Holly Haworth celebrated Halloween by leading seven children in twists and claps to “Monster Mash” in front of their parents.
Haworth, a third-year philosophy student, balances being a full-time student with running her own dance studio for small children and middle schoolers. Having danced since she was 5 years old, Haworth said she opened her dance studio to combine her proclivity for leadership and her passion for dance.
“I love teaching and I love kids,” Haworth said. “Both my parents are in education, so it just seemed natural to me to have business, dance and kids come together.”
After teaching gymnastics to 3- and 4-year-olds at Los Angeles Valley College, Haworth said she found many students from her classes were interested in taking dance classes with her. Word of Haworth’s classes quickly spread throughout the area by word-of-mouth, and she now teaches 25 students Fridays and Saturdays at a studio in North Hollywood.
Growing up, Haworth said the studios she attended focused more on having fun than on building good technique, which reinforced poor dancing habits. She said she works on combining skill and fun in order to instill both a passion for dance and strong technical skill. Colleen Riordan, the parent of a student in Haworth’s class, said she appreciates how Haworth has the students practice the same techniques each week while also incorporating new activities, such as having the children play freeze tag or reading them books about ballerinas.
Despite the young age of many of her students, Haworth said she does not find it difficult to keep them focused on learning. She speaks to the kids in character voices such as a high-pitched princess voice and a shaky grandma voice, which she said keeps the younger kids from getting distracted.
Kathleen Harrison, Haworth’s former contemporary dance teacher, said Haworth’s work ethic, along with her playful nature, makes young children receptive to her classes. Despite her playfulness, Harrison said Haworth took her work as a dancer seriously, especially in her ability to embody roles while performing in classic shows and ballets like “The Rite of Spring,” by Igor Stravinsky. The ballet revolves around a girl who has been chosen to be sacrificed, and eventually dances herself to death. In Haworth’s role as the chosen girl, she was able to adopt the tragic nature of her character over the rehearsal process and convey it through her dance moves.
“She just took the audience with her into this really sacrificial dark place, but it was perfect,” Harrison said.
Although she teaches classes for both young children and middle schoolers, Haworth said she has an easier time interacting with the younger children because they are drawn to her silliness. To get her ballet students to round their arms and stand with good posture, she tells them to pretend like they’re holding a beach ball and to keep their legs straight like a pencil.
Though she aims to make her classes fun, Haworth said technical consistency is one of the most important aspects when teaching her students. However, finding a balance between recreation and technique can be difficult. In order to find a balance, one week she will focus on recreation and then the next week she will focus on technical skills.
“It’s exhausting emotionally and physically because you’re constantly thinking about how to reach people in different ways and inspire them,” Harrison said.
Haworth said another difficult aspect of teaching young children is catering to each student’s specific learning style. By interacting with her students and understanding their personalities, Haworth said she can determine their individual learning styles in order to best instruct each student.
One step Haworth often teaches students is called the knock-knock step, which involves the dancers tapping their toes behind them and then stomping their feet on the floor. To accommodate the different learning styles, Haworth said she will first explain it for auditory learners and will then demonstrate it herself for visual learners.
Haworth said her classes go beyond simply teaching her students how to dance. She wants to teach her young students life lessons, like the importance of confidence, to improve their current performances as well as their ability to audition and navigate the dance world later on in their future careers.
“I really think those life skills are important, and I’m glad that I have the opportunity to teach them those things,” Haworth said.