Picture This Post (PTP) speaks with Lisa McCabe (LM), the owner of Lovely Leaps Dance Studio in Southern California. McCabe has been a part of the dance world for 20 years and opened her own studio on April 6, 2019. Her dance studio focuses on dance enrichment for children ages 0-10. With Picture This Post, she shares her experience growing up in the dance world and how those experiences influenced creating her own studio.
(PTP) At what age did you start dancing?
(LM) I started dancing late in the game. I was 9-years-old when I took my first dance class. I ran out of the room crying because it was so hard and everyone was so amazing. My mom told me to finish out the month and if at the end I still hated it, then I could quit. Moms know best... 20 years later I’m still dancing and love it!
Can you tell us about your time studying dance at Concordia University?
Concordia University in Montreal Canada was a whirlwind. I grew up a strict ballet student and had my dance world turned upside down when I got accepted into their prestigious program. Their style of dance they specialized in was contemporary modern. They explored the concept What is dance? which really made you think. Technically dance is any part of your body moving to a rhythm or through silence. Dance can be a beautiful ballet with orchestra or it can be you sitting on a chair in silence with your chest moving up and down to the rhythms of your thoughts. I owe my creativity and willingness to not be a perfect dancer to Concordia University.
Why did you decide to open your own dance studio?
I always knew I wanted to do something with dance and children but I never thought it would be to have a studio. Lovely Leaps started when I was still an engineer. A private preschool needed a dance teacher so they contacted me and asked if I could teach. I was working full time but devoted my Friday afternoons to teaching dance. My class then grew from 6 to 24 children and a year later we were teaching in 15 schools.
From there as my daughter got older my desire grew to teach her dance even as a 10-month-old. I created my first toddler dance class which became very popular with the moms! It was like a structured playdate where the kids enhanced their motor skills and parents got to bond. By default the toddlers had preschool ages siblings who wanted to dance so then I started the preschool age group dance class. It wasn’t always so easy but with consistency and authenticity, it grew.
What were your goals for Lovely Leaps when you first opened? Have you met those goals since then?
My goal was to have children fall in love with dance. It was so fulfilling to have full classes and bring families together. Fast forward to now, I feel I've met those goals. It wasn’t the way I expected, but turned out so much better!
We offer ballet, tap, jazz, hip hop, and dance fitness. What sets us apart is the environment I have created. I want children to not look at the perfection of dance but instead fall in love with movement. I have created a family with Lovely Leaps where everyone feels accepted. That type of atmosphere is hard to find in the dance world.
Lovely Leaps policy is that we accept and embrace everyone no matter their background. Before COVID we created this atmosphere by throwing a free mimosa brunch for our students and parents. It was a party and dance class all in one. We really created an atmosphere of family fun and connection.
Why do you think it is important for children to be exposed to dance at a young age?
Movement! Dance builds confidence, it helps a shy child come out of their shell and leap across the floor. It teaches children how to improve and be gentle with themselves as they are learning. It gives them something other than a virtual game to focus on. Starting dance at a young age does so much for a child.
How has the pandemic affected you and your studio?
Overnight everything stopped for us and we had to think fast. All of our school programs stopped and all of our studio classes had to stop. We had to think quickly and precisely.
The absolute worst challenge was how to get my voice and the music to play at the same time so the kids can hear both things. 4 months later and lots of money spent, I figured it out! It’s still not perfect but it’s a lot better than when I started. Another challenge was how to keep a kid's attention for 30 minutes. I figured out the perfect formula to keep their attention but that’s my little secret.
When and why did you decide to do free virtual classes on Thursday?
The virtual classes started out as a way to finish out all of our students’ Enrichment sessions in the schools. Once we finished out the sessions virtually I saw that the children really looked forward to them and performing for the princess at the end of the month. I enjoyed teaching and the kids enjoyed the class so I decided to continue to offer it for free! It was our way to give back during this crazy time.
From your perspective, what do you think individual studios can do to uplift the Black Lives Matter movement and promote diversity?
There are so many things studios can do but I feel this goes deeper than the Black Lives Matter Movement. There is a clique issue in the dance world and it needs to end. If a dance instructor notices a clique forming and sees a certain child being left out the teacher needs to stand up and include this child. Favoritism sometimes sparks this where the one dancer gets the lead all the time leaving the rest in the shadow. It’s a loaded question but my heart and vision for my studio is to get rid of cliques. If you’re black, white, tall, skinny, big and everything else in between no one should feel left out. Unfortunately, the dance world is really good at making most feel left out and this needs to change.
I want to see more African Americans in lead roles like the Nutcracker or the Good Swan not the black one Swan Lake. Stop stereotyping us.
How has dancing personally impacted your life and how have you seen dance impact the lives of those who attend your studio?
Dance has been the blueprint of my life. Even when I tried to give it up Dance has somehow found its way back to my heart. I wouldn’t be who I am today without it. Dance has impacted the families who attended my studio by creating friendships! I love seeing playdates form from parents coming to my studio.
I also had a girl in my class who was super shy but slowly I watched her confidence grow to the point where she can now dance in front of a crowd. My best friend first started coming to my studio and from there we formed such an unbreakable bond.
Any other comments for our readers, you would like to convey?
If you’re thinking of starting any type of business my advice is to give yourself time, grace and patience. Nothing happens overnight and the things you are stressing about tend to not be the most important thing once everything is said and done. Also, have a support system. It can be 1 person or many but have the person you can cry to and celebrate your wins with.
For more information, please visit the Lovely Leaps website.
Photos courtesy of Lovely Leaps Dance Studio.
Read more dance reviews by dancers in the Picture This Post Round-Up, “Choreographers’ Eyes - Dancers Explain Dance”. Watch this video preview of the story here —