As you know, one of our favorite perks of running Leap 'N Learn is the opportunity to work with some of the best children dance educators and studios in the world — aka all of you and your businesses! And we don't want to keep that just to ourselves, so we're spreading the word about our licensed Leap 'N Learn studios on our blog. But even more so, we want all of our members to know that being a part of our dance community has another great perk for you too — access to each other!
So each time we share a featured Leap 'N Learn studio, we'll have an expanded, insider edition for just members. 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!
A Quick Introduction: The Tamara Howe School of Dance provides professional, quality dance instruction for children, young adults, and adults. A variety of classes are offered to meet each dancers needs. We take great pride in our training techniques and educationally based programs. It is our objective to inspire passion for the art of dance in every child who passes through our doors. Participation at Tamara Howe School of Dance goes far beyond mastering steps, learning dances, and winning awards. It encompasses much more including building self-esteem, encouraging team work, developing self-discipline, musicality, self-expression, and appreciation for the language, art, and history of dance. Our goal is to create memories for you and your dancer and to help your dancer reach their greatest potential with confidence in whatever path in life they may choose.
- 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.
I, like many studio owners, grew up dancing at my local dance studio. I began with a tap class at the age of five. My mom needed a something to focus my energy as I spent most days just dancing around my house. Through my elementary and junior high ages, I tried various classes, quit a few years here and there, but really fell in love again with dance at the end of junior high. I continued through high school taking every class I could and assisting classes. I continued my love of dance while in college and majored with a BFA in Dance and Kinesiology and Health Promotion.
After moving to a new town, I wanted to teach again and found a few wonderful studios in which to share my love of learning with others. Upon the closing of one studio, I was asked by the studio director if I would open my own studio so her students could continue. Having always been a part of a studio, I wanted to expand upon that and open a place of my own. We have now been open for seven years and have really enjoyed this opportunity. Teacher workshops, business events, and continued support have really been catalysts to our continued growth.
B. What are some of your goals, how do you work towards them, and what indicators do you look to when gauging your success?
I believe our goals change yearly. I continue to look at ways to improve our students' success. I look at what we can do as a school to engage our students, offer them more, grow them not only as dancers but as people, but at the same time being mindful of their time. Many of our students commute thirty to sixty minutes one way and are not able to be here every day so our time management of classes for them is a necessity.
We continually work towards those goals, but evaluating where we are seeing growth in our class numbers, teacher availability, program success and, where we need improvement [is important too]. Where do we see a need for student improvement? What programs are really/are really not successful? What can we add in to make it more efficient? We have a wonderful staff that continually offers great feedback on how to improve upon our current model.
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?
Be okay with not having everything right at the beginning. Businesses are built one brick at a time. We started small with our business and have added as we’ve been able. I wanted to offer quality over quantity and have worked hard to ensure that we are able to continue with that goal in mind. Know also that it is okay to ask for help. Go, learn, explore… do all the things we ask our dancers to do. Take time to take a few business classes, and again, ask for help. There is so much valuable input at any level that we can all give to one another. In this business, you can often feel isolated. It’s important to reach out as many others encounter the same situations the we do in our own businesses and have great feedback.
B. Continuing education is key. How do you keep learning even after years of experience?
Myself and my staff continue to attend workshops. Our studio hosts one to two workshops a year. I love being a part of programs like Leap 'N Learn where I get monthly feedback and support. Anything that I can do to help me grow as a person, learn more about my business, and how to give more to my students, I love to take part in those opportunities.
Congrats — you are among the first of the licensed Leap ‘N Learn studios! 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?
We began with Leap 'N Learn from the beginning. In looking for a syllabus that would assist me in planning, I came across the Leap 'N Learn website. I ordered the syllabus and saw an immediate response from my students. For seven years now, we have continued through the curriculum and have utilized all of the materials that have been offered. Having seen our studios for the past five plus years grow with this program, you can see the growth through the levels. There is still so much that I would like to do with it in our school. I decided to continue with the licensing process as this information is so rich. The syllabus makes my day easier, gives continuity to all of our classes, gives my teachers confidence and allows us to all be on the same page. Beverly has done a fantastic job of building this program, and I’ve been so excited to be a part of learning and growing as a teacher.
What have been the most noticeable changes in your dance studio since applying Leap ‘N Learn to what you do?
There are no questions as to what to follow. Each year as we continue our syllabus, the teachers grow in their confidence with the material. My students know what to expect in the classes. There is structure to what we do and a reason to why we do it. We had always had structure, but the level of the material has allowed us to reach further with what we are doing not only for our older students but also for our youngest students.
What types of responses have you received about Leap ‘N Learn from your dance teachers, students, or parents?
Our parents love that they can talk with their students after class about what they have learned with the coloring pages. They appreciate the vocabulary learned at such a young age. I have three-year-olds that can describe a word, what it means, and show the action correctly. The students love creative movement. They remember from year-to-year the activities and ask for them by name. There is nothing more precious than free movement from a child. My teachers appreciate the in-depth explanation of movements. They feel confident about what they are teaching and how it is supposed to be done. It takes so much guessing work out of the schedule for them. They notice how quickly students “pick-up” choreography as they’ve had all the building blocks through the class work to put it all together.
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?
Our class times are not as long as recommended for our younger students. We often have to adapt exercises to fit within our time frame. We also combine ages five and six and have worked to combine exercises for that level. I have always had to do this so it is not a huge adjustment. I find also with some of our recreational or late-start students, I have to move an age level down. The material is so guided that it is easy to switch a level if needed and students typically quickly pick up.
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?
Leap 'N Learn gives a good framework for you to build on. While the lesson plans are set and the age levels are given, it is easy to weave it into what you currently offer. I have found that with using the syllabus for so long that my view and focus of class time and class scheduling continually changes. I am looking forward to changing bits and pieces for next year so that I can offer more ballet time. You would think that my older "tween" students would like to take anything but ballet. However, this fall, my heart sang when I walked into my twelve- to thirteen-year-old-ballet class. I had seventeen kids! They take a combination class with ballet, tap, and jazz, and out of all three classes, ballet had the most students. Our ballet has grown, and I’m excited to see where it is taking us. They love what they learn, and we love that Leap 'N Learn has helped us to foster that love for ballet in our students.
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?
With every season there is a new adventure. While we would all love to just be in the studio teaching, that is rarely the case. Bookwork and paperwork is the hardest for me. Just keeping up with the day-to-day scheduling, correspondence, and office work. Fortunately, I have some wonderful people who offer great support. You have to lean on others when you don’t know where to go. Hiring and giving tasks that may not be your strongest suit to others has allowed me the ability to focus on other areas within our business that need attention.
B. What tips would you give to your fellow Leap ‘N Learn licensed studios for making it through the tougher times?
When you encounter rough situations or difficult times, you have to continue on. Tough times help us to grow and make us stronger. I think there is valuable learning in every phase of life. Everything we encounter teaches us something that we are supposed to know. Look for the good, because there is good, in everything, and you will find it — and hold on to that. That mindset has really helped me through the years.
What gives you the most joy in your job?
My kids. I say my kids as the kids at the studio really are my kids. I love hearing them lined up at the door. I love seeing them grow. I just enjoy getting to be a part of their lives and seeing their confidence bloom through dance. That is such a great joy.
My studio growing up was my second home. It was the place where I felt most comfortable. It was the place where I felt I could go and just be myself and really be me. I know that our studio is that same place for many dancers. What a blessing to be able to offer that to students knowing that this comforting place, where they can just be, will give them the opportunity to flourish and grow into themselves.
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?
Working with children is such a special opportunity. They come to learn dance but learn so much more than that. If we can provide that safe environment and be that positive light in their day, we help them grow. We want our students to come and take lessons, but often the most valuable lessons learned are the ones they teach us. Every business has it’s ebbs and flows, find the joy within.
If you had to choose only one of your favorite aspects of Leap ‘N Learn, what would it be and why?
All the great manipulatives and tools!
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?
We love all the fun manipulatives! They dancers remind me often if I forget to use them. They are integrated into all of our lessons and even some choreography. There are so many fabulous CDs, scarves, ribbons, mats, and more. We see a greater engagement in our students when they are utilized during class time.
Anything else you’d like to share with dance studio owners and teachers, or perhaps to Leap ‘N Learn students and their parents?
Leap 'N Learn has provided such a wonderful curriculum for our students. I encourage you to try a Leap 'N Learn studio. Watch a class of students and see their joy in and out of class. We all want our students to have fun, but we want them to be learning too. Through a Leap 'N Learn class, your dancer will not only be learning the framework to basic ballet skills; they will be developing their listening skills, developing creativity, working on basic class room behavior, and so much more. We love this program and know that you will too!
B. Anything else you’d like to share specifically with your fellow Leap ‘N Learn licensed studios?
Thank you Beverly and Annie for all you do! I can't begin to explain how the work you've done in creating and fine tuning your syllabus has been a benefit to me. We continually appreciate it!
Again, we want to give a huge thanks to Tamara Howe of Tamara Howe School of Dance! We appreciate her time, thoughtful responses, and partnership!
Please feel free to connect with Tamara, and your fellow Leap 'N Learn studio owners, by conversing in the comments below. Introduce yourself, let us know what you learned, ask questions, and maybe even share a story or piece of advice that you thought of when reading this interview...