Backstage With TUTU School

Photography by Andrew Weeks

Photography by Andrew Weeks

GAHHH! I'm super excited to bring you this Backstage Blog, because I got to interview an awesome fellow #girlboss that I've been looking up to for quite awhile now! Genevieve Weeks is the Founder and CEO of TUTU School, a franchise of boutique ballet schools geared for dancers ages 8 and under. Get ready to feast your eyes on not only some fabulous insight, but some cuuuuute dance studio design inspo and great branding. A big thanks to Genevieve for taking the time out of her busy schedule for this interview, and best wishes to her and all her work!

KC: What are your earliest memories of dance?

Without a doubt, dancing around in my parents’ living room to everything from Bob Dylan to Tchaikovsky. I really believe that Tutu School was essentially born in that living room.

KC: How did the idea for Tutu School come about? 

GW: I was put in charge of the Pre-Ballet division at another school and just fell in love with the age group. At the same time, I began realizing that traditional dance schools weren’t set up to really cater to very little ones, and that often the youngest students were an after-thought in a school with a much broader focus. I started dreaming of a school that would exclusivelyt teach children 8 years-old and under, so that every single aspect of the studio, program, and curriclum would be tailored precisely to the goal of giving little ones a completely magical introduction to ballet.

 KC: What are you most proud of about your work with Tutu Schools?

GW: I am most proud of the fact that Tutu School is a space – a physical space and a space in children’s lives – where kids can connect with the joy and creativity inside of them. That’s at the core of everything we do. Now that we have also expanded through franchising, I am very proud of the amazing Tutu School owners that have joined our community and embraced our mission.

KC: How did you get into teaching? What is your favorite thing about it? Do you have a least favorite thing about being a business owner?

GW: Honestly, I started teaching as a side job to supplement my career as a professional dancer while I was still performing. I never envisioned that dance education would become a permanent part of my life. Now I am addicted to the moment that inevitably comes in each class where I spot a student that has lost themselves in music and movement, and really connected with something exceptional inside of themselves. I don’t ever want to get blasé about getting to be a part of that Founding a company - and now helping other women open their own Tutu Schools – has been an incredible adventure. There are certainly challenges, though, and I would say the one I come up against most frequently is just trying to figure out how best to divide my time when everything always feels pressing and important. My motto is, “Just do the next right thing.” So I try to start there..

Photography by Andrew Weeks

Photography by Andrew Weeks

KC: Who are your dance heroes, and why?

GW: Growing up, it was Darci Kistler with New York City Ballet. As a performer, she embodied what I love most about ballet… An ability to just climb right inside of the music.

 KC: How do you describe what you do for a living to people you're just meeting for the first time?

I tell them that I founded a national collection of ballet schools for very young children. 

KC: What's the funniest, or most heart-warming story about teaching or dancing you have?

GW: One of my very favorite students to ever come through Tutu School’s doors has a mild form of Cerebral Palsy. She has never let it deter her from participating fully in our classes and performances, though. She’s incredible. A few years ago she was in the hospital for quite a while after a surgery, and when her doctors and physical therapists would ask her how it was that she was so good at the stretching and rehab exercises she was being asked to do, she replied with total confidence, “It’s because I am a ballerina.”

KC: What one preconception or cliche about dance would you like to correct? 

GW: There’s so much strength, and frankly so much courage in ballet that I feel gets too often overlooked. At Tutu School, we are currently focusing on the best way to highlight positive and empowering messages within our Ballet Storytime curriculum. For example, in The Sleeping Beauty, do you know who the real hero of that story is? Most people focus on a silly kiss from a prince, but in the ballet version it is the Lilac Fairy who – with kindness and bravery – truly saves the day. And all while wearing a purple tutu.

Photography by Andrew Weeks

Photography by Andrew Weeks

KC: And now.... just for funsies....Burritos or tacos? 

GW: Tacos.

KC: Legwarmers or ballet skirts?

GW: Don’t make me choose!

KC: Disco balls or rainbows?

GW: Rainbows.

KC: Center Stage or Flashdance?

GW: Center Stage.

KC: One word to describe yourself?

GW: Determined.

YASSSS! I found so much inspiration from Genevieve's words, and hope you do too! For more info on TUTU Schools, check out their website, and then hit me up on social media and let me know who your dance studio crush is these days and why. Have a great week!

November Book Report - Windows

As soon as I saw Julia Denos' book Windows, I knew it had to be this month's Book Report, because the view out of my own windows has dramatically changed over the past few weeks.

For those of you who don't know, I moved myself and my budding business to upstate New York earlier this year (you can read more about that adventure here), and within just the past few weeks the season has definitely changed from fall to winter.

A similar thing happens in Windows; through the gorgeous illustrations by E.B. Goodale, readers take a twilight walk through a city and see some beautiful things changing. Day into night, playtime into dinnertime, and all the while we get a glimpse into our neighbor's lives and homes, full of love, tradition, and a sense that no matter where we come from, we've been there with them before.

I think one of the things that my adult self loves about children's books is the sense of nostalgia I get from them. They remind me of such wonderful story times as a child, and give me new insight to life lessons as a grown up. Windows pulls at my nostalgic childhood heart strings of warm lights, cozy winter nights, and the love of family. It's the perfect addition to your November reading list, and I'd love to know what you think! What's on your bookshelves that you love to share with your kids and friends during this month? Let me know! Happy Reading!

November Brain Dance - The Classics

I don't know where October went, or how it suddenly became November, but here we are! This month I've decided to go back to the classics for our Brain Dance. I covered a fall themed Brain Dance in September, and October was all things spooky, and you can bet your dance pants that December will be winter/holiday themed, so I figured it was a good time to take a break from the theming and go with what can't be beat: the classics.

These are my go-to classic Brain Dance moves, my tried and true, and the surefire winners. Don't miss a beat with Brain Dances, Teacher Tips, and fun resources over on my YouTube channel - you can subscribe here. Happy dancing, and enjoy!

7 Things I've Learned Moving My Business To A Small Town

CampStore! My SO's and my new business in Speculator, NY

CampStore! My SO's and my new business in Speculator, NY

When you move from a Northern California city with population of over 10,000 to an upstate New York town with population just over 300, you’re bound to be in for a few shocks and surprises.

When you move your new business from one of these places to the other, those shocks and surprises quickly sprout arms, legs, and heads of upsets, joys, and happy accidents, covered with a not too small amount of improvisation.

The Adirondack park is larger than Yosemite, Yellowstone, Glacier, Grand Canyon and the Great Smokies National Parks combined, yet Speculator, which sits in the south of the Park, has a population of approximately 324. Remember those posters of the Milky Way with an arrow to a tiny speck that proclaimed ‘You Are Here?’ Yeah. That’s where I moved my business.

While there’s been a good amount of feeling exposed and insignificant in the vast wilderness, and like a fish out of water, and like I’d give my right foot to lay eyes on a Target or a Starbucks, the past few months have taught me some valuable lessons about starting and growing a new business in a small town, things about community, gratitude, giving, and about becoming a part of something that’s larger than life.

1.    Connections and community are everything

Small towns are, understandably, insular. I was aware of this, but nonetheless, on approximately my 5th day in town, when I went to a Chamber of Commerce meeting to introduce myself, I was shocked, and slightly hurt, when one or two people physically recoiled from my extended handshake. Fast forward 2 weeks, and these same people were giving me inside scoops on where I could offer my classes for my business, as well as offering up their household restroom for me to use if I ever found myself in need (public restrooms are few and far between in Speculator). Being an independent woman, I found it rather infuriating (and weird) to have to introduce myself in connection with my fiancé (who grew up in Speculator), especially when I was introducing myself on behalf of my business. But as soon as I dropped my fiancé’s name, the skeptical glaze on people’s faces would soften, a smile creep into the corners of their mouths (although, to be fair, whenever I mention my fiancé’s name that’s the typical reaction; he’s just that charming), and I was immediately welcomed and accepted. This transformation in people’s reactions was puzzling to me, but I’ve come to understand that while the community here is guarded, once they’re given the chance to get to know you, they’ll likely give you the shirt off their back, and send you on your way with 5 more, even if it means they’ll go without. I may have to work a little harder to make personal connections here, but in our age of instant gratification, I’ve found that pursuit of the personal relationship is more rewarding, both for me, and my business.

2.    Be a presence

Everything is magnified in a small town. Because there are so few people, the people who are around become magnified, their personalities peeled back to reveal only the essentials. It’s a great exercise in finding what I (and my business) are really all about, and an invitation to be the kind of presence I’ve always wanted to be.

3.    Do as much as you can to get involved

For today’s entrepreneurs, the mantra seems to be DO ALL THE THINGS. Which is exhausting. Small town life has the cure for this in a few ways: #1 the wifi isn’t all that great so even if you wanted to do all the online things, you can’t. And #2, small towns are places where picking up the local news or gossip is done at the grocery store. Making connections won’t happen through Skype or Snapchats here, but by volunteering at the yearly drug free teen event. I’ve found a good balance for my business by building personal relationships through getting involved locally, and then Tweeting about it. (Once I get to the reliable wifi that’s 50 miles away).

4.    Gratitude is everything

I believe that gratitude is at the heart of every successful person and business. Living in a small town has reinforced that belief. Being taken out of my element(s) has made me more aware of what I have and what I lack, and that much more appreciative of it all.

5. You get feedback (even when you don’t want it)

In a small town, if you’re not clear about who you are and what your plans are, be prepared for people to make it up for you. When the wifi and the weather aren’t great, you can’t really blame people for letting their imaginations run wild. You’ll have to think on your feet, move on the fly, and get really good at improvising unless you want your simple plan of opening a bakery becoming a tall tale of a new ammo shop in town that sells bagels on the side and has a feral fox as a (live) mascot. My small town setting has challenged me to get super clear on my business, its offerings, and my goals, and as a result, become all the things (and more) that I always wanted it to be.

6.    What you’re doing makes an impact

When you’re starting a new venture, there are many moments of ‘why am I doing this?’ and ‘does this even matter?’ Finding a positive answer to those doubts is infinitely easier in a small down. You see results easier and faster when you’re reaching 300 people as opposed to 30,000. There’s no thing too small to be felt in a small community, and realizing that even the smallest connections have wide reaching implications is powerful.

7. Small but mighty is ok

America’s business culture loves numbers and I’m as guilty of the next small business owner of getting caught up in quantifying reach and engagement and analytics and all the things. While there is strength in numbers, strength doesn’t diminish even when those numbers are small. Small can be mighty; it creates more community, more camaraderie, and more meaning.

These are the lessons I’ve learned just in the past 5 months! I can only imagine what the future holds, but one thing I know for sure is that you can’t judge a book by its cover, or a town by its size. I have a feeling my big little small town life and business are primed for great things. 

Did you start your business in a small town or a big town? Have you recently moved your business? Let me know if any of this resonates with you!

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How To Have Your Chillest Holiday Yet

I know you probably don't want to hear this, but the holidays are coming... The sentiment 'Winter Is Coming' from GOT could absolutely be applied to the holidays. Something big is coming. Undeniable, inevitable, potentially amazing, potentially awful. For dancers, teachers, and studio owners, the holidays take an extra special meaning since 'tis the season for Nutcrackers and holiday performances. Even if you opt out of the holiday shows, getting ready for a new year is daunting.

As I was pondering all this, I started to feel the overwhelm creep up my spine as I remembered holiday seasons past: frantically driving to and fro, doing last minute shopping and cooking, making myself cup after cup of coffee to stay caffeinated, unable to drink a single hot cup because I'm pulled in too many directions to stay put and enjoy it. Spending money I didn't have on wrapping paper and gifts, choreographing and tweaking plans late into the night, only to wake up in a panic 2 hours after I'd finally made it to bed. Instead of feeling happy watching family open their presents, or relief that my tasks are done, I'd be left feeling disappointed and more empty than a Target dollar bin on December 24.

Then I took a deep breath and came up with a new reality.

I'm wrapped up in a giant, fuzzy blanket and there's a steaming cup of coffee next to me in a Hagrid sized mug. There's twinkly lights winking conspiratorially at me both outside and inside and the heater in my house is purring away. In the other room I can hear my family and friends laughing, clinking glasses and munching on crunchy Chex mix. The holidays are here, and my stress is at an all time low. 

This year I'm committing to making my vision of a calm, cool and chillaxed holiday a reality, and I'd love it if you would join me.

I've created a new program I'm calling Chillvember; its a one-month long FREE program for dancers, dance teachers, studio owners, creatives, and small business owners. If you're tired of mindlessly stressing and spinning your wheels during an already hectic season, this program is for you.

Here's The Basics:

Every day during the month of November, you'll receive a different exercise. It could be as simple as making a list of things you're grateful for, or as fun as making some art work for yourself, or as thoughtful as calling an old friend.

The Chillvember exercises are designed to take you off the hamster wheel of work, stress, and grind, and bring you back to the core of you. The core that's light, loving, playful, creative, thoughtful, and grateful

Because those qualities are what the holidays are about, and I know that's the spirit we all need a little more of, during the holiday season and beyond.

Ready to have your chillest holiday yet?

If you've got more Q's you can get the A's here. Or, hit me up and let's chat about if this program is right for you! I hope to see you next month, ready to get focused, thoughtful, and light! 

Backstage With - Resourceful Dance

Today is a Backstage Blog! The awesome ladies at Resourceful Dance were kind enough to sit down with me for an interview as I picked their brains about what makes them tick, their goals and passions for dance and their business, and... burritos, because #priorities. Thank you so much, Colleen and Meagan for sharing your wisdom and time with me, and for all you dance teachers, studio owners and creative business bosses out there, be sure to check out the Resourceful Dance website; it's chock full of goodies! You can continue in the conversation over on their Facebook group as well. Here's to resourceful, passionate dance creatives! Cheers!

KC: What are your earliest memories of dance and how have they guided your training and careers over the years?

Meagan: My earliest dance memories are from when the ownership changed at my dance studio. I was in fourth or fifth grade. The new owner was young, beautiful, and SO energetic. The previous owner was a former professional ballet dancer- so the vibe was very different. I remember taking a tap class and learning a combo. I don't remember the song- but it was upbeat and fast. I remember feeling completely out of my comfort zone, but also completely in LOVE with dance. Like, wow, this is REALLY fun. I am forever grateful (especially the older I get!) that I went to a studio where we celebrated the JOY of dancing.

Another memory that stands out is a compliment I got from a ballet teacher when I was 16. He was VERY intimidating and I felt very behind technically in his class. He stopped me after going across the floor and said, "You love to dance, don't you Meagan? I can see that inside of you." That moment gave me so much confidence! I doubt how much he knew how much that meant to me. My technique was maybe not where it should be- but I worked hard and LOVED it. Those things matter just as much! 

In my own teaching, I never count anyone out. I try to reward hard work and grit JUST as much as a dancer's facility. I try to make everyone feel like there is a place for them in the dance world if they want it. The dance world can be a HARD place. Future dancers need to find a sense of motivation that comes from within. I try to help my students find that! 

Colleen: The very first thing I remember of dance was watching my older sister, Meagan, take her first dance class. I was about 3 and remember begging my mom to let me jump into class. Sadly, she said no hehe but as a compromise, let me do what I could on the sidelines. I think that really sparked my love for moving. Yes, it was exciting to watch but oh man, it was SO much more fun to actually do it. I still feel that same way about dance. My love for movement stems from the way it feels and I strongly believe that is why I continue to dance even today. 

KC: How did you get into teaching? What is your favorite thing about it? Do you have a least favorite thing about being business owners?

Meagan: I assisted and taught in high school and continued to teach throughout college. When I think back to those beginning classes.. they were rough! Ha! But that is how we learn. I taught after graduation to support myself while I pursued my own performing career. I fell into an opportunity to purchase and dance studio and naively said "yes" at 25. I have been teaching ever since! I love getting to witness students making connections or understanding a concept for the first time. I also LOVE watching my students perform and come alive on stage. Nothing better!

My least favorite part of being a dance studio owner was dealing with negative feedback about my studio. I hold dance SO close to my heart. It is very hard to not take that feedback personally and not stew over it for weeks! In my current business, I struggle to balance the work load with being a mom. It is very cliche- but finding that elusive balance is hard. 

Colleen: After I graduated college, I was ready to hang up my dancing shoes for a career in baking. At the same time, my sister was busy running her dance studio and needed another teacher so I said: "why not!" I continued to teach one night a week while I worked full- time at a bakery for a couple years. When my sister found out she was pregnant with her first I decided to take over for her during her maternity leave. I enjoyed it so much I just never returned to my bakery life. 

I love teaching kids that start dancing (or start dancing more intensively) around age 10-12. It is so exciting seeing the transformation of these dancers because they are so excited to learn. I have seen first-hand that it is possible to become an amazing dancer at any age or ability level as long as you work hard. It is really fun to see a student's eyes open up to new possibilities. 

Being a business owner comes with great flexibility. You can work anytime you please, you can reschedule meetings, etc. This is a HUGE bonus but can also be a bit of a curse. Because I have 2 young children, my life is constantly having to revolve around their activities, doctors appointments, and let's face it, their moods on any particular day. Because I have flexibility in my schedule, if things start to hit the fan, it is always my work schedule that makes the adjusting. Like I said, I am SO happy I have that flexibility as an entrepreneur because that means I don't have to take a sick day or get in trouble by my boss. But having a fixed schedule that someone is holding you accountable for, helps you actually work. Sometimes my work flexibility means some weeks, hardly anything gets done.  

KC: Who are your dance heroes, and why?

Meagan: I don't know if I have any famous dance heroes- but I have a lot of women I have danced with or worked with over the years that I look up to! I really admire women that face set backs and disappointment and KEEP going. In the professional world, I had one big (for me at the time!) set back that I had a really hard time getting back up from. It left a really bad taste in my mouth about the dance world. I admire women that take things into their own hands, define their own success, and take chances. Nothing against men, but in many ways the dance world is still a man's world! 

Colleen: I love all that Martha Graham did for modern dance. Stepping away from what is expected is beyond challenging and I respect her so much for forging a new path. 

KC: How do you describe what you do for a living to people you're just meeting for the first time?

Meagan: Our new tagline at Resourceful Dance is that we help dance studio owners use technology to work smarter and stress less. I usually just tell people I do website design because it is easier! 

Colleen: I usually start off by telling people that I teach dance. Then I move on to Resourceful Dance where I explain that I help dance studio owners with their social media, website management, and studio operations. It's one of those things that people instantly want to know how the heck we came into this business! Hehe, it's a good conversation starter!

KC: What's the funniest, or most heart-warming story about teaching you have?

Meagan: I will never forget the sound that came out of my students' mouths when I told them I was pregnant with my first daughter. I told our company kids before the rest of the studio. You would have thought I told them they won the lottery! So much jumping and screaming!! 

Colleen: I would say that while I was pregnant with both of my girls, my belly was ALWAYS a very hot topic for my little kid classes. How does the baby get in there? How does it get out? Does it hurt when the baby comes out? My answer was always, "well, I think you will have to ask your parents about that..." I always felt a little guilty being the catalyst for that awkward conversation during the car ride home. 

KC:What one preconception or cliche about dance would you like to correct? 

Meagan: I'd love for people to not immediately think of Dance Mom's when you tell them you own a dance studio. I also hate when I hear of high school dancers quitting dance because "they are not going to be a professional". It doesn't have to be all or nothing! I wish more studios also supported this. Dance can be such a wonderful outlet! 

Colleen: I think right now, there is this strong urgency from parents and students to be AMAZING at such a young age. Dancers are pushing themselves to be in the studio 5 hours a night plus all day Saturdays and Sundays. I worry that for a lot of dancers this will lead to overuse injuries and burn out. I want them to know that they have time. I know so many dancers that improved so much during and AFTER college who then went on to dance professionally. Slow down and enjoy middle school and high school. Work hard in your dance classes and know that dance is all about the long game.

KC: And now.... just for funsies....Burritos or tacos? 

Meagan: Burritos!

Colleen: Uh both! Sweet potato and black bean is my all-time fav. 

KC: Legwarmers or ballet skirts?

Meagan: I love a flattering ballet skirt... but I probably haven't worn a leotard in 5 years. Ha! 

Colleen: Neither, I'm an athletic legging kinda girl!

KC: Disco balls or rainbows?

Meagan: Disco balls. 

Colleen: Rainbows for sure.

KC: One word to describe yourself?

Meagan: Optimistic. 

Colleen: Resilient.

SUCH a good talk! Ok friends, now it's your turn!  Tell us, what's ONE thing as a dancer/studio owner you wish you had more resources with? And, if you want to mention if you're a burrito or taco lover, that'd be cool too. :)

October Book Report - The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid Of Anything

Last week I shared a fresh new Halloween themed Brain Dance with you, and the festive fun continues this week with the Book Report! This month I'm featuring The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid Of Anything by Linda Williams and illustrated by Megan Lloyd.

This Halloween tale follows a brave little old lady who sets out one night to gather herbs and food. On her journey, she meets a pair of shoes, pants, a shirt, gloves, a hat, and.... a spooky pumpkin head. They follow her around with clomps, claps, and wiggles, but rather than getting scared by them, the little old lady finds a mutually beneficial task for them.

Kids of all ages will love the light-hearted and interactive nature of this book. It reminds me of We're Going On A Bear Hunt; with the various sounds and actions working from the beginning of the book all the way through the end. This is a perfect book to encourage young kids to not only remember the sounds and actions, but get them moving and exploring similar movements.

What are your favorite Halloween and Fall books? I'd love to know what you and your kids are reading this month! As always, happy reading, and happy dancing!

October Brain Dance - Happy Halloween!

The month of ookie spookie is here! October is one of my favorite months to do a themed Brain Dance, because it's just so fun, and all the fall things lend themselves so nicely to the movements and themes we explore in the Brain Dance. If you're new to me, and my blog (hi! welcome!) then you can learn more about the Brain Dance here, and if you're an old timer, let's dive right in and get dancing! Oh, and you should also check out this free download, where I give you some inspo for what your dance Halloween costume should be! Have fun!

Why You Can't See My Lesson Plans

As a dance professional, I subscribe to a few different professional groups. Some are on Facebook, some are blogs that I frequent, but one thing that I’ve started seeing more and more (that I totally can’t stand) is teachers asking to see other teacher’s lesson plans and curriculums.

What the honest eff you guys?!

I realize this might seem like a harsh overreaction, but hear me out on why I find this so irksome.

To me, this is the equivalent of someone copying my test questions that I studied really hard for. I put in the time and effort and research and hard work to ace this test, and I’m NOT going to let someone who is less prepared leer over my shoulder to copy my work.

“But Katrena, this isn’t high school or college and I’m not copying anybody’s work. Chill out!”

Oh contraire, mon frère. If you’re asking to look at my work without also engaging in a conversation with me about why I chose to organize my lesson the way I did, and what the benefits are of the progressions I used, and why I used specific music or props or incorporated partner work during a specific exercise, than I feel you are completely missing the point (and art) of proper lesson planning; you really might as well be copying. In the same way we ask our dance students to be accountable for their actions, progress, and behavior, us dance teachers need to be accountable for our process and methods.

And here’s the real and honest truth: I have no problem whatsoever with teachers or other dance professionals asking my thoughts, opinions, or how I would approach something in dance. I am completely happy to share my experiences and knowledge, and I love learning from others and hearing what you’ve done that works. But I’m not down with giving away the recipe without having a chat about the history of it, why I use the measurements I do, and how tasty the finished product will be.

The second part of my beef with this seemingly harmless request is that it feels like it reinforces the starving artist complex and doesn’t allow or encourage teachers to value (and charge) for their work. When I see a request from one teacher to a group of teachers to see their lesson plans or curriculums, my internal (and sometimes verbal) response to them is: “Nope! But you sure can pay to see them!” I offer curriculum building for dance teachers and studios. It’s a skill set I’m proud to have and offer to the dance community. When we ask our fellow dance professionals to give us something of value for free it only feeds the pervasive belief that artists shouldn’t be paid for their work. And that’s some bull.

So please, I beg of you, don’t be the person who asks without thinking. Let’s get thoughtful about what we’re really asking for, and be willing to have conversations instead of easy answers. We teach our dancers every day in the studio that the only person who can show up to get the work done and improve is themselves. Now we need to apply that same teaching to ourselves. Let’s ask, talk, value, and treat our services the way we wish others would.

Agree? Disagree? Continue the conversation with me on social media!

The Real Dance Moms Blog

Confession Time: I love a good reality show. I'm obsessed with the Real Housewives franchise, and... wait for it... even loved Dance Moms when it first came out. I know, I cringe writing that, but it's the truth. I think for me, reality shows are a fascinating look into human behavior and psychology, but I hit my limit with Dance Moms when I felt it became little more than a vehicle for exploiting young dancer's talents and lives, a cliche of the 'stage mom' role, and don't even get me started on Abby Miller's antics. But, I will give the show credit for giving me an idea for a new blog series, The Real Dance Moms, which is starting today!

For each blog, I'll interview a parent who's had/has a child in dance. I'm just as curious as you are about what their experience as a parent has been, and to hear what they think the highs and lows, benefits, and long-term value of a dance life is. For this first post, I was thrilled to interview a longtime friend, Jocelyn Cuesta-Siu, who's daughter, Deneka, was one of my first students at Community Youth Center in Concord, Ca. Thank you Jocelyn, for taking the time to let me interview you, and for raising such a wonderful human! (I'm proud to report that Deneka is still dancing, and is already an amazing human being; I can't wait to see what her future holds!) So, without further ado, please enjoy the first installment of The Real Dance Moms!

1.              What was your child’s first experience of dance?

The lovely Deneka!

The lovely Deneka!

Deneka’s very first experience in dance was at home just being silly. We come from a performing family-music and dance – so it came natural to her. In pre-school, she did rhymes and movement. Later In a formal setting, it was ballet and movement.

 

2.              In your words, what does your daughter love most about dance?

Deneka is an artistic and social being. She loves being able to express emotion and tell a story through the art of dance. Deneka danced all through grade school and now is a double minor in dance and theatre.

 

3.              What do you love about dance, and what dance has done for your daughter?

I have grown up around dance all of my life, though not through formal technique. Our culture (Filipino) is one that celebrates life through dance. We find any reason to dance, a gathering, party, special event – anything!

Dance has given so much to Deneka. As a child, we started out trying to figure out what she enjoyed most and found a connection to. Gymnastics, soccer, and then dance. She flourished in her connection to the art, made lifelong friends with other dances and coaches, something to call her own, and most of all, a strong sense of self-confidence.

 

4.              What does she dislike (if anything) about it?

When Deneka began to dance, she enjoyed it. As she grew as a dancer (and an individual), she began to feel restricted. It wasn’t until she began to dance in college that she truly found her true love of dance and a full understanding that of her technical training. She began to explore different styles of dancing, primarily contemporary which she enjoys most.

 

5.              What age did she start dancing, and is she still currently dancing?

Deneka formally began dancing around the age of 7. She still dances today and if she isn’t dancing, gets restless and feels out of shape. She enjoys learning different styles and loves choreography. Her love of dance has even extended an invitation to become the artistic director at the campus production. In addition, she is in the beginning stages of planning the choreography for the student production next Spring.

 

6.              Favorite role she danced?

Deneka performing in one of her college dance shows

Deneka performing in one of her college dance shows

Deneka is still exploring her life in dance and has yet to discover her favorite. Her most memorable thus far has been the role of the Spanish lead in the Nutcracker and Ursula in the Little Mermaid. These roles allowed her to express her artistic and theatrical persona.

 

7.              Did your dancer make any life-long friendships with any of her dance friends or teachers? (I’m not asking this to fish for answers, I promise!)

Life-long friends, definitely! Like sports, the arts allow you to spend many hours with your dance-mates and coaches. However, life does take everyone on different paths and interests, so those friends have grown apart and  time spent together is not as often as they would like.

 

8.              What’s your take on the Dance Moms show?

I enjoy watching the show for the dancers and talent, but not so much the Moms! I found them to be too catty; but I guess sometimes that is what gets ratings? We tried to stay away from while Deneka was a young dancer and were pretty successful as our program was family oriented. Thanks to her coach (Katrena!), we were in an environment that was family friendly, motivating, healthy, and non-competitive. Competition is great, but not for all children, sports, or arts. Deneka thrives on performing, sharing, building relationships, and learning technique versus the need to be number 1.

 

9.              What do you think the most common misconception about dancers is?

Dancers are one size: 0, skinny, with curves in all the right places. Dancers (and athletes) come in all sizes. I’ve seen them all! It is amazing to see what the body can do when trained and using the proper technique, regardless your size. With practice, it’s beautiful!

 

10.           What’s the one thing you would tell a fellow mom about dance if she was on the fence about enrolling her child in a class?

I have two kids – a dancer andan athlete. Both started in dance, but followed their own paths. Allow your child to find their passion. Allow them to be creative, adventurous, and to find themselves. Dance is not black and white, it is an art-form.  It is about movement, storytelling, building relationships, confidence, strength, and finding beauty in all things. Though dance is not in everyone’s future, everyone can learn something from it, and it can aid in the development in whatever path they choose to pursue. 

Myself, LeeAnn (a fellow CYC dance student) and Deneka :)

Myself, LeeAnn (a fellow CYC dance student) and Deneka :)

The Book Report - Pumpkin Soup

I'm super excited to have my first fall in upstate NY. The leaves are already changing and the air is crisp, and soon I'll get to eat one of my favorite flavors - pumpkin! This month's Book Report embraces all things fall, and is the perfect companion for kids who're back at school.

Helen Cooper's Pumpkin Soup is about three friends who always make their soup the same way; everyone has a role in making the perfect dish. But one day, Duck wants to try something different, and omgeee, heaven forbid that the friends stray from their usual routine! The friends will have to figure out a way to make things right if they're going to still have their friendship and pumpkin soup too!

The illustrations are rich and beautiful, and will make you feel like you've fallen into the colorful world of autumn, and the friendship woes that the characters have to overcome may resonate with kiddos who are fresh back at school, making new friends and forging new relationships. Plus, the imagery and concepts are great jumping off points in dance class to explore slicing, stirring, sprinkling and the like.

You can buy Pumpkin Soup here, and you can always holla at me to let me know how you enjoyed this month's read, or let me know what your favorite books for fall are! Happy Reading!

*Disclosure: This post contains Amazon affiliate links, which means I receive 4.50% if you make a purchase using the links in this post.*

September Brain Dance - Adulting Is Hard

Ah September. 'Tis the season for new backpacks and shiny new school materials, changing leaves and temperatures, and.... well, a bunch of other new stuff that can make us (and our kiddos) tired, grumpy, emotional and meh. It's actually in the spirit of adulting that I bring you this month's brain dance. It's a silly way to refresh, renew, and bring the giggles. Feel free to adapt it for your current mood, and as always, share and let me know what you think!

An Open Letter To Dance Teachers Heading Into Fall

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Hey you,

I see you. I know you’re there. Working hard, plugging along. Doing the good work. You love it, but it’s not always easy. I know. You’re heading into back to school and back to dance season; there’s a lot coming up and I know anticipating it is like watching a Tweet war unfold between Katy Perry and Taylor Swift – you love it, hate it, and can’t look away. So before you dive in, there are a few things I want to tell you:

This work is right for you. It’s meaningful, and you are the one that should be doing it. This work is a siren call from your soul. It’d be easier to walk away and find a 9-5, but you’d hate it. There’s all the time, space, money, and resources out there for you to do your dream.

There will be moments ahead when you feel stuck, backed into a corner, and basically, when you’ll be hating life. Those moments, that transition between ‘wtf is going on’ and ‘omg that was awesome’, that’s where the marrow lives. The good stuff that fills you up and sets you up for the next big thing. When you find yourself in those transitions, remember this:

You said yes to your dreams because you’re a badass. Because you’re brave, and because you knew that ignoring that siren call would mean a life less lived. Accept that your dreams are yours and see them in a new light. These goals and dreams, they’re not a burden, they’re a gift! This work may be hard at times, but you can do hard things. You always have and you always will.

Give doubt the boot and get to work. Offer the classes, book the space, write the ad, and make the phone call. Just like in ballet class, you start with the plies and make your way to grand allegro. Not in one fell swoop, but one step at a time.

Your life is a dance, and every step will teach you something. It’s all information to learn from. Reframe the setbacks and disappointments as learning opportunities. Apply and correct. Just like in ballet class. Then get up and go again.

Of all the people doing all the things, God/The Universe/whatever deity you subscribe to chose you to do this. That’s amazing! Say thank you. Every damn day.

Flavor comes with the simmer. Slow down and let things unfold.  The hardest part isn’t starting; it’s letting go of control once momentum can take over. Enjoy the ride. Remember you do this for love, passion, and because it’s fun!

Breathe, smile, and tell that damn mermaid that she can shut up because you’ve got this. Have a great year. Merde!

XOXO,

Katrena

One Simple Trick To Double Dance Class Enrollment!

Today I'm talking to YOU - dance teachers and dance studio owners! Fall is almost here, and no doubt you're already enrolling for the new season of classes. I know it can be a chaotic time with lots to check off your to-do lists, which is why I want to share one simple trick I use to generate more traffic to my website and increase enrollment. One year this was the only form of promotion/marketing I did, and it doubled my enrollment! And while I've made this post with dance teachers and studio owners in mind, it can really be applied to any creative business, so if you like, it share it! Now let's get to it!

In the video above, I explain making a press kit of sorts to keep with you in your car while you're out and about. You never know when the opportunity will arise to chat with someone who's looking for dance classes, or where a community board will pop up with fliers for local businesses to display their offerings and happenings. So the moral of this story is be prepared! Here's what I keep in my own kit...

PR KIT ESSENTIALS

  • Fliers (duh), or your brochures, performance program, whatever it is you're promoting
  • Business cards
  • Pen, pencil, markers
  • Push pins
  • Tape
  • Plastic baggies (in case its raining and you need to leave/drop off materials for someone outdoors)
  • Stapler & staples
  • Scissors 
  • Post Its

Don't count on any boards having extra tape, pushpins, or whatever for you to use. Some other general rules of thumb: ask before you post. If you're at a business, do be a doll and make sure it's ok to post your stuff. Some places (like Starbucks) will only let non-profits post, so be aware before you put your materials up. If a board you're trying to post on is crowded, get creative; don't cover another businesses' stuff up, but make room, and if a flier is out of date, ask an employee if it's ok to take it down.

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Volia! I keep my kit in my car, and re-stock it whenever I notice I'm getting low on supplies. If you've got two cars, I'd suggest keeping a kit in both cars, because, you really do never know when an opportunity to connect with your audience will present itself, and as they say, there's no time like the present (to talk your business up, reach out to a new business, and put your posters front and center where they can be seen). Will you be trying this trick for your back-to-school season? Or do you have another trick that you use to get yo'self out there? Let me know, and remember, you can always check out my Services for more help with copywriting, curriculum, and video classes!

The Book Report - Dance Is For Everyone

Inclusivity. It's kind of my jam. So when a friend showed me a new picture book called Dance Is For Everyone, I maaaaaay have done a little happy dance in the aisle of a Barnes & Noble. (I did. Fully and completely.) Dance Is For Everyone, by Andrea Zuill is a heartwarming, inclusive, and silly tale of what happens to ballet class when an alligator shows up.

In an interesting twist, the alligator (named Tanya) can't communicate with her fellow dancers, she simply mimics the dance moves and pours her big reptile heart into dancing so much that the other dancers and teachers can't help but welcome her into class. The teacher even creates a special role for Tanya in the upcoming performance. You'll have to read it yourself to find out what happens to Tanya, the performance, and her new dance friends, but suffice it say, this happy ending has a lesson that the whole world could use right about now: compassion is key, and when we band together, beautiful things can happen.

What's on your bookshelves this month readers? Will you be picking up a copy of Dance Is For Everyone? If so, let me know what you think! Happy Reading!

*Disclosure: This post contains Amazon affiliate links, which means I receive 4.50% if you make a purchase using this link.*

Totally Into - Dance Totems

This week marked an exciting start for me (I've been having so many of those lately! #rockstar), I began dance camps in my new studio space in Speculator, NY! I've been having tons of fun getting my new space in order, and one of the things I wanted to try was having a totem - an object or symbol that's used to pay heritage to family or beliefs. You may recognize them as a horseshoe, a cross, or a mezuzah; whatever purpose they serve for individuals, they have the wonderful effect of making us pause and bringing us into the moment and into focus. That was my idea for bringing a totem above the doorway where my dancers enter into the classroom. I wanted a way to remind them that we would be stepping into a special place, where there are a different set of rules and behaviors that we've all agreed upon. That way, when and if I need to use a gentle reminder of the rules of dance class, I can just point to, or mention our totem and it brings us all back into the zone, so to speak. Here's a little video I did, talking about it more and showing you what I mean. Let me know if you'll be trying this out! 

August Brain Dance - Have A Seat!

Welcome to August ya'll! The Brain Dance exercises this month have a little different feel to them, because they're all done either sitting, or with the support of a chair. I tell you all about why I chose to choreograph it this way in this Intro video, but here's the quickie version: recently my Mom had an accident and was in the hospital for a few days. While she was resting, I was thinking about how the Brain Dance would be beneficial for her (and anyone, really), to do while she was sitting and recuperating. The Brain Dance isn't just for kids, it's healing for adults as well - it fills in gaps in the neurological system due to stress or trauma, and since my Mom was pretty much confined to a chair while she was healing, that became my inspiration for creating this sitting Brain Dance. I hope you'll take a look and share it with anyone who could find it useful! So, take a seat, and enjoy!

Intro

Breath

Tactile

Core/Distal

Head/Tail


Upper/Lower

Body Side

Cross Lateral

Vestibular

Different Drummer Dance Has a Studio!

You know those dreams that whisper in your ear? The crazy ones that you say 'pshhhh' to and don't speak out loud, like you'd be summoning Lord Voldemort if you actually put the words out into the Universe? The dreams that still come back to you in sparks and signs, in dreams and among good conversation? The ones that just won't leave you alone, no matter how hard you try? Those are the dreams I'm talking about today, because I just took a huge step towards making mine real. 

hooray you're here

I came back to Speculator after a month of doing summer dance camps in June in St. Helena, CA, with the goal of getting my own physical location to hold Different Drummer Dance classes in, up and running (I blame Jen Sincero and You Are A Badass At Making Money). I've been hemming and hawing over renting/owning/finding a physical location for years you guys. YEARS. I've worked for many organizations over the years, and rented spaces and done independent contracting, and knew, deep down, that I needed my own space to really flourish, and make DDD everything I want it to be, but had a litany of reasons why that just wouldn't work. But I finally got real with myself this month and started taking steps to making it happen. I walked to the realtors office in town and asked about a specific building I'd been interested in..... aaaaaand, it'd just been rented. But instead of taking this as a sign to back off, or getting discouraged, I thought about what else could work, and I knew right away, I already had a space available to me I could start using right away.

different drummer dance studio new york

My fiancé and I have been renting a house in town, which we have yet to move into, but this awesome house has several rooms, one of which is pretty perfect for a dance studio. Why the hell, I reasoned, would I pay to rent another space, when I had one already at my disposal? Guys, the room is even painted in one of my brand colors. If that's not the Universe yelling at me "GET ON IT, YO!" I don't know what is. Granted, the space isn't perfect - it's got carpet and I'd really prefer hardwood, but for little dancers and little feet, it's really ok for now, which brings me to my next point: those dreams, those little whispers that come to visit you in the middle of the night that you know will make your heart sing? Find a way to do them! Forget the reasons why they won't work and stop nitpicking over the details - those things are just distracting you and taking you further away from your goals. I know the goals are big and scary and freaky, but they keep whispering to you because you are the one that's meant to turn them into something great, and you have everything you need right now to take yourself one step closer to your dream.

I'd love to continue this conversation with you more, but first I want to show off my new space! Take the tour with me in my video, and then tell me what you think! And if you're in the Speculator/Lake Pleasant area, I'M OFFICIALLY OPEN! So, swing by and say hello! And classes are starting this week!!! :) I'd love to see you here! 

Christmas in July - A Sugar Plum Ballerina Party!

Since the weather in upstate NY has been more December like than July like lately, it feels extra appropriate that I'm flashing back to the winter months in today's blog. Last year I started offering Sugar Plum Parties in the spirit of holiday magic, and everyone's favorite ballet, The Nutcracker. The parties were such a hit that I'm totally planning on bringing them back in 2017, but maybe with a few fun changes.... TBA, so stay tuned! Until the hap-hap-iest season of all, remember, you can always dance on the daily with me, enroll in a camp, or book a birthday dance party; there's so many options to get your dose of dance, I make it that easy for you! ;)

It is extra fun when I get to party with people who love to decorate and get into a theme as much as I do, and that was definitely the case for this particular Sugar Plum Party. I mean, look at these adorable decorations! Banners and cupcakes and hats were all on hand to get the dancers in the mood to have sugar plums dancing in their heads!

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After reading the story of The Nutcracker, the dancers and I marched like toy soldiers, sprinkled sugar plum fairy dust around the room, and galloped through the Land of Snow. Oh, and everyone got their very own tutu to wear for our party, which just makes everything more awesome, dontcha think? 

All my parties include a craft to tie our theme together and provide some hands on sensory time, so for this Sugar Plum party, the guests made their own crowns. Stickers, sparkly gems, and markers were all on hand for the kiddos, and man, did they let their creative juices flow! It's always so fun to see their creations and hear them talk about their work!

So. Fun. Right?! Ah, I just get all warm and fuzzy remember all the fun I had with these kiddos! Will you be partying with me come December? Holla at me and let me know!