Working at various dance studios for a number of years, Angela Mannella-Hoffman felt bothered.
Those studios, she said, would often dress and put makeup on the children in a way that made her uncomfortable.
“What bothered me about some of the studios I was teaching at is that the children were kind of sexualized,” Mannella-Hoffman said. “They were wearing these little skimpy tops, and 5-year-olds had fake eyelashes and stuff like that.”
Because of this, Mannella-Hoffman wanted to start her own family-friendly, wholesome studio.
Nearly a decade ago, she did just that.
Her studio, Moore Than Dance, 1220 East Moore Lake Drive, Fridley, is celebrating its 10th season this year. Since its inception, the studio has gone from 40 students to nearly 400 and increased from one room to three. Moore Than Dance offers 40 classes a week for all age groups starting at age 6 months, with offerings in singing, dancing and acting.
A significant component of Mannella-Hoffman’s strategy is promoting self-worth and self-esteem to her students. She and the other instructors encourage their students and build them up, rather than tearing them down in class.
“I’m using the arts as a vehicle for them to find their own passion and their own worth,” Mannella-Hoffman said. “That, to me, is the most beautiful thing to see. ... If they can come in and feel confident about themselves and know that they have value, that’s the most important lesson they can learn.”
She promotes wholesomeness and encouragement in the studio so students have a positive experience with dance. Having experienced negative encounters with harsh instructors growing up, Mannella-Hoffman knew she wouldn’t allow that in her studio.
“I had a ballet teacher when I was young who told me I was too fat in front of everybody,” she said. “Things like that will never happen here. It’s not about how you look and how thin you are, we welcome everybody.”
One of Mannella-Hoffman’s goals at the studio is to make the kids well-rounded. She emphasizes singing, dancing and acting so students can become “triple threats.”
And students aren’t required to spend all of their free time practicing at the studio.
“Our students aren’t here five nights a week because we want them to be athletes and we want them to be scholars,” Mannella-Hoffman said. “It’s not at all consuming.”
One of the studio’s instructors, Selena Houchins, is a former student of Moore Than Dance.
Houchins took classes at the studio when it opened. She came in with a background in theater dance, and she said Mannella-Hoffman accommodated her and students with varying dance backgrounds.
Now, as an instructor, Houchins incorporates Mannella-Hoffman’s philosophies into her teaching.
“I try to build people, not just dancers,” Houchins said. “I’m trying to make sure they have life skills, too.”
Houchins aims to make her students love dancing and have fun in class. She wants her students to want to be in class, rather than just attending because their parents make them.
Since the beginning, Mannella-Hoffman has tried to find ways to be inclusive of all kids in her classes, regardless of ability, skill or how much training they’ve had.
One way she’s done this is by incorporating kids with special needs into her programming. She created a “Special Stars” program for kids with medical or physical challenges.
Similar to the rest of the classes the studio offers, the Special Stars learn proper techniques for ballet, tap and jazz. They use specially modified ballet barres, which are designed for dancers who use wheelchairs.
Seven years ago, Moore Than Dance took the Special Stars to their first competition. Having a few dancers in wheelchairs, Mannella-Hoffman said some of the other competitors were staring at them when they all walked in.
“It was really kind of nerve wracking and intimidating,” she said.
After the team performed, however, dancers from other studios were very encouraging and offered congratulations to the kids, Mannella-Hoffman said.
“It was great for these parents,” she said. “A lot of them ... their kids had never really had a chance to perform like that, so that was really an exciting moment for me.”
Moore Than Dance wanted to find a way to incorporate programming for younger kids, too, so Mannella-Hoffman came up with a preschool program for kids as young as 6 months old.
“They’re learning so much all the time, and it’s fun to have the little, little ones in class,” she said.
Moore Than Dance has also added Irish dancing, hip hop, tumbling and other dance styles to its curriculum. The studio offers classes for all levels, including teen beginner classes, which Mannella-Hoffman said a lot of studios don’t offer.
To learn more, visit moorethandance.com.