Turning dance education on its head

CATEGORIES: News, Students
Madeline Ladehoff. (Submitted photo)

This is part of a series of articles that will be posted in September sharing the stories of LAS students who were part of this summer’s CYstarters cohort at the ISU Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship.

Creativity, focus, discipline, and passion are just a few qualities of a good dancer. They’re also characteristics of a successful entrepreneur.

Madeline Ladehoff seems destined to be both. Ladehoff is a senior at Iowa State majoring in entrepreneurship and dance with a minor in Spanish. She’s also the founder and artistic director of Dancing with Miss Maddy, a dance company focused on providing safe and inclusive dance education for children and youth.

“I’ve been a dancer for 18 years,” Ladehoff said. “I started as a teaching assistant in high school and fell in love with it. I always told people I wanted to be a dance teacher when I grew up. That didn’t change.”

Now, Ladehoff is making her dream a reality. She is a graduate of the first cohort of the Start Something LAS Academy, a two-year learning experience to help students bring their big ideas to life. This summer, she also participated in CYstarters, an 11-week immersion program for Iowa State student entrepreneurs and innovators.

“Any body can be a dance body”

Ladehoff’s dance company prioritizes dancer safety and a welcoming environment for dancers of all identities. Part of her vision stems from her own experiences in dance. Ladehoff had two hip surgeries before age 20, which she believes could have been avoided with more safety-focused instruction.

“Anyone can wake up in the morning and decide to be a dance teacher,” she said. “It’s kind of scary when you think about it because there’s a lot of moving parts to it.”

Ladehoff also wants to provide more inclusive, accessible dance education. Dancing with Miss Maddy does not have a dress code. Dancers can wear athletic clothing, a more affordable approach than purchasing a new dance-specific outfit after every growth spurt. Her studio also ensures tights are available for various skin tones. Dance is often a female-dominated space, Ladehoff also points out, and she wants to provide a home for non-binary and male dancers, too.

“We believe that any body can be a dance body,” she said.

A community of makers and doers

A student strikes a dance pose outside
Madeline Ladehoff. (Submitted photo)

Through the Start Something LAS Academy, Ladehoff found a community where she could take risks to develop her ideas. The academy also helped her build a lasting relationship with a mentor in her profession. Anna Moon, who owns Des Moines-based studio The Change Dance, continues to be Ladehoff’s go-to mentor for professional guidance and advice. Ladehoff said the team-building and community she found at the academy is at the heart of her entrepreneurial experience.

“The academy gives you the capacity to learn and grow and take those risks,” she said. “But there’s always someone to cheer you on and catch you if you fall, which is great. The network and community it builds is huge, and it makes the entrepreneurship journey less lonely.”

Ladehoff said the diversity of LAS students in the academy was also important for collaboration and brainstorming.

“I could be stuck on a problem,” she said. “And then someone studying computer science or psychology is like, ‘Oh, have you thought about it this way?’ And it would have been something that I never thought of.”

Thanks to the academy, Ladehoff had a strong foundation to make the most of CYstarters this summer. She already knew her business idea and target market. Education sessions, mentors, staff coaching, and a financial stipend helped her further her business plan.

“The financial support was huge,” she said. “It was the difference between me having to pick up another job or being able to fully go all in on Dancing with Miss Maddy.”

Choreographing a dance major

Some readers might wonder, “Iowa State has a dance major?” Technically, Iowa State offers a dance minor but not an official major in dance. For Ladehoff, that was another opportunity for innovation.

“When I started at Iowa State in 2020, I was a dance minor,” Ladehoff said. “As I got more into it and learned about dance safety, I realized that just dance classes weren’t enough. I started exploring, ‘How can I turn this into a major?’”

Student seated on Iowa State University sign
Madeline Ladehoff. (Submitted photo)

LAS offers an interdisciplinary studies major for students with unique interdisciplinary educational goals. LAS Associate Dean Amy Slagell helped provide the creative curricular choreography Ladehoff needed to design an interdisciplinary major in dance.

Ladehoff’s coursework has ranged from kinesiology classes to a theatre class where she can learn lighting and set design for her studio recitals. She said she appreciates how Slagle, Assistant Professor of Kinesiology Janice Baker, and Academic Advisor Emily Olson were willing to do something different to help her become a well-rounded dance educator.

Next steps

Ladehoff looks forward to more teaching, growth, and business expansion this fall. She will offer dance classes in Ames beginning in September and teaches with her mentor in Des Moines two days a week.

One of her biggest priorities is finding a brick-and-mortar location in Ames for Dancing with Miss Maddy. She’ll approach that search as she does everything else – with problem-solving and creativity.