Miss April’s Dance is celebrating 30 years as a program in the Parks and Recreation Department in Murrieta, California. April Vidal spoke with Dance Informa to look back and share some dreams for the program’s future. The program’s tagline is “We put Dance in Your Pants”, and Miss April’s contagious enthusiasm has been able to do just that for three decades.
What inspired you to open Miss April’s Dance?
“Miss April’s Dance stems from an accumulation of inspiration. My first studio dance boss in Rancho Cucamonga, Diane Dyann (Olympic Studios); my parents giving me the opportunity and encouragement; and my love of being able to stand out differently for an option to low cost, low commitment throughout our community.”
What are some of the core values you embrace that have led to the success of your program?
“Allowing parents to watch their children dance inside the dance area is very instrumental in giving families a time to enjoy together. I also value keeping costs low on classes, costuming and performances, and becoming familiar with all the different needs of each dancer so I can make each one feel special. Learning each child’s name by the second week is so important. Children need to feel their own identity is recognized and appreciated.”
How did you establish a working relationship with Murrieta’s Parks and Recreation Department?
“When my husband and I moved to Murrieta with two small children in 1989, we had come from previously teaching at other parks and recreation facilities. My husband, Darryl Vidal, a martial artist who was the stunt double for Pat Morita in the original Karate Kid and plays himself in the tournament scene against Johnny, and I loved Murrieta, and sought out the Parks and Recreation Department here. Murrieta was not yet a city, and we were referred to as CSA 143. My husband and I spoke to the City Manager at the time and decided to help start their programs by being the very first teachers! Many thereafter have used our classes and programs as a model for sessions, prices and set-ups.
In addition, much of our support over the last five years has been directly through the Murrieta/Wildomar Chamber of Commerce and the entire Murrieta community.”
Thirty years is a long time. Have you taught lots of siblings and children of former students?
“Yes, 30 years is a very long time, considering I started teaching on my own 38 years ago total. Our classes have had many siblings. In fact, I have some third generations due to very young parents. I have taught my own four children, their classmates and friends, now their children, and even some of their children! One funny story that sticks out to me is many years ago, I had a class with triplets in our ballet morning class. I would always have to mark them with stickers or name tags because I just couldn’t get their names correct! Eventually, I learned them, then they moved out of state! Oh well, it was a great exercise in memory.
A second favorite moment that comes to mind is my 25th anniversary. I invited every dance instructor back and gave them all bouquets of flowers on stage at our finale. It was amazing!
The last favorite memory is having a job which allowed my daughters to join with me and teach themselves. That was an experience, a blessing and something I miss terribly. One of my daughters, Nissa-Belle Vidal, performed in association with ODC/Dance in San Francisco and has performed Alvin Ailey works through a summer arts program. My daughter, Shaina, is a third grade teacher and is implementing a Dance Club after school and my granddaughter, my son Justin’s child, just did her first Mommy and Me class with us, which she goes to with my daughter-in-law, Lisa! And my son, Brad, is a classical pianist and would play piano for us at home while we all danced around.”
What about training dancers has changed in the 30 years of your program?
“When I began training dancers, I trained them based on love, patience, trust and family. Now, I have incorporated a strong sense of community and learning how to dance, along with being a good citizen in their dance program, schools, home and community.”
Your program builds community through affordable and short lessons that allow a student to dance while having time to study and continue in pursuit of other endeavors. How do you stay true to these goals?
“My classes run three days a week. Each class is not based solely on technique. We are limited to time due to our space we are given, so classes are 30 minutes or 45 minutes typically. This allows many dancers to take four to six different classes, sometimes all in one day, for a total of two to two-and-a-half hours. They still have time to go home, eat dinner, do homework and not be exhausted for tomorrow’s piano, karate, horseback riding. I am very proud of what they accomplish in such a short amount of time.”
You say you endeavor to encourage every student to smile, do his/her best and walk with a sense of accomplishment and pride. What does this look like in practice?
“A dancer walks into a new class or even a familiar class sometimes with either the weight of the day on their shoulders or a new experience they are feeling unsure, or sometimes very afraid, of. We get many ‘shy’ dancers, so it’s our responsibility to utilize this precious time with them, to help to really grow, feel good about themselves and enjoy making new friendships. Demonstrating an across-the-floor exercise is something we use to help promote courage within a child, along with self-confidence. Each class is always asked to clap for their peers. We do a lot of clapping and cheering. At the end of every class, a dancer will receive an age-appropriate reward, which gives the instructor the opportunity to say great job, practice, et cetera. This might have been the one time in their day they were shown love or encouragement in a positive way.”
How do you instill Miss April’s Dance values into your employees and their relationships with your students and their families?
“Some of my instructors volunteer, others are sub contracted out. I stay on top of my instructors’ job by communicating with them. I am honest with them, and I do not allow them to be anything but encouraging. The bad days they may have had stay at home, and they are asked to remember what it was like being a youngster dancing themselves. I believe this is instrumental. I do discourage my instructors fraternizing too much with families or parents. They are there for a job, not to be their friends on a personal level. I believe there are lines and boundaries, and keeping it mostly professional is healthier for everyone. I have taught all my classes alone for many years, then as I got older and have joined in helping so many other ways in our community, have had to ask for help. I have had some major troubles with my knees, so my instructors have been my absolute lifesavers where classes are concerned. I appreciate them and be sure they know that.”
Why is it important for you that opportunities exist for parents to become involved in the program?
“The Mom Dance and Dad Dance are specifically for parents whose children dance with us, boys and girls alike. Mommy and Me is a wonderful way to introduce dance at ages two to three. Families enjoy Miss April’s Dance because everyone has fun together! Sometimes a parent sitting on the sidelines isn’t the same. I feel the importance lies with setting examples for our children. Showing them the support and actually participating and having fun while doing it. I love watching our daddies in tutus and our moms become great friends and bond after a show. The key is, however, to never pressure anyone to do what they are not comfortable with.”
What benefits do you see for students who train at Miss April’s Dance?
“Benefits are plentiful here! We have a Dancer of the Week program, a Junior Instructor Program, boys are welcome to all classes and more. They learn a sense of freedom of expression, a place they can make new friends outside of a studio wall, time to try many styles, without becoming overly tired from their commitments. They also have a place in our community since we do many activities here. I also will be teaching this year at nine schools at our Murrieta Unified School District as a teaching artist and teaching with special needs students at a high school level and for an Adult Transitional Program as well.”
What’s next for Miss April’s Dance?
“Wow. What’s next? Good question. We just started classes in Menifee as well. I have recently invited our Junior Instructors ages 10-16 to speak in front of our City Council to ask what they can do to volunteer to help others in our community. I have held a team-building meeting so the girls understand the importance of being a good citizen and upholding their grace and etiquette in public and home. I have reached out to many studio owners, asking them to join me in celebration so we can all take a photo together for my 55th birthday and 30th year here in Murrieta. Lastly, I have always wanted to be the front center of a Murrieta flash mob featuring Miss April’s Dance and our entire community, but the planning has been difficult finding people to volunteer to help me put it together with a videographer and sound. That is my ultimate dream come true for our community and myself.”
What else would you like to share about Miss April’s Dance?
“This journey I’ve been on has been spectacular! Something I am so proud of is being able to be a dance instructor – the first in our Valley – and be able to have wonderful relationships with all of our surrounding dance schools. I am not in competition with any of them, and I think it’s very rare for studio owners to collaborate with each other in this area, mostly due to time and competition. I feel I can walk into any studio and be greeted, welcomed and hugged. I love this so much. My blessings are abundant. I attribute this all to my parents and my family and live life to the fullest in honor of my brother, David, who passed away from the evil ‘C’ word. He was always kind and happy, so I try to live like that on his behalf.”
For more information on Miss April’s Dance, visit www.facebook.com/Danceinyourpants.
By Emily Yewell Volin of Dance Informa.