An open letter to Dance Habit’s parent and student body

It is with great sadness that we prepare to say goodbye to our Office Administrator, Charlotte at the end of 2018 when she relocates to Canberra. Charlotte is a great friend, personally and professionally and will be sorely missed by us all. She wanted to communicate her thoughts and plans with you – the parent and student body of Dance Habit that she has come to love so dearly. Please join us in supporting her as she embraces the next exciting stage of her life!

Hi everyone,

Wow, how is it already October? Time really does fly when you’re having fun! As they say, all good things must come to an end, and it’s with a heavy heart that I’ve made the decision to move back home at the end of this year, and sadly will be leaving Dance Habit.

As many of you know, I grew up in the world of dance through my Mum’s dance school in Canberra. Dance itself has never been my calling, and for as long as I can remember I have been insistent that I would never follow in my Mum’s footsteps. I wanted to find something creative that was my own, and I’ve worked tirelessly to try and find that thing – make up artistry, stunt doubling (why not?!), graphic design… it goes on and on.

I have known many, many teachers (lots of great ones!) and have seen and been a part of the beautiful, the good, the bad and the ugly side of dance world. My relationship with dance was always a love/hate one, and it was going to take an exceptional experience and group of people to change my opinion of what dance could be to me.

And I found just that. I’m not exaggerating when I say that Dance Habit has changed my life.

The staff are the best. And I mean, THE BEST. Never have I been surrounded by a group of women who are so generous in their support of each other within and outside of work. This is a team that lives to lift each other up rather than putting each other down, which had been my past experiences working closely with a lot of women.

The values of Dance Habit resonated with me from the get go, and being a part of putting these values in action is so incredibly rewarding. The care that goes into every single decision, no matter how big or small sometimes makes me want to rip my hair out, but knowing that each one of those decisions makes Dance Habit a safer, more inclusive and welcoming environment for each and every student gives me absolute joy.

It’s so rare to find a dance school as special and unique as Dance Habit. I’m sure many of you have felt like you’ve found your place there, just as I have.

With a wedding on the horizon, my fiancé and I feel we need to start doing some proper “adulting”, and we will be moving back to my hometown of Canberra where I will be going into partnership with my Mum at her dance school. There are so many exciting opportunities for me through her school, and it’s the next step in my career, and in adult life I guess. Scary!

Making this decision was one of the hardest I have ever had to make. Leaving all the beautiful little (and big) faces I’ve come to know and love is heart breaking (I’ve already cried a number of times over this!) I’m going to miss my weekly chats with many of you parents and grandparents, I’ve come to think of so many of you as friends and our chats are often the highlight of my day. I’m going to miss all the staff who have become what I would call lifelong friends. Above all, I’m going to miss Megan who has become one of my closest friends, as well as an incredible mentor, and really, one of my idols. You’re all in such good hands!

As Winnie the Pooh says; “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

Love,
Charlotte x

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What has become of competitions?

A message for my dance colleagues!

Australia, I think we have a problem.

Forgive me if I am naive as it has been a long time since I was involved in the world of dance competitions and I have only briefly re-entered it in recent years.

When did comps begin to resemble something like an aerobics, cheerleading or acrobatic competition? And where on earth has the dancing gone?

Between the facials of the performers to the “Yeah girl, get it” yells from the audience mid-dance topped off by acro tricks every second step and a complete lack of artistry, I was SO lost and so disheartened.

Respect for dance as an art form and respect for the theatre seems to be a thing of the past and to put it quite simply, I am gobsmacked at some of the things I have seen at comps and on social media in recent times.

Why are (some) teachers choosing to hyper-sexualise our children? And why is this being permitted (and in some cases reinforced) by competitions and adjudicators? 12 and 13 year olds dressed in minimal clothing pulling suggestive sexual faces to the audience every few seconds to music that is clearly not age-appropriate is irresponsible. I feel terrible for these children who have been reduced to objects on the stage.

Teachers (and in some cases principals) forcing children into splits and frog/butterfly to ‘stretch’ them before they take to the stage is also not OK. In one case, I witnessed a child wincing in pain with total disregard by the teacher. To do this publicly is even more horrifying as these ‘dance educators’ obviously think it’s acceptable.

As teachers and studio owners, we need to take a stand and protect our youth. There is so much more to dance than what is being triumphed in (some areas of) the dance world right now. I only have a small voice but I hope it may do something to protect even just a small handful of our young dancers. Can we please let kids be kids!?

Education is key and it starts with us. The safety of our dancers’ physical, mental and emotional wellbeing is paramount and should never be compromised for any trophy or accolade. This post is not to offend or take away from the hard work, incredible skill and brilliant dancers and teachers out there, I just hope to open a discussion and raise awareness about the long-term damage (some of) these approaches can (and will) have.

Unfortunately, nothing like it in Australia exists (yet), but if anyone is interested in being educated on how to keep your dancers happy, healthy and safe, I highly recommend Youth Protection Advocates in Dance (YPAD). And finally, is anyone keen to run a YPAD-certified competition? I don’t have the resources but I’d love to see it happen here in Australia! I can put you in touch with YPAD if you’re interested or check out their website for more info (link in comments).

A timely Term 4 reminder…

Dance schools everywhere are buzzing at the moment with concert excitement building. Students are immersed in choreography and squeals of delight at costume reveals can be heard from afar. It is such a thrill!

We understand that this is a busy term with a never-ending list of events and To Dos, not to mention the countless emails and notices from organisations like ours…. We understand that there will be days you may feel stressed, confused, too busy or too tired to take it all in. We understand that juggling work, school, activities and home can be overwhelming at the best of times let alone in November/December.

BUT (yes there is always a but), the photo day, studio rehearsal, dress rehearsal and concert are what every dancer lives for. It is their well-earned reward for a year of hard work, for doing that medal test, for pushing through those cold winter months, for being passionate, interested and motivated. The whiff of hairspray, the laughs with friends, pulling on a scratchy but sparkly costume, that well-earned smile of acknowledgment  from your teacher when you finally nail a tricky bit of choreography. It’s magic.

Mums and dads (particularly those who are new to dance this year), I promise it is worth it. When your little dancer is all grown up, these are the memories they will cherish. These are the events that will shape who they become. Dance builds strong, confident achievers. As teachers, we are motivated by seeing our students grow, not just as dancers but (more importantly) as people too. It is at the concert that this growth becomes truly evident. We care for your children as if they were our own and we share in your pride as each of them take their important place on the stage.

Dance schools go to great lengths to ensure information is available and accessible (ours is all on our website), but we need parents to take responsibility for their own schedule. Please read the information provided and ask by email if you have questions that are not answered. Make early arrangements now for rehearsal days to ensure you are not late and/or stressed and please don’t call your studio owner or teacher on the day to ask what time you are required!

Dance schools appreciate your patience and support at this time of year. Trust me when I say that an enormous amount of work goes on behind the scenes preparing for a concert. Long hours of choreography, costumes (measuring, sourcing, ordering, collecting sorting, fitting, altering), accessories, sewing, music cutting, licensing, ticket management, production meetings, venue liaison, child safety, OHS, running orders, lighting plots, image projection, communication with our families, props and more. In particular, we spend a lot of time on scheduling to minimise the time each family is required on important days. I certainly hope Dance Habit families will find our schedules practical and easy to read this year after the countless hours put into them!

Please be kind to your studio owners, administrators and teachers. They are all working tremendously hard to pull together fabulous concerts for the thousands of enthusiastic dancers around the country. As they rightly say in High School Musical – “We’re all in this together”!

At Dance Habit, we have just five weeks to go. I can’t wait to be backstage to feel the magic and anticipation as the curtain goes up. There’s no better place in the world.

Enjoy the ride!

Megan  x

A dancer's home is on the stage

Photo source: Unknown

A little about me…

Megan

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! 

Megan x