Misty’s Dance Unlimited (MDU) in Onalaska, Wisconsin, is celebrating its 20th year of business by building a new International Performing Arts Center (IPAC). The facility will be home to the school’s 700 students, its semi-professional ballet program (Ballet La Crosse), a dancewear store, a cafe and another family-focused business. Excitingly, it is set to have its grand opening this August!
Misty Lown, owner of MDU, is amazed at how her dance studio has grown into such an affluent and influential organization.
Lown tells Dance Informa, “It’s hard to believe that it’s been 20 years since I founded Misty’s Dance Unlimited in Onalaska, WI! Wow! We spent nine years in that first facility and 11 years in our current facility; and each location has a special piece of my heart. I started my first studio when I was 21, so I feel like in many ways that I grew up at that first studio. By the time we built our second location, we had four of our five kids, so I feel like my kids grew up in that location. The IPAC will be our third home, and I feel like we have really hit our stride because the business and the family are no longer babies. Figuratively speaking, we are no longer learning to walk – we are ready to run!”
MDU’s current facility will remain under their ownership, now just being leased to Children’s Tree House Day Care for the next 10 years. The facility has served the organization well for the past 11 years, but according to Lown, it is no longer able to satisfy all of the students and administration’s needs. For starters, both new student enrollment and the quantity of classes that current students are taking have grown. MDU can no longer fit all of its classes into a reasonable timetable, so some classes regularly run until 9:30 or even 10pm.
“With enrollment growth comes administrative growth, and we have need for more offices, storage and waiting areas and parking… oh, the need for parking!” Lown exclaims. “Our new facility will address all of the issues and more!”
Giving specific examples of studio growth, Lown shares how six years ago, MDU launched its semi-professional ballet program and company, Ballet La Crosse, and how now MDU sells ballet classes two-to-one over anything else. “To serve our ballet program well, we needed a costume shop, better floors, a performance space and a classroom for those bringing schoolwork to the studio,” she says.
She lists another specific example – MDU’s boys program. “We have approximately 50 boys dancing and no dedicated boys dressing room or bathroom in our current facility – something that we have remedied in our new facility.”
Overall, IPAC will house seven studio rooms — three of which convert to one large training and performance area. It will offer a gorgeous reception area, plenty of public gathering spaces, a state-of-the-art conference room, five private offices, a recording studio/private office for one-on-one and online training sessions, plus separate locker rooms for men, women and children. The dancewear store called Everything Dance is simply moving in from MDU’s current facility. Lown and her school director, Shayna Stellflue, co-own the store, which provides dance supplies for MDU students and the dance community at-large.
“As for the cafe, this was a really important element for me as a mom,” Lown shares. “I have three kids who dance — sometimes very long hours! I want them, and all of our other students and their families, to be able to have access to good food choices on long class and rehearsal days. Having on-site food service also means that we have access to catering for our live training events, which is also helpful for our out-of-town visitors who may not be renting cars or may be unfamiliar with the area.”
The training events are for Lown’s other company, More Than Just Great Dancing (MTJGD), which provides training and resources for like-minded studio owners and their teams. Last year, MTJGD hosted 400 visits from studio owners and teachers from 225 affiliated studios. MTJGD also hosted training programs for Rhythm Works, Acro Arts and The Ballet Blog.
“We expect that number to grow to 500 visitors this summer and to double in the next few years,” Lown shares. “Our new facility will not only provide a beautiful training center for visiting studio owners and teachers, but it also functions as a living lab of sorts because people aren’t just coming to learn about our programs; they are coming to see them in action. This will be the only dedicated dance studio owner and teacher training facility in the nation that is actually a fully functioning dance studio.”
In addition, IPAC will boast amenities like a children’s play area and birthday party zone.
Alana Hess, director of operations for MTJGD, is excited for the birthday party area. She says, “This area will provide all of the comforts from home like access to a kitchen area and seating suitable for celebrating with cake and ice cream!”
Hess says she is perhaps most proud of the student study area. “As the birthplace of the MTJGD movement, we are committed to helping to create well-rounded dancers. That being said, this academic focused area will give students the opportunity to catch up on homework between classes in a quiet space.”
Overall, Hess believes this brand new, state-of-the-art facility will help MDU and MTJGD operate even more effectively. Even the little details like the wider hallways, wheelchair accessible stage area, large digital communication center and extra safety elements (such as security cameras) convey a thoughtful approach to the design. The high quality of IPAC’s construction seeks to really put the expansion budget to good use.
“The project scope is $3M in building costs,” Lown divulges. “We worked with the City of Onalaska to apply for a Community Development Investment grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, which we received because of the value add of the project to the local community, the added tax base, new jobs provided and its function as a destination for arts.”
Special events have already kicked off in the lead up to the grand opening in August. Recently, for the first, private phase, MDU planned a student dedication ceremony. Lown’s favorite verse, “You are wonderfully made, you have a hope and a future,” was painted prominently on the wall in the largest of studios where the mirrors will eventually be installed. Students and families were invited to write their own affirmations on the wall.
“The idea is that once the mirrors are up, the truth and encouragement will always be there behind the mirror, even if what they see in the mirror on any particular class day doesn’t make them happy,” Hess shares.
Lown reemphasizes this in MDU’s April newsletter. “The truth is that every student has God-given worth and value — no matter what the mirror says from day to day! We wrote on the wall so that if a student has a day when they might not like what the mirror tells them, they will always remember the truth that they are awesome just as they are is still on the wall behind the mirror.”
Also part of this first phase, there’s a private launch being held for the MTJGD membership. “This will be an exciting time to host the first few groups to the new facility,” Hess shares.
In the second phase, MDU will have soft IPAC openings this summer for its dance training opportunities and intensives. Just before school starts, MDU will officially open its doors to the community for the Grand Opening Celebration, which will feature family activities and, of course, dance!
Looking ahead to this historic unveiling, Hess shares that she is most excited to see this new center open because she’s excited to see Lown’s dream become a reality.
“As long as I can remember, she’s had the vision to create a community art center that serves our local dancers as well as grows with the greater industry,” Hess says. “This new International Performing Arts Center will allow us to bring top-notch faculty, training opportunities and leadership development programs to our area and will serve as a hub of positive action for all of the community. It is a great gift to both the area we call home and the dance industry at large.”
Lown concludes, “My dream is that the IPAC becomes a hub for our local community and a destination for the dance community at large. It was built by a mom for other moms and by a dance studio owner and teacher for other studio owners and teachers. There is nothing like it, and I can’t wait to share it with the community!”
By Chelsea Thomas of Dance Informa.