I’m passionate about all things dance. It’s literally my bread and butter. I pride myself on educating our community about the importance of safe approaches to dance tuition (giving consideration to the physical, mental and emotional health of students), but I often struggle to find a platform to share my thoughts. Hence the blog! Not sure how successful it will be, but as I say in my first entry below – it’s impossible to be perfect. So, here goes! I hope you enjoy reading x
My name is Megan Jessop and I have been passionate about dance for as long as I can remember. I commenced ballet classes at age three and completed exams in ballet, tap and jazz under the expert tuition of the teachers at Mt Eden Ballet Academy in New Zealand. I secured my first dance teaching job at age 16 thanks to Jacqui Cesan (owner of The Dance Studio, Auckland) who saw something in me. I never looked back.
In 2002, I graduated from the University of Auckland with a Bachelor in Performing Arts (Dance) and shortly after, migrated to Melbourne. In 2011, after far too many years of working (unhappily) in the public service, I made my childhood dream a reality by opening my very own dance school, Dance Habit. This October, we will celebrate six years of operation and I love being able to spread joy through movement!
I have always wanted to own my own dance school – it was something my friends and I dreamed about when we were younger, however, the push to make that a reality came from being unhappy in an administrative role with the public service (which I had fallen into as a means to an end when I first migrated to Melbourne). Despite being highly motivated and driven to succeed, I kept butting heads with management who were reluctant (or unable) to authorise any improvements to business practices. Ultimately, I was just not cut out to work in the public service, but it took a good 4.5 years and hitting absolute rock bottom self-confidence for me to realise this.
Opening Dance Habit was a huge challenge. I maintained my full-time job for the first two years whilst setting up classes in a church hall. I have an all or nothing personality, which means I don’t do things by halves. Those first few years were taxing – financially, physically and emotionally. I put everything I had into my new venture and went as far as being admitted to hospital for exhaustion (against my wishes)! However, I persevered and after two years was in the fortunate position to accept a small voluntary departure package from the public service, which I eagerly accepted as a sign to give Dance Habit my full attention.
Since leaving my full-time job, I have opened our own studios in a commercial space, grown to 400 students and have a committed team of eight who collectively manage over 70 classes per week. Getting the right people has been imperative. I was fortunate to have some very close friends jump on board in the beginning and they are still here on the journey with me now! The emotional support they have provided has been indispensable.
Through trial and error, I have developed a pretty regimented recruitment process and I choose not to hire dancers. Performing is an entirely different skill set to teaching and it quickly become evident that the best dancers do not make the best teachers. I hire only those who are committed to their roles as dance educators – the kind who put their classes before professional work… the kind our students can rely on.
Personally, I stay motivated through up-skilling and professional development. Last year I completed a Diploma in Dance Teaching and Management and travelled to Queensland to attend a three-day studio owners and dance teachers’ conference. This year, I attended a conference in Palm Springs, California hosted by Misty Lown from Dance Studio Owner University. Just this month, I am proud to have received certification in Rhythm Works – a specialised and inclusive dance program designed for those with individual learning challenges and other special needs.
As a mum, I’m working on work-life balance, which I admit is a challenge. I made the best decision in a long time by recruiting an administration officer earlier this year. She has been the perfect fit for our dynamic team and has allowed me to step back from daily management of the studio to focus on the bigger picture. I’ve been busy further developing and supporting my teachers, increasing our presence in the community, offering additional programs over and above our regular classes and of course, spending more time with my family. My son is growing up so quickly! He’s almost three and it’s true when they say the days are long but the years are short. I am consciously choosing not to prioritise studio matters over my family – a change from the early years after his birth. Unfortunately, I have been criticised by some for this decision as it means I am not as visible at the studio, but I don’t want to end up looking back with regret.
Like any venture, running a business comes with a number of challenges and without a doubt, the biggest one is failing to please everybody. I take criticism pretty personally, though you wouldn’t know it from the calm and resilient façade I’ve somewhat mastered over the years. I’m learning that I’m only human and that I can’t possibly be perfect. This is a great lesson for me, but more importantly, it’s one I can share with the students of my school.
I think it’s a beautiful thing that I have the ability to teach our kids that it’s okay to make mistakes… and what kind of role model would I be if I didn’t lead by example? Yes, I have messed up along the way and I’m sure I will continue to make mistakes for a long time to come. However, I know that I have a good heart. I build others up and I contribute to my community by sharing everything I know and love. The definition of success looks different for everyone, but for me, right now, that’s enough!