We are excited to feature another licensed Leap 'N Learn dance studio and to let them share their story with all of you here on our blog. This studio owner has been a fan of our dance curriculum long before she dreamed of opening her own studio, and we are so glad to have her as a partner now!
A Quick Introduction: Pure Dance Works is located in Fort Wayne, Indiana. In its fourth year of business, Pure Dance Works is providing quality dance education to young students and has implemented Leap 'N Learn fully to allow each student to shine.
- We’ve seen the success you have in your dance studio — fantastic work as that is not a small accomplishment! Tell us how did you get to where you are today professionally and what major stepping stones helped you along the way.
While I am thrilled to be the director of Pure Dance Works, I have to give God all of the credit for the stepping stones that have led me to this place. Looking back, I see a meandering variety of stepping stones; choices and events that were gradually leading me to a place I never could have imagined twenty years ago...
1: First Steps — Naturally, my first steps towards today started in the dance studio I grew up in, where I primarily studied ballet.
2: Major Step — I earned my bachelor’s degree in psychology from Indiana University.
3: Welcome Mat — Fast forward several years and add wife, mom, and home school teacher to my hat collection.
4: A Hop, Skip and a Jump — When my three daughters started taking dance seriously, I decided it was time to step back into the dance world. Eventually I started teaching ballet and tap at the studio where we took classes. I discovered Leap 'N Learn while researching information on teaching effective ballet classes for preschoolers. It was love at first sight for me, but the studio director was not interested in using it. Although this appeared to be an obstacle, it turns out it was stepping stone number four.
5: Diamond in the Rough — In 2009, I attended Dance Revolution, where I met Misty Lown when she was leading a teacher’s workshop. I talked with her about my frustration with not being able to use the curriculum I knew would be so good for my students. She suggested that I start my own "baby studio" that catered to young children. This gem of a stone appeared as a barely perceptible spot in my path, but ultimately its light steered me towards a professional career I had never even dreamed of. I tried to dismiss the idea as undoable. But the seed had been planted, and over the next two years it slowly germinated.
6: Steppin’ Up — That same year (2009) presented a huge boulder of a stepping stone in my path. My husband, Jason Hazelett, owner of Steppin’ Up Physical Therapy, started building a second clinic. Part of his plan was to include a studio offering fitness classes where patients and the community at large could come to get fit and stay fit as a way of preventing and eliminating common pains and injuries that land people in physical therapy. It was with the creation of this studio that our professional paths joined on this huge bolder, boosting us together into the world of community fitness as part of Steppin’ Up’s overarching mission of promoting health in our area.
7: Paving Stone — It took a while to climb up and over that boulder, but eventually in 2011, I laid the paving stone for Pure Dance Works when I became a tenant of the studio. I bought the Leap 'N Learn pre-ballet curriculum and used it along with Creative Dance for All Ages by Anne Green-Gilbert to create lesson plans that had specific objectives and built on each other in an effective way. For two years, this was rewarding and successful, but I was always working to create lesson plans for the upcoming weeks. I was pretty stressed out.
8: The Granite Slab — In August 2013, two weeks before fall classes were to begin, I was online trying to purchase some new Leap ‘N Learn movement scarves, when I discovered that Leap ‘N Learn products were no longer available to the general public, but could only be purchased by licensed studios as part of a recently implemented quality control system. I also learned that licensed studios had access to tested and proven monthly lesson plans incorporating all of the wonderful objectives, movement concepts, education-based skills and age appropriate ballet technique contained in the curriculum. I immediately filled out an application to become a Leap 'N Learn licensed studio, was thrilled to be recognized and accepted because of Pure Dance Works’ child-friendly training methods, and flew to Louisiana with one of my employees over Memorial Day Weekend for the required training workshop. This was like coming upon a massive, strong and beautiful piece of granite in my path. The Leap 'N Learn licensing has afforded Pure Dance Works a solid ground to continue to grow on.
At the Leap ‘N Learn training workshop, I was surprised to learn that two of the other studio owners had very similar backgrounds to my own. We all own a dance studio, hold degrees in psychology, and home school our children. That's a pretty rare combination. But I believe it is precisely this mix of traits that drew me and these other women to the Leap 'N Learn curriculum in the first place. The careful weaving of education-based concepts and developmental abilities along with age-appropriate ballet technique explains why it is so attractive to someone with a background in dance, psychology, and a vested interest in education. Here I finally saw how all of these God-ordained stepping stones, from my first ballet lesson as a child, to being accepted as a Leap ‘N Learn licensed studio, had been leading me all along to where I am professionally today.
There are so many things that time and experience teach us, and we wish we could’ve learned some of these things earlier. What is the most valuable piece of advice you could share with someone starting off in a similar career?
Take it slow, be patient, and don’t over-commit yourself. Learn to do small things well, and add on from there.
When I started Pure Dance Works, I thought I’d offer classes for babies through adults. I quickly learned that 300 students of all ages don’t flock to the doors of a brand new studio, so I pared it down after a year to ages three to six. Now I’m adding age groups each year that grow with my students. Do parents of two- or thirteen-year-olds call sometimes to ask about classes? Yes, and I hate to turn them away, but we will get there eventually, and we will do it well.
- Congrats on being a licensed Leap 'N Learn studio! When did you first learn about Leap 'N Learn or start using it? Why and how did you get involved with our dance program? Finally, why did you decide to become a licensed studio?
[Please check out question number one, especially part 4 and 8, to learn how Tiina and Pure Dance Works became involved with Leap 'N Learn.]
- What have been the most noticeable changes in your dance studio since applying Leap 'N Learn to what you do?
We have used Leap 'N Learn at least in part since the inception of Pure Dance Works, so it’s not like we had to rearrange an existing program to implement Leap 'N Learn. As we’ve gradually implemented more and more Leap 'N Learn principles; however, I have definitely seen steady improvement in our program.
One area that we did not follow in the beginning was the recommended age groups. The first year we had three- to four-year-olds, five- to six-year-olds, and seven- to ten-year-olds together with up to twelve kids per class. I quickly realized that there is a reason Leap 'N Learn divides students into twelve-month age groups and limits class sizes to eight kids for three-year-olds and ten kids for four-year-olds. There is such a huge difference between what a three- and four-year-old or a five- and six-year-old are capable of doing. The fact that the curriculum is designed to meet each age group where they are at developmentally, including not only physical abilities, but their social, emotional, and cognitive development as well, means that lesson plans respect the ability of each child, and it does not ask them to do something they are not ready for. Nor does it hold them back because younger children can’t do what older ones could. Offering classes in the recommended age groups has positively improved the quality of our classes in a major way.
Compared to other studios I have taught at or my kids attended as small children, I’d say the most noticeable difference is the use of imaginative play built into curriculum. At the same time, Leap 'N Learn teaches kids “real” ballet, rather than just playing games at an early age. This translates to excited, happy students who are engaged, love ballet, and are learning what they are capable of from an early age. Another difference is the intentional use of education-based concepts that compliment what kids are learning at each age level. I see myself as an educator as much as a dance teacher, and I really appreciate that we are intentionally reinforcing important early childhood education concepts with our class material.
- What types of responses have you received about Leap 'N Learn from your dance teachers, students, or parents?
Teachers love it, partly because the lesson plans and playlists are already done for them, but mostly because they can see it works.
One parent commented on a survey that she appreciates that we teach real ballet, not just a bunch of games. Another mom recently called to register her six-year-old and told me that the reason she choose us was because we place younger students based on developmental ability rather than experience. I have had a parent who was moving away ask me if I knew if there was Leap 'N Learn studio in the city she was moving to. I knew there was not, unfortunately, but it was nice to hear that she valued the Leap 'N Learn name enough to look for that in a new community. You can read more quotes from parents on the Testimonials page of our website. Not all are related directly to Leap 'N Learn, but many refer to the curriculum we use.
We always ask our students what their favorite thing was after each class, and typically it’s whatever the guided free dance activity was. They love pretending and getting to put what they know into a little free dance time.
- How do you go about adding your own ideas and fitting your studio needs into the Leap 'N Learn curriculum and lesson plans — or vice-versa, how do you apply Leap 'N Learn to what you already do?
After two years of doing part Leap 'N Learn and part Creative Dance For All Ages by Anne Green-Gilbert, we are now on our second year of following the Leap 'N Learn lesson plans exclusively and love every bit of it. We now also follow all age group, class size, and time recommendations along with following the lesson plans to a T. I don’t want to change a thing. It just works.
- In our opinion, there is no better place to work than in the dance world, but often times the hard work required to keep a studio running smoothly stays hidden behind the scenes. What do you find most challenging; how do you best handle such challenges?
One thing I used to find most challenging was creating effective lesson plans for each age group. I never wanted to just teach students steps and little dances; I want them to truly understand what they are learning, be engaged, and enjoy using what they’ve learned. I handled that challenge by working long hours on lesson plans before. Then I permanently solved it by becoming a Leap 'N Learn licensed studio. Woo-hoo!
Now my biggest challenge is probably finding effective teachers. I’ve had a few great ones that I hand picked, and a few that didn’t work out who answered help-wanted ads. I’ve taught the vast majority of the classes for the last three years, and I love teaching, but I don’t want to live at the studio. This year I’ve employed several teens who have strong ballet training to be my assistants. Eventually they will become fully-trained teachers. I’ve learned that it’s best to hand pick employees rather than post a help-wanted ad. When your employees are working with children and their job it to teach ballet correctly, it’s best to know who and what you’re getting up front.
- What gives you the most joy in your job?
I love being in class, teaching my students. I love interacting with them, making them laugh, seeing their excitement when I announce that we are about to do a favorite activity. I adore my students, and building relationships with them brings me great joy.
- If you had to choose only one of your favorite aspects of Leap 'N Learn, what would it be and why?
Oh, that’s hard! I think my favorite would be the careful attention to the developmental abilities of each age group. I love that not only are the child’s physical capabilities taken into consideration, but their cognitive, social, and emotional abilities as well. I love knowing that the things I’m asking my students to do are possible for them to do. I love that we intentionally foster each age groups’ social skills with the interactions and manners we require of them in class, as well as their emotional development as we engage in pretend play. I love that we are increasing student’s cognitive abilities as they are asked to recognize or perform patterns or count music. I love that I can tell parents that a six-year-old can start in a class with other six-year-olds even if she’s never had ballet before because what we do is based on a six-year-old’s developmental abilities, not on how many years she’s taken ballet. The best part about it though is that it makes for effective lesson plans that respect children, meet them where they are at, take them by the hand, and lead them further down the path on their developmental journey. It not only helps students to become well-trained ballerinas, but well-rounded people.
- Anything else you’d like to share with dance studio owners and teachers, or perhaps to Leap 'N Learn students and their parents?
To students and parents — Thank you for choosing a Leap ‘N Learn studio! I really feel that Leap 'N Learn is the crowned jewel of childhood ballet training programs. As a studio owner, I wouldn’t pay to have the license if I didn’t think so; it would be a waste of resources. I know that your ballet-minded child will flourish in his or her Leap 'N Learn classes, and you will not only be comfortable knowing that your child is being trained in a safe, fun, effective environment, but also ecstatic about the things he or she is learning about ballet and beyond.
We want to thank Tiina Hazelett of Pure Dance Works for being so open and sharing her story and insight with all of us! Her path to getting involved with dance education and opening her own studio is so inspirational, and we couldn't be happier that she's experiencing positive results and enjoying all the benefits of Leap 'N Learn. If you know anyone in Fort Wayne, Indiana looking for a dance studio, be sure to send them to Pure Dance Works for the best dance classes around.
Please leave a note for Tiina below — you can share your praise of her and her accomplishments, ask questions, or just say hello!
P.S. Licensed Leap 'N Learn dance studios, be sure to read the in-depth "B Side" interview in the member section. Tiina shared a lot of great tips and ideas for other studio owners!