A lifelong love affair with dance combined with talent, passion, and hard work has become a recipe for success for our NJMOMpreneur of the week, DeeDee Woodard, owner of Harmony Dance Center. With a resume that includes training at prestigious dance companies like the Joffery Ballet School and a ton of teaching experience (she taught her first class when she was a teen), DeeDee is encouraging the next generation of New Jersey dancers to explore their full artistic potential at her studio in Union. We caught up with her to talk about the massive shift she’s making in her business through the pandemic (hint: she pulled off keeping classes going and an outdoor dance recital), what her work has taught her about raising her almost 3-year-old daughter, and how the ever-changing world of dance (hello, TikTok) continues to inspire her and her students.
You’ve studied dance and taught for many years, tell us a little about your background as a dancer, and what made you want to own a studio.
I’ve been studying dance from the age of 6 but fell in love with classical ballet at a young age. Then, I broadened my studies to jazz, tap, modern, and hip-hop, and trained with the Joffery Ballet School, The Ailey School, Broadway Dance Center, Briansky Saratoga Ballet, and various local NJ studios. I started my college career majoring in dance at Rutgers University, then ended up earning a minor in dance from Montclair State (with a major in health education).
I’ve been passionate about teaching dance ever since my teens when my high school dance teacher asked me to be the substitute teacher for our dance class. It came so naturally to me, and I continued to teach at a few local studios part-time through college. After I graduated, I taught dance in public high schools and at a studio for nearly 14 years. During that time, I had the opportunity to take over the studio and decided to go for it. It was always a dream of mine to own a studio, and I am so grateful to the previous owner (my former boss) for seeing something in me and trusting her clientele with me to continue her legacy. I absolutely love what I do and the dancers, staff, and parents I work with every day.
The pandemic has required all types of businesses to adapt in many different ways. How has Harmony Dance handled the past several months for staff and students? What is the status of classes right now?
When we had to shut our doors, the instructors transitioned to pre-recorded instructional videos immediately. Then, in May and June, we taught all of our classes online via Zoom. Students were able to finally return in-studio by early July and continue their dance education. The best part is we were able to hold our picture week and recital (in a first-ever outdoor venue)—it was so rewarding to see the dancers’ hard work pay off with our end-of-year festivities.
What have you learned from your students that’s helped you in your motherhood journey?
My experience is with teaching ages 3, and up, so I have a lot of knowledge in that age range. Although my daughter is just under age 3 now, I feel that teaching has made me become a better mom because working with children teaches you patience, balance, and how to roll with it—especially when something isn’t “clicking.” Also, teaching has taught me that every child develops at a different pace and that each child will progress in time.
What do you love the most about dance, and how has it evolved over the years?
I love the physical and mental workout that dance provides. Most people think of dance as just a physical activity, which is great, but there is so much mental, and even spiritual exploration that happens during dancing. Dance has a ritual aspect from warming-up to the discipline of continuing your practice over and over again. I always feel better after dance class and hope my students do as well.
Dance has evolved over the years in many ways, but the most significant shift has been its exposure to more audiences via social media and technology. Back in the day, the teachers taught us the way they were shown, with moves handed down from teacher to student. Now, dancers are sharing movement and concepts on social media platforms like TikTok, YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, and there is a real-time feel for gaining knowledge.
Tell us about some of your favorite spots around New Jersey to visit with your family.
Our family’s favorite NJ spots are the Turtleback Zoo for the animals, and the boardwalk in Asbury Park because it has a nice mix of activities for kids and adults. The beach In Asbury is usually not that crowded, and my daughter loves the spray park.
What is something you wish someone told you early on about being an NJMOMpreneur?
Before my daughter was born, my “mom friends” mentioned to me that you’d never really get any time to yourself, but it’s so true as a mom and an entrepreneur. I have to manage and balance mom duty, run a business, have time with my wonderful husband, and try to carve out much needed “me time,” as well. Sometimes, the balance isn’t always even, but it’s an on-going priority list.