In today’s difficult economy, paying for your child’s –or perhaps your own—dance education can feel pretty overwhelming. Many students are being forced to cut back on classes and avoid competitions. Schools can’t keep up with the requests for financial aid and are doing all they can to stay afloat.
However there are those who–when faced with challenges such as these–rise to the occasion and refuse to give up. One such person is a young lady by the name of Natalee Maxwell.
At the recommendation of her mother, Natalee devised a way to turn her multiple talents into a successful entrepreneurial venture. Not only would this venture help fund Natalee’s dance education, but it would soon open the door to an incredible opportunity she never expected…
Vala: “Welcome, Natalee. Why don’t we have you begin by introducing yourself and your lovely family?”
Natalee: “My name is Natalee Maxwell and I just turned 16 years old. I come from a very supportive family. My mother, Jacquelyn, is especially encouraging in all of my creative endeavors and has helped me achieve much with my arts. She too is extremely creative and talented. My dad, Michael, is always helpful with my schoolwork, and is always there on those late nights when I am studying for a math test. I attend a local performing arts school, The Public Academy for Performing Arts (PAPA), as does my younger brother, Luke, who is 13. Luke is also a creative person. He dances flamenco, plays guitar, and is an actor.”
Vala: “It’s always wonderful to hear about parents actively supporting their children’s dreams. Their encouragement, I’m sure, makes a huge difference for you and your brother. So tell us what inspired you to begin dancing, and where you currently study.”
Natalee: “I started dancing when I was 5 years old, after being inspired by a performance of “The Nutcracker”. I began ballet at Alwin School of the Dance in Albuquerque, I will continue to dance there with our studio company until I graduate.
Vala: “It’s amazing how The Nutcracker continues to inspire future dancers! So, does this mean you primarily study ballet, or do you enjoy other forms of dance as well?”
Natalee: “In addition to Alwin’s, I began taking Contemporary dance at PAPA, and have flourished in many other dance styles. I have enjoyed Flamenco, Modern, Jazz, African, and Tap.”
Vala: “That sounds like an impressive resume`! Do you have a particular favorite style?”
Natalee: “My favorite style is Contemporary Ballet. I enjoy having the ability to take strong classical ballet technique, and bend it into something more unique and edgy.
Vala: “And how did you discover Vala Dancewear? Can you share with us how your relationship with the company began?”
Natalee: “It all started while I was training for Youth America Grand Prix. I was in need of a flattering, elegant costume for my contemporary dance piece, and felt that Vala Dancewear would compliment my choreography perfectly. My mom gave me the idea to write Rebecca at Vala and ask if she would be willing to do a trade; a leotard in exchange for some of my notecards, (created from my original dancer paintings). I also enclosed a photograph of myself and followed up with an email.”
“Soon after, Rebecca sent me an email saying she’d love to do a trade and asked if I’d like to be a “tester”. I immediately accepted this very generous offer! You see, I’m not only a dancer and an artist, but also a budding fashion designer. This is one career I plan on pursuing in the future and feel the connection with Vala has made me realize that it is possible to make this dream a reality.”
Vala: “My goodness, that’s incredible! Dancer, artist, fashion designer, entrepreneur…You’ll certainly have the world in your hands, my dear. J I admire your determination! So tell me, out of all that, what do you think impressed Rebecca the most about you? Why do you feel she chose to make such an offer to a near stranger?”
Natalee: “I feel that more than anything, Rebecca was impressed that I was so motivated and that I used my own artistic abilities to help my parents acquire the things I needed to be successful in dance. The people at Vala have been so friendly and approachable since the beginning, and they’ve provided me with such an amazing opportunity. I feel like such a part of the company. I feel honored they chose me to test the dancewear. Since then I even talked to our local dancewear store, New Mexico Dancewear, here in Albuquerque and now they are carrying the Vala line! I’m very blessed to have formed a friendship with this fabulous company.”
Vala: “Your story is certainly a testament to the power of self-promotion! I know everyone here at Vala raves about your tenacity, maturity, talent and poise. To have gone to the lengths you have to help promote the Vala line is spectacular and we’re proud to have you as an honorary member of our team, Natalee! Let’s go back to your artwork for a moment. What prompted you to begin drawing and what sort of mediums have you explored?”
Natalee: “I have been drawing as far back as I can remember, thanks to plenty of inspiration from my artistic mom. I’ve enjoyed working with many mediums such as paint, charcoal, pastels, metal, and pencil in my years of study. I could say I have created something every day of my life since elementary school, but I did not begin formal art training until middle school. I am currently studying oil painting for the first time, and am always open to innovative ideas, materials, etc.”
Vala: “Speaking of innovative ideas; as you know, this article is mainly about finding creative ways to fund your dance education. You’ve been successful with combining both of your artistic talents into a marketable format. Would you share with us how the concept of your note cards was born?”
Natalee: “Due to the high costs of dance education, I needed to find a way to help my parents fund my summer dance intensives, pointe shoes, etc. So many people loved my paintings of dancers, that my mom had an idea to make notecards. I had a local office supply company donated my first box of envelopes, and then I had my art reproduced onto note cards. I was able to sell enough cards to pay for my entire summer intensive in southern California last year. I feel I appreciated it even more since I contributed to it.”
Vala: “That’s wonderful! It must be thrilling to see your efforts pay off like that. So with your busy schedule, how frequently are you able to update your designs?”
Natalee: “I continue to do a different series of dancer note cards every year and people can’t wait to see what I come up with next!”
Vala: “That’s terrific! I’ll be on the look-out for the next batch in 2010! So in addition to the note cards, have you come up with any other fun, creative ways to ease your financial burdens?”
Natalee: “Yes! I’ve sold many original paintings at my annual school art show, sold art at our local dancewear store, designed 2 recital program covers for our studio, designed my school yearbook cover, and I have painted t-shirts, just to name a few.”
Vala: “Natalee, you’ve been blessed with so many fabulous experiences at an early age. My next question is two-fold; how has your successful note card business affected you as a dancer and young adult? And how has your relationship with Vala Dancewear helped you in this regard?”
Natalee: “As a dancer, I have learned to express my passion for dance through my art. I feel I can use my abilities to always make a way for myself, both now and in the future. The reality is that I can’t dance till I’m 100, so I am always thinking of ways to use my other talents to provide. I feel that my interest in Vala, and their interest in my art, has opened up many new opportunities for me. I have learned to be confident and approach people with my ideas.”
Vala: “What advice would you give to a fellow, financially struggling dancer?”
Natalee: “My advice is to be practical. Just take the things that you like or that you’re good at, and use them to the best of your ability. I continue to work hard on my art and my dance, as they seem to go hand in hand. My mom encourages me in everything I do and helps me with many of my marketing ideas. It’s a must in these tough economic times to do all I can myself to help pay for dance, pointe shoes etc. Every dancer knows the expenses can be overwhelming at times. Try to think of something that is useful and come up with your own twist on it. When people see that you are truly passionate about something, they too will be passionate. People are always willing to support those who want to work for the things they desire.”
Vala: “That’s such a simple truth, but one that can easily forgotten in the stress of the moment. Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to speak with us, Natalee. We really appreciate it. Before we close, would you like to share any final thoughts with our readers? What have you learned through this experience?”
Natalee: “People love my art just as I love the beautiful Vala leotards and Tutu’s from Class Act. It’s all about using your talents and being productive and creating something beautiful to share with the world!
The whole thing has taught me to be confident, assertive and professional. I’ve learned that when I value the talents God has given me and always use them to the best of my ability, then I can make things happen! I hope I have inspired more dancers to use all of their talents! Perhaps they too, can use their hands and not just their feet!”
To contact Natalee regarding her beautiful notecards or dance art, please email her directly.
Photo Credits: Evalani Stockton Nieto, Timeless Keepsake Photography