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: Lifehouse Performing Arts Academy is located in Salem, Utah an hour south of Salt Lake City. This Leap 'N learn dance studio draws students from six surrounding communities. It offers classes in ballet, jazz, tap, modern, musical theater, and hip-hop. Lifehouse Performing Arts Academy offers pre-professional and recreation classes. The studio does not participate in competitions, but rather focuses on producing excellence in dance technique and creating meaningful, professional performances and productions throughout the year.
- 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 started Lifehouse Performing Arts Academy fifteen years ago in the basement of our first home. We lived in a small community up on the benches of Payson Canyon in Utah. I had just had my first baby and planned to stay home. I was excited to be a mother! I had some neighbors who knew I danced ask me to teach some lessons to their little girls so they didn’t have to drive off the benches and down into town. Dance has always been a huge part of my life, and I thought teaching a few classes would be a fun way to stay involved in the art form. My plan was to teach about 20 students ages three to eight. After two years, there were 90 students. The studio continued to grow and so did our locations. The studio has moved five times to accommodate growth. Two years ago we completed a 18,000 square foot facility with seven studios. There are now between 450 and 500 students.
I think the biggest factor that has helped the studio grow in the marketplace are its values and purpose. Where dance in my area has gone to being all about the competitions, I decided we would never compete. At first this decision was met by confusion. What was dance about if there wasn’t competition? Some of my students were told that they must not be very good because they don’t compete.
I want the focus for my teachers and students to be on reaching their individual potential and not how their abilities compare to another person’s abilities. This is difficult when you attend a competition and a judge gives one student a first place trophy and another person a second place trophy based on their opinion of the performance. I also think there is a higher motivation that can be taught for achieving excellence with your talents. That is the higher level of excellence we achieve with our gifts and abilities, the more opportunities we have to share them in significant and meaningful ways, the more inspiring we are to others, and the more good we can do in the world. This is a much better motivation for me than doing my best so I can win a trophy and be declared better than someone else.
I also wanted to create a culture at Lifehouse that encourages the students to celebrate each other’s progress and improvement and to care for each other as individuals and to be inspired by our unique talents and abilities rather than a culture that encourages students to evaluate themselves and each other based on “being better” or “winning” over another student.
I also feel that competing can oftentimes interfere with a student’s training. The focus becomes more on perfecting routines rather than on training. There is pressure to try and get students to do skills they are not ready to perform because it will impress a judge, but that can lead to injury and bad technical habits that will ultimately hold back their training. It is better to build strong foundational alignment, body awareness, and technique. In the end it creates a more skilled dancer.
Instead of competing, Lifehouse focuses on creating meaningful performance opportunities for its students where they can share their talents and abilities to an appreciative audience who is there to share and celebrate with them in the wonderful art form of dance. We work our hardest in the classroom and in rehearsal to prepare ourselves to uplift and entertain our audience, and when we have worked our hardest and done our best, everyone walks home a winner.
The other biggest factor is hiring the right staff. I have had amazing teachers, office staff, and directors come on board over the years that have contributed their amazing gifts and talents to the students. Lifehouse would not be what it is today without their help.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 in what dance can do for young people. We are all dancers because we all move our bodies. My goals are for the studio to be of significance in the lives of its students, their families, and the audiences who come to watch our performances. I want my students to learn truth and good values as they study dance. I believe that even though we teach dance which mostly manifests itself physically in the body, we must also teach a student’s mind, support them emotionally, and help them find purpose in what they do. As a teacher it is easy to just focus on the body. We forget that people are four dimensional (physical, emotional, mental, spiritual). I guess I measure my success by what I see in the students. Their growth as people and dancers means everything to me. I also believe that if this is my focus, the business side of things will continue to grow.
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?
Define your purpose. What is your overall mission in running a studio? Stay true to whatever your vision is. It won’t be for everyone and that is okay. Each dancer and their parent are looking for different things when exploring studios. Build a supportive team who believes in your vision and purpose. Don’t be afraid of customer feedback. Listen to it, but also be okay with throwing it out when it doesn’t support your vision for your business.
B. Continuing education is key. How do you keep learning even after years of experience?
I read a lot, dance books and blogs, but also books about people and true principles. This last year I have studied Brene Brown’s books. I also read The Power of Full Engagement and am finishing Stephen Covey’s The Eighth Habit. They inspire me and help know how to be a better director. I also attend conferences such as Dancer Teacher Summit and The Leading Edge Dance Conference. Collaborating with my teachers is a huge source of learning for me. They each have unique strengths and we learn a lot from each other. My studio produces a dance camp every year and we bring in guest artists and master teachers. That is also a wonderful learning opportunity.
- 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 met Beverly at The Dance Teacher Summit in New York City in 2013. I had attended a different seminar on teaching ballet to little ones and found myself disagreeing with much of what was offered. I call it inspiration that I ended up in Beverly’s class. As she presented, I could feel the truth behind her program and curriculum and how it relates to children. Four weeks later I flew to Louisiana for a training. I love Leap 'N Learn because it teaches the whole child. It teaches them physically, mentally, emotionally in a safe and loving environment. It is a phenomenal foundation in dance technique, but also how to conduct themselves as a dancer. It also teaches the joy of movement and hard work.
- What have been the most noticeable changes in your dance studio since applying Leap 'N Learn to what you do?
More consistency across teachers in what is being taught and the culture of the studio. I have seen increased technique in the younger classes.
- What types of responses have you received about Leap 'N Learn from your dance teachers, students, or parents?
Everyone is really enjoying the curriculum. The students enjoy class, the teachers enjoy teaching, and parents feel that their children are truly learning which makes them feel good about the financial and time commitment.
- 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 had to increase the length of my classes. We have a really wonderful tap program. My open classes starting in kindergarten do ballet and tap. My company students have individual classes. It was a transition this year, but well worth it.
- 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?
For me with my personality trying to please everyone is the most difficult. I work really hard. Learning to accept that everyone does not have to like what I do or value it has been a journey for me. It is also hard for me when people complain about paying for things such as recital fees, etc. when I am working so hard. If we do our jobs well, we make things look easy. Customers take for granted the hours of preparation and work that have gone into everything running smoothly and being easy for them. I have had to learn to not take things personally and to know that I am competitively positioned in the market place and worthy of pay.
B. What tips would you give to your fellow Leap 'N Learn licensed studios for making it through the tougher times?
Find your vision, what your belief systems are about dance and stick to them. Love your students and remember that we are more than what we do. Our value is so much more than success of our business or our students. I think maintaining a personal identity separate from directing a studio is really important.
- What gives you the most joy in your job?
Seeing students grow as people. Watching an audience come out of performance being thoroughly uplifted and happy. Working with passionate people who share my vision.
We want to give a heartfelt thanks to Nesha Woodhouse of Lifehouse Dance Academy for her responses about running a dance studio and her wonderful approach on dance training. We love this type of non-competitive environment and know her students and staff are lucky to have a great place to take and teach dance class!
Say hi to Nesha and your fellow Leap 'N Learn members by leaving a comment below. Ask Nesha a question, thank her for something she said that struck you, or continue the conversation with everyone by sharing your thoughts on these topics.