Two months ago, in the midst of a pandemic that had us fighting for our business in an unstable economy, in the middle of social turmoil, and in the off-peak season of a decimated dance industry, we decided to launch a virtual charity challenge. So many people asked us why…what made us want to take on such a huge, heavy project NOW? Our friends and families looked at us like we were crazy. But for us….the answer was and is very simple, deeply personal, and goes back to our childhood when we stepped into a dance studio for the first time.
Kaycee is a daughter of a dance studio owner of 41 years who was also a single mom. I started in recreational dance, cried my eyes out, only to be completely smitten when I started at the studio the very next year. Dance crept into our veins and forged our destiny to be realized years later. It was inside of those walls, that we discovered passion, we learned who we were, we learned patience, hard work, discipline, perseverance, friendship, confidence, how to accept criticism, and to be better because of it. Sound familiar? Each and every one of those skills was absolutely essential (and still are) in our journey to creating Apolla…a global dancewear brand owned by women (lifelong dancers, wives, and mothers) and 100% made in the USA. Because that is what a dance studio does for a child. Yes…dance studios lay the foundation for dance training and create a springboard for the arts. But they’re more than just a place to learn some dance steps. They help to shape and mold awesome human beings and are a launchpad for dreams…big and small.
So back to “WHY”. The entire dance industry has been crushed by the effects of COVID-19 but studios hold the entire industry on their shoulders. Think about that. Short term: Conventions? Competitions? Dance Retail? Dance Conferences? None of those things exist with our studios. Long Term: who carries the art of dance into tomorrow if young dancers don’t have a place that instills and fosters that love as a child? How do we make sure the industry continues to evolve and get stronger for future generations?
Like so many in our industry, studio owners are facing severe financial challenges, and some are even making the decision to close their doors. This does not have a singular effect and the weight of those consequences remains to be seen fully. Many small business owners did not enter the arts for money. Taking on loans coupled with the loss of tuition and summer income has been crushing. At this unprecedented time in our history, we, like so many others, felt completely overwhelmed by the impact of all of this and felt compelled to do anything we could to help from our small part of this world.
Frankly, it was hard to look around and see everyone fighting their individual battles and treading water. We wanted to do something that would make a great impact and unify the dance community. We partnered with a non-profit (Dance Arts Centre), started to map it all out and the “For The Love Of Dance Challenge” was born. Kaycee and I had never organized a charity event and, very much like our early days of Apolla, we had to start at zero and figure it out...quickly because studios needed money immediately.
The For The Love of Dance Challenge was comprised of 3 different moving parts and the overarching goal was to help the dance industry and SAVE our dance studios. It was very important that 100% of the proceeds go to studios impacted by the pandemic.
1- The challenge CHARITY. This is how we raised the money to help save our dance studios. Incredible industry leaders were nominated by their peers to accept the challenge and step up to donate prizes for dancers around the world to enter to win! These prizes were a once-in-a-lifetime type of experience from virtual masterclasses, privates, mentoring, products. More prizes were added each week as leaders continued to step up and accept the challenge. Lovers of the arts were also able to support by making a cash donation.
2- The Studio Application allowed affected studio owners to apply to receive proceeds raised from the challenge. The 3-step application process that included an online form, video submission, and completion of our StEPS 2020 Initiative Course.
3- The StEPS 2020 Initiative Course was created to address the need for awareness and education of social issues, in response to the George Floyd killing and outcry for change in our system. The goal is to ultimately help create safer dance spaces for ALL dancers. StEPS stands for Studios for Equity, Prevention, and Science. It provides education, resources, and actionable items on important topics:
It takes a village to raise a human. Dance studios are part of that village. The impact they have on our youth, their communities, and the culture of dance is huge. Although this course was required for studios to be considered to receive relief from the challenge, we have also made it FREE for all dance educators with the hope it inspires them to dig deeper and make changes where they can to collectively strengthen our industry as we rebuild. This will live on our website and will continue to be a free resource and an important tool for professional development. To learn more about the StEPS 2020 Initiative Course CLICK HERE
Apolla is a company that is built on creating a loyal and loving community; it has always been focused on providing support to dancers inside and outside the studio. We felt the calling to step up and rally our amazing community, dedicate anything we can to bring the dance world together, and save some dance studios. Everyone has a story of how their dance studio impacted their life. We are no different and every single industry leader who participated had their own story to share as well.
SO HOW DID IT ALL TURN OUT?
Although we leave it up to the selected studio recipients to share their story to respect their privacy in receiving aide, this challenge brought together 115 industry leaders from all walks of the dance industry, offered up 200 prizes for dancers around the world to enter to win and raised thousands of dollars to help our studios. We were connected with friends, old and new, and created an incredible opportunity to facilitate some important, long-overdue conversations in our community with the Steps 2020 course! We are humbled and grateful by the generosity of the many people who made it possible and supported, especially those who are facing their own personal struggles. It was inspiring and we will forever treasure this experience to be unified and connected in a common goal during this strange time. Whether measuring dollars or impact, this challenge was a success on so many levels
So…For The Love Of Dance, WHY? We laugh because nothing we have ever done as a company has been easy or safe. The undertaking of creating this challenge was no different. But watching the slow crumbling of the dreams that were made in those studio walls wasn’t an option. Where will we be if these staples of our industry disappear? There is so much darkness in the world right now and this is our effort to be a light. The challenge is over but the struggle for these studios is still VERY real. Hopefully, you feel called to examine your WHY and continue to support this effort any way you can. I know an entire community of people who will be forever grateful. But to those that participated, we send our deepest gratitude. We all came together, for the LOVE of Dance...and THAT was our WHY.
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