From dance to arts center founder
BY: JC Steinbrunner, Chicago Artists Resource
Interview with: Emily Weber, Yorkville Performing Arts Center
Emily Weber’s decision to start a children’s arts center is an extension of her passion for dance and her love of music. She has the unique ability to teach all ages and styles of dance. She considers this a gift, and loves to teach students who want to learn and enjoy this art of expression. Weber has 29 years of dance experience with 14 years of teaching and choreography. She received her B.A. in dance performance and education from Point Park University in Pittsburgh. Weber was the assistant director of a dance studio for nine of the last fourteen years. Most recently, Weber was accepted into the affiliate program, More Than Just Great Dancing, setting the highest of standards to promote a positive atmosphere in the world of arts.
This is a bit of a chicken-and-egg question, but which drives what: music or dance? Can you talk about your experience with both?
Currently our music, dance and acting programs all support themselves without much of an overlap at all. We do, however, have a steady amount of families who have their children in different programs. I have danced since the age of two. I grew up in the dance world and then furthered my career in dance when attending a private performing arts college now known as Point Park University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. After graduating, I came back to my hometown and started teaching at the dance school where I grew up. Having the opportunity to be assistant director here I was able to gain knowledge and experience that would help in my opening the Yorkville Performing Arts Center. I have always had a love for music and my family is very musical—everyone has played instruments throughout their lives. My husband Brian is an incredible vocalist and plays the guitar. Both of our passions together, along with the overall desire to serve the community in which we live, have inspired the birth of this incredible adventure and opportunity to be self-employed in the arts.
How did you make the transition from teaching to opening an arts center?
I had the opportunity to work with the mentor I had growing up—I started assisting class at the age of eleven. I have always had a passion for learning. My nickname as a kid was “The Sponge.” I absorbed anything and everything I could. I love to read books on entrepreneurship, leadership, finances and making a difference. Lessons that I have learned are that your biggest mistakes end up being your biggest gains. Don't be afraid to fail; in fact, be excited that you did! The other big thing that I have learned is that having a mentor who has a mentor who has a mentor is one of the best investments I have ever made. We belong to an affiliate group of studio owners called More Than Just Great Dancing. The support and information provided in this group is priceless. Whatever you do, don't go at this alone! Rally a team.
What is the hardest part of being self-employed? How does it impact your own practice?
The hardest part is balance: the balance of family and business, the balance of finances, the balance of employee schedules, classes and communication. For me, I see it as a blessing. As business owners we control our schedules, so I am able to schedule my classes and work around my family priorities. Brian is our C.F.O. He and I work together on our budget and financial goals so we both have a clear handle on our finances. We always want to make sure we are able to give as well as save in our business budget. As far as the balance of staff, we have a hefty substitute list so in case of a call-in our customer satisfaction team is ready to call in a sub. We also do staff evaluations every twelve weeks to ensure that classes are being taught to our standards, and to gain any new knowledge needed to grow the business. We employ fifteen people beside ourselves. We have monthly online meetings to discuss where we are winning, where improvements need to be made, what is coming up, any new ideas, and just to touch base with each other.
Do you have any special time-management skills that help you navigate through the day?
I make lists and put them in order of importance. A lot of the times, I tackle the hardest thing first thing in the morning so that everything after that seems like a breeze. I also have my email filtered so it only comes in at certain times of the day.
What are the challenges and successes of working with kids? How do you adapt your years of training to a program that benefits them?
The biggest challenge is finding out how each child learns—they all learn differently—and then catering your teaching to support their way of learning. Watching children learn new skills and concepts week after week, watching them grow in confidence, watching them become leaders and help their peers, receiving hugs or testimonials from parents that we have changed their child's life … These are the major successes. Over the years, I have come to realize that instilling a love for the art and allowing the child to have fun and grow without inhibitions is more important than perfection. Most children are not going to become professional dancers, professional musicians, actors or actresses. There will be a few, and if you have them in your business, be thankful and nurture them as well. Once children have the love and passion for an art they will start to practice and perfect their craft.
Any words of advice for our artists about running a business or turning your arts practice into a business?
Have a very clear vision on what you want and the type of program you want to run. Read the “E-Myth Revisited” by Michael Gerber among many other business books. You have to be more than the technician. Know what your "elevator statement" is so, if someone asked you what your business is, you are able to tell them quickly and clearly with excitement and passion. For us, it is that we are a center that allows children to experience the arts in a positive, giving, family-friendly and education-focused community. We have programs for all ages and all abilities and everyone is welcome.