on Screen, when I was 23.

Seen on Screen went on to land major press, and because I would receive requests from people around the world year on year asking for SOS in their city, I knew early on that there was global demand for the SOS class experience.

However, despite our success as a brand and consistently selling out our London offering, the boutique Seen on Screen model of hiring London-based studios and elite pro dancers didn’t scale, so I started looking at new ways to scale the SOS experience which had become a leading fitness trend in its own right.

Students had also started to write to me to tell me how SOS had changed their lives so I began to understand that the SOS experience had the power to make a seismic impact. This is when our mission of empowering a generation of women through dance was born, so every decision about how we would build a new, high growth version of Seen on Screen was made against the objective of how we reach the most people, in the most profitable, empowering and inclusive way.

By the end of 2018, the master plan was set and School of SOS was founded.


What has your funding journey been like?

I wish I could say it’s been a positive one, but as a female founder, it’s just not the case and it’s unacceptable that just 2% of the billions of dollars invested into startups each year goes into female teams. Living that statistic is a testament to the resilience of female founders and my journey has been a living representation of that stat.

I began my funding journey pitching to angels and VC’s, but I kept getting feedback that we were ‘too early’. I didn’t mind (I took it on the chin and worked on their feedback to build up our traction) but after two years addressing the investors’ feedback, I was seeing male founders without any of the traction we had built up, raising millions of pounds. So I started to ask, why am I ‘too early’, but they’re not!?

By 2018, I’d come to the realisation that if I wanted to raise equity finance, I’d have to do things differently. So I decided to launch an all-female round despite being told that women don’t invest, women are risk-averse, and that pitching to women would hold my business back. I’m so glad I decided to prove them wrong, and that I had such an incredibly supportive team around me because we launched the all-female round on Instagram, and raised £100,000 from an all-female investor team in 2 weeks.

How has the company evolved during the pandemic?

The pandemic was actually a catalyst for School of SOS’s growth. The world had to adapt so fast, and everything went online overnight so it removed the need to launch a ‘perfect’, shiny video subscription, and meant we could test our online offering in a really inexpensive, lean way that was of huge benefit to our community.

Most importantly, we wanted to make sure SOS really showed up for our community during what was an unprecedented time for everyone’s mental health so the 6 weeks of our digital classes in the first lockdown ran for free on Instagram Live. Then you could catch up on the live classes on-demand via a paid subscription on Patreon.

Our Instagram grew by 1100% over the first lockdown and Instagram themselves heard about SOS and DM’d me (surreal moment!) asking to feature us in their timetable of the best Instagram Lives in the world.

We took our instructor training courses online, allowing us to train instructors from all over the world over a weekend to become certified SOS BOSSES. We even did an Australian course for the Australian time zone from London, which enabled us to launch in Melbourne without getting on a single flight.

Ultimately, the pandemic, and our reaction to it, has enabled SOS to increase our reach so much faster and cheaper than we would have been able to do pre-COVID. As we say at SOS, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade!

What can we hope to see from School of SOS in the future?

2022 will see SOS launch our custom built, dance technology platform built by our female CTO Leah Cohen (which we’re so excited about) which will come off the back of our huge UK and Ireland tour, visiting 13 cities in 3 months, hitting our first 100 certified instructors.

The platform will include a two-sided marketplace, allowing our BOSSES to manage their classes, and our Queens to search for their local class. This comes alongside our exclusive on-demand video library, giving you a one-stop-shop for everything SOS.

In five years time, SOS will reach across the globe with life-changing classes on every street corner, and on every device. Ultimately, our boldest goal, at the heart of everything we do, is to shift the needle on equality faster because we exist.

If we do that, the SOS journey – with all the ups and downs it’s taken to get here, will be more than worth it and we’re well on our way!