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!
An Introduction: “Breeze into Boynton Beach, America’s gateway to the Gulfstream” is the logo in this community. Located in South Florida's Palm Beach County along the Atlantic Ocean, this area boasts exceptional sub-tropical weather year round. On a typical day in this performing arts studio, you will see students arrive in flip-flops and tank tops, even in January! Boynton Beach is the county's third largest city and was the number one rated beach in Palm Beach County in 2001 by the Palm Beach Post. The population within a five-mile radius of the studio is 276,622.
Since the community is growing rapidly (Florida has now become the 3rd largest state in the US), many young families are moving to the area. Boynton Beach School of Music, Dance & Drama has found that families new to the area find their studio to be a place where they and their children can feel at home, and they are continually working to make them feel like they belong.
This performing arts school in Hypoluxo, Florida offers instruction in music, dance, and drama. Their lessons include voice, piano, drums, violin, trumpet, flute, saxophone, clarinet, keyboard, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, bass guitar, trombone, tuba, preschool music, musical theatre, drama, ballet, tap, and jazz dance! They also offer three Broadway-style musicals a year, a music recital at Christmas and one in the spring, and a dance recital in the spring.
- 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 have had a passion for music since I was three-years-old and my mother brought home a baby grand piano.
I am a lyric soprano and have performed with The New York Grand Opera, Opera Theatre of New York, The Miami Opera, The Orlando Opera, and the Palm Beach Opera Companies. Some of my roles include Musetta (La Boheme), Pamina (The Magic Flute), Giannetta (The Elixir of Love) and Marguerite (Faust). I was a finalist in the Metropolitan Opera Company’s regional auditions and a semi-finalist in Sarah Caldwell’s American / Israel Foundation Competition. I had the privilege of performing the role of Kate Pinkerton in the opera Madame Butterfly in Central Park. Some of my roles in the Broadway repertoire include: Eliza Doolittle (My Fair Lady), Maria (West Side Story), Marian (The Music Man), and Maria (The/Sound of Music). While performing in New York, I directed and performed in my own one-woman-show off-Broadway. I attended The University of Florida and Peabody Conservatory of Music, and I hold a Bachelor of Music degree in vocal performance. I was selected as Miss Palm Beach County and Miss University of Florida. I am a member of Delta Delta Delta Sorority.
B. What are some of your goals, how do you work towards them, and what indicators do you look to when gauging your success?
My goal for our dance program is to offer our community a dance program of excellence in manner that is fun and engaging for the student. In addition, personally, when I auditioned for Broadway shows, I could sing and act, but could not dance, so I am EXTREMELY passionate about my singers learning how to dance!
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?
Start out growing your dance program with ages three to five years of age. Understand that growing the program will take time and your three- to five-year-old students will eventually become your ballet I, ballet II, etc. students. When I started my dance program, I offered many age categories of dance, but found that the three to five year classes were the only classes to actually fill up.
B. Continuing education is key. How do you keep learning even after years of experience?
Because I am a musician offering my community dance (and actually don’t have “years of experience”) I rely on Beverly and the Leap 'N Learn program to offer me the continuing education I need.
Perhaps this will help another musician offering a dance program to their community. I know which of my voice and piano students are involved in a dance school in my community, and I make sure that I attend any events that they are involved in to see what other dance schools are doing. I also make sure that I attend every dance recital in my area. In addition, I have started attending every professional dance event that my local professional auditorium offers.
- 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?
I learned about the Leap ‘N Learn program through a consultant that I use to help me run my school. I purchased the program when I added the dance program and was one of the first studios in the US to become a licensed studio. I decided to become a licensed studio because it is a program of excellence and Beverly is passionate about continuing to make it a program of excellence. The monthly newsletters are full of tools to help me expand the program, and the summer workshops are invaluable.
- What have been the most noticeable changes in your dance studio since applying Leap 'N Learn to what you do?
I have only used curriculums written by Beverly, so from the opening of my dance program, I feel like we looked like we knew what we were doing even though I am a musician, not a dancer.
- What types of responses have you received about Leap 'N Learn from your dance teachers, students, or parents?
My parents love the fact that we offer a very organized, well-thought-out program and they can see their children learn and grow as dancers. I love to hear a parent tell me that their child comes home and practices what they learned in class and they use the terminology correctly. The students really enjoy the “homework” and some bring back what they have colored during the week and they are amazing works of art! The teachers that I have that have a degree from a college in dance are very comfortable teaching the program.
- 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?
I wanted to try to help the students and families become excited about the theme that we offer in class each month, so we made sure this year that the theme was posted, as the Leap 'N Learn curriculum suggests, in areas where the students enter and the parents are seated while waiting for their child. We also have a small gift that we give out at the end of each month with a “Congratulations Certificate” attached saying “Congratulations you have completed __________ month”. The gift for the musical awareness month was a maraca that I purchased from Party City, and I added a sticker with my logo and a ribbon. Very cute!
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?
I have found that I need to continue to encourage the teachers to stick with the Leap ‘N Learn curriculum.
- 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?
I am passionate about the music, dance, and drama curriculums and am always thinking about how to make them better. So the business side is the most challenging for me — marketing, advertising, keeping track of finances, making sure the website is current, keeping our Facebook page up-to-date, handouts for upcoming auditions and programs, etc. Having a professional database for the business has been key in keeping things running smoothly.
Working behind the scenes is my amazing husband of 36 years. He is my biggest cheerleader and biggest fan! He understands the hours of commitment and work involved in running a studio. As a successful businessman, he is able to give me advice on anything involving the business side of the studio. He is also our amazing “repairs and maintenance man!"
B. What tips would you give to your fellow Leap 'N Learn licensed studios for making it through the tougher times?
Honestly, I am still relatively new at running a school of music, dance, and drama. When I was the only teacher I made a very good profit. When expanding the music program and adding a dance and drama program, my goal has been to first and foremost offer my community programs of excellence and secondly to not loose money while growing the programs. Adding these programs, I realized that I needed to purchase pianos, stereo systems, ballet flooring, curriculum for the dance program, database program to run the studio, sheet music, furniture, etc... and I have been able to purchase everything needed and stay within my budget. I guess what I am trying to say is, give yourself a period of a few years to grow your program. This past October, I hit my number of projected music students and increased so much that I had to lease another space. It took three years to reach this goal, which is about the time frame you should give yourself anytime you add a new program. My number for the dance program is 120 dance students (I only have one dance room), and we are at about 40 students. My number for the musical theatre/drama program is 100, and we have about 40 students in that program. I am projecting that we will hit our number for the musical theatre/drama program in 2015-2016 and for the dance program by 2016-2017.
- What gives you the most joy in your job?
It is very exciting to discover students that God has gifted with extraordinary gifts of music, dance, and drama and to have the privilege of helping them grow in their gifts. (One of our voice students will be traveling to Orlando this weekend because she has been selected to be a contestant on The Voice. We are very excited!) It is also a joy to watch students that just have a love of one of the arts and to see their excitement as they grow.
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?
Maximize the joy of watching your students fall in love with the art of dance. It is because of your dream and vision that they are able to then follow their dream of becoming a dancer.
- If you had to choose only one of your favorite aspects of Leap 'N Learn, what would it be and why?
The coloring sheets (homework). It sets us apart from other dance studios in our area and really reinforces the concepts taught in class. Students take a piece of the class home and look at it all week.
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?
I am passionate about the coloring pages (homework). I make a big deal out of each and every page brought to me. Our first present for month one, was a pink binder with each of their coloring pages inserted.
- Anything else you’d like to share with dance studio owners and teachers, or perhaps to Leap 'N Learn students and their parents?
To any new dance studio owner, I would just like to reinforce that this is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes time to grow a program of excellence, and it takes about three years to show a profit.
B. Anything else you’d like to share specifically with your fellow Leap 'N Learn licensed studios?
Continue to trust Beverly and encourage her. She continues to amaze me with her long range plans for Leap 'N Learn. I am thrilled that as my students graduate from the Leap “N Learn program, Beverly is working on the next phase of a dancer's education and is making plans on how best to continue to offer our students programs of excellence as they age and advance in their skills.
We'd like to give a big thanks to Diane Gwynn McWhorter of Boynton Beach School of Music, Dance & Drama for her time and thoughtful responses. It's great to see things from the perspective of a music professional and to see how she's successfully growing all of her school's programs.
Say hello to Diane and other Leap 'N Learn members by leaving a comment below. You can thank Diane for her insights, share your own related stories, or ask questions to keep the conversation going.