Each time we share a featured Leap 'N Learn studio interview on our blog, we also share an expanded, insider edition with all of you on the member site. This gives our interviewees a chance to speak even more candidly and give advice directly to their Leap 'N Learn peers. Check out the additional "B Side" questions below from our latest featured studio!
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.B. What are some of your goals, how do you work towards them, and what indicators do you look to when gauging your success?
One of my goals is to hold a recital every other year starting in the spring on 2016. The first three springs, we have hosted an informal end-of-year party where students can show off their skills in carnival-style games with prizes and a short stage demo by age groups. We will do that again in the spring of 2015.
I didn’t want to do a recital until I knew we could do it well. Now that owning a studio is no longer a brand-new experience, and I have seen growth in my students’ technical abilities, I feel like we are ready as a studio to start preparing for the myriad of details I know that a recital entails.
For this goal, I’ve worked towards it by taking one year at a time, patiently building the program and my students. Now that I feel more confident as a business owner and teacher, and I see that my returning students are ready for a performance, I feel that we are successfully reaching a place where we can put on a show worth participating in as a dancer and an audience member.
Another goal is to continue to increase my income by raising tuition rates incrementally and increasing my enrollment until I feel like I’m making enough of a profit to justify the hours I put into the studio. I love what I do, and my family has always functioned on only my husband’s income. I told myself when I started the studio that I’d be content to break even the first three years, never be in debt, and not count on a profit until year four. So far there has been a little more left at the end of each year for me to do what I please with, but now it is year four, so I am actually transferring money for my teaching hours to a savings account each month and hoping the studio doesn’t need it back.
I’m working towards the goal of increasing tuition by increasing tuition a little each year, and not feeling bad about it. This year the increase was five percent. I am having tuition auto-withdrawn monthly in nine equal payments. Next year I will do ten equal payments and increase the price again, perhaps more than five percent. However, because of the extra payment, it will feel less expensive per month to parents, even though per week it will be more.
I am continuously reaching out to the community in different ways to increase enrollment. I’ve tried all sorts of advertising from newspaper to postcards to radio. Don’t think I’ll ever do any of those again. Now I’m experimenting with a DataSphere online package and the local Welcome Wagon. I donate gift certificates to silent auctions and the like frequently. The way I gauge the success of these marketing attempts is that every time someone registers for a class, they are required to say how they heard about us. What works best for me is Facebook and word of mouth. Because of this I am happy to spend money on Facebook ads and posts and offer parents a $10 credit for each friend that registers and mentions that they heard about us form them. I’m not sure how motivating that $10 is though, and I want to capitalize on the fact that most people hear about us from a friend. I’m thinking about doing a special promotion that offers them a free month’s tuition for a referral… that’s quite a bit more than $10, but if it motivates them to talk and brings in a new student, that more than covers the tuition. I’m also thinking about doing a free bring-a-friend class the week of Thanksgiving (we have no classes all week) and getting friends in the door that way. A similar event last year brought at least two new students directly from the event.
Obviously, successfully reaching this goal will mean I am earning a fair wage for my hours teaching and directing the studio.
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.
B. Continuing education is key. How do you keep learning even after years of experience?
I love to take class from master teachers. I love to attend workshops and training sessions designed for studio owners. Those things are not always easy to get to or cheap, but they are worth it. I also love to read and listen online to things like the member section of Leap 'N Learn's website or Dance Studio Owner’s monthly calls and the other resources they offer studio owners. Resources like these are readily available for a reasonable fee, and they are very, very insightful. I also have read many books that relate to what I do — books on ballet anatomy, ballet pedagogy, I’ve even been known to sit down and read ballet dictionaries! The ballet world is vast; I will never know it all. There is always room for growth.
- 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.
B. What have you seen work well or what have you needed to change? Any recommendations to share with your fellow Leap 'N Learn licensed studios about how to customize our program?
Nope. See my answer to 6a. I can see how if you’re established as a studio and then take on Leap 'N Learn, you’d have to choose what to adjust and what not to. I’m sure many have thirty-minute classes for their preschoolers and struggle with how to make those classes longer. I’d figure out a way to make it happen. You’re giving up too much valuable material when you have shorter class times. My advice is just follow Leap 'N Learn all the way as soon as you can.
- 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.
B. What tips would you give to your fellow Leap 'N Learn licensed studios for making it through the tougher times?
Think outside the box, and don’t reinvent the wheel. Don’t do something the same way just because that’s how you’ve always done it. Look for resources to help you with your dilemma. Seek support and advice from others in your field.
- 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.
B. What tips would you give to your fellow Leap 'N Learn licensed studios for maximizing the positive aspects of owning or working in a dance studio?
For studio owners or business directors, I’d say automate as much of your processes as much as possible. I use MainStreetSites.com for my website, online registration, email communications, and tuition collection. This has been a life saver in terms of the work I’d otherwise have to do collecting and tracking everything. I love Main Street because they are very reasonably priced and have excellent customer service. There are lots of programs out there to help you; find one that fits you and use it!
Build a great team that works well together, respects each other, and is on board with what you’re trying to accomplish as a studio. Don’t be afraid to dismiss those who are always arguing with you, not pulling their weight, or just did not turn out to be a great fit.
For dance teachers, I’d say come to class prepared to teach and enjoy giving your students the best hour of their week!
- 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.
B. How do you make the most of this part of Leap ‘N Learn and utilize it to benefit your studio in the best way?
It’s all over my website and printed material. I talk about it during parent performances. I post it in Facebook ads and tell parents in mass emails to my subscription list. I blog about it and tell every parent that calls for information. I feel that it is really one of the keys that sets Leap 'N Learn apart from other ballet classes for children, and parents do get it and love it.
- 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.
B. Anything else you’d like to share specifically with your fellow Leap 'N Learn licensed studios?
Thank you for supporting Leap 'N Learn and for providing your students with the best dance education possible!
We want to thank Tiina Hazelett of Pure Dance Works for being so open and sharing so much of her story and insight with all of us! Her path to getting involved with dance education and opening her own studio is relatable and inspiring — and we have a feeling it can act as a great model for others too. We couldn't be happier that she's experiencing positive results and enjoying all the benefits of Leap 'N Learn, and of course, that her students are developing into great dancers and well-rounded children — and having fun in the process!
Get to know Tiina and the other like-minded Leap 'N Learn members better by leaving a comment below. You can thank Tiina for her awesome responses, ask questions, or talk about any ideas that were sparked by reading this interview!