Introducing our Ealing Hero!
We had some fantastic nominations to our Ealing Heroes campaign; our mission to find the people of Ealing who make a difference in our community. Nominations were put to a public vote last month, and the support for Innovation Dance owner Emma Hardy blew us away. Emma’s nomination is below: ”Whenever you see Emma she always has an infectious smile on her face and always offers a warm greeting. Throughout the many lockdowns she and the Innovation team worked tirelessly to maintain a much needed level of normality for children and adults whilst keeping us fit, healthy and coordinated! Even now she continues to motivate and inspire touching many lives - she’s even got me doing an adult street dance class! Thank you Emma for being you, you’re a true Ealing Hero.” Emma, along with Ericka who nominated her, both received a 60 minute massage voucher from The Soma Room. We popped into Pitshanger to see Emma at the studio, and to learn a bit more about what goes on behind the scenes at Innovation Dance.
What led you to start Innovation Dance?
I was a professional dancer from when I was 18 through to about 30 years old, and then I did the crossover to teaching as well. It was on a couple of teaching jobs that I met Zoe, who's now my business partner. We were doing quite a lot of classes in schools, and started off together by setting up a company to provide classes for kids within the school environment. And that coincided with a time where there was a lot of government funding for that kind of thing. We were meeting councils and being given contracts for thirty schools in one hit, and providing teachers and classes.
Unfortunately it started becoming apparent that that sort of funding wasn’t going to be there forever. We were also only able to see kids for one class a week at school, which wasn’t benefitting the really talented kids who needed to be doing this sort of thing four or five times a week. That’s when we decided to look for a studio premises rather than just trying to condense everything into an hour a week within a school.
We started our Finchley branch first, in a hired premises in a theatre. And then we found where we are now, which had already been a ballet school for many years, but just in the one studio. We took that over a decade ago, teaching ballet and tap - it was our 10th birthday this year.
And then we got the extra premises down the road. There's still a lot of ballet and tap, but now we also teach jazz, contemporary street dance and musical theatre. So there’s a lot more options for the kids. And then about five years ago, we got a full-time premises in Finchley as well.
I noticed on social media that there were quite a few videos of your kids competing. Could you say a little more about that?
Yes, of course. We've now got six street dance troops, one of who will be competing for the first time tomorrow. We've been doing those for probably about eight years now, and it’s a pretty fun environment for the kids. They compete as a troop, and in solos and duos. And we take them to about three competitions a term, so that's lots of schools from quite a wide surrounding area.
The last three years, our troops have qualified for the world championships. They do local competitions, some of which are qualifiers for the world. So, for example, in January we have the London and Essex qualifier that we go to. And if you place in the top three, you then qualify to go to a world championships where all the regions of England and the other countries all go. That means a four day trip, and the kids really enjoy that.
I think they really enjoy competing. Especially the ones that have been together for a long time, they’ll probably say what they enjoy most is having a day out and hanging out all together. And I think that's probably the thing we're most proud of. You've got some troops who have been together for years and are really good friends. The oldest troop have been together since some of them were five years old, and now they’re turning twelve. They see each other a lot socially and they’re a really nice support network for each other as well.
Do you do any dance classes for adults?
We do teach a lot of adults actually. I suppose there are more kids classes, but at a minimum there’s at least two adult classes every day, and on some days there’s five or six. We teach a lot of adult ballet, a lot of tap, a couple of different styles of yoga, Pilates, street dance and belly dance - I think that’s everything!
How did things change for the studio when the pandemic struck?
The physical building was closed, of course. But we carried on running a scaled-down timetable on Zoom. Obviously not all the kids wanted to do the Zoom, but a provision for all of the classes was there. We were seeing the effects of the pandemic on some of the kids over Zoom, and hearing about it from them and their parents. I think some children managed to get through it sort of okay, and others were really, really affected by it.
Having seen the impact first hand, we decided to set up an early intervention counselling service for the kids. We started looking for funding around the end of the lockdown period and put in millions of applications. It's a completely free, funded service for any of the students that attend either studio, and it's partnered with a local counseling mental health charity, who send us one of their counselors one day a week.
There’s a referral form that either the young people themselves or their parents complete and send to the charity. And the counselor does an initial assessment session and chooses the kids that are most in need. They have a six to twelve week block of counselling, possibly longer depending on the situation, which is completely free for them.
We've been able to access quite a lot of funding through the John Lyon's fund, along with quite a few other smaller funds added together. It’s funded free until the end of the year and we are now on the applications to hopefully continue it, because there is a really long waiting list for that sort of service if you are getting it free through CAMS. Even if you’re paying for it - which is pretty expensive - you can be waiting a long time. So it's targeting kids that would otherwise be waiting 18 months to two years for counseling, and who may be in a way worse situation by the time they eventually get seen. The aim of this initiative is that it’s an early intervention, so you can tackle problems before they reach crisis point and hopefully help a bit sooner.
That sounds like an amazing initiative - best of luck with getting it extended past the end of the year. Is there anything else you’d like people to know?
Well, new faces are always super, super welcome. We run the weekly classes that all go through term time, and workshops every school holiday which are open to every child, even if they don’t regularly attend the studio. Quite often kids will come to a workshop to try it out and find they want to stay and book in for a weekly class. So it's always very, very open and welcome to new faces, whatever age.
And it's also most definitely for adults! Anyone can always pop in. We've got our reception in the shop next door, so feel free to call or to drop by - we’re always happy to have a chat and answer any questions or help you figure out what the best options might be.