We had the good fortune of connecting with Lisa Tran and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Lisa, have there been any changes in how you think about work-life balance?
I’ve always liked a full schedule and as long as I have worked I have filled my hours with as much as possible because I was doing things I enjoyed, and I guess I like to have a task list to complete to feel accomplished. I’m now 7 years into running a dance studio and my daughter is 3 years old. Add to this the pandemic-fatigue everyone is feeling 2+ years into it, I’ve seen my goals and my idea of success shift significantly. I always envisioned opening a dance studio and slowly expanding into larger space, accommodating more students, and building the overall size of the business.
But now the idea of “bigger means better” doesn’t look quite the same and I’m seeing more value in a smaller studio. Knowing every student enrolled and being able to recognize their families out in the neighborhood feels really special to me and I think gives my business a community vibe. If I put myself in the parents’ shoes I know what would make me feel comfortable in a dance studio and what would impact my decision about where to enroll my child, given the many options there are in our area. Likewise for our adult students, I think they also value a sense of community and connection that they find in a class with other like-minded adults. So I try to look at it from this perspective when making decisions about the studio culture and what our future growth might look like without losing this community feeling.
I’m also finding myself wanting to step back somewhat from teaching at this point and balance my attention more between teaching and running the business. This is in part due to having a family of my own and needing to designate time for them (early on the studio demanded the vast majority of my attention,) as well as having wonderful teaching staff that I value and want to keep as long as I can. When a great teacher asks for more hours and there aren’t many to give I’ve found myself turning over mine, and it’s not a hard decision. I can trust them to take good care of those classes and hopefully they feel that their time is well spent at my studio and will be a good place to continue to work for many years to come.
Lastly, while the early dream of growth and expansion still looms overhead in a somewhat tempting manner, I know that “bigger” means for me more overhead, more management, and more of my time, possibly not even for more money (depending on a lot of factors like payroll, building costs, class sizes, etc.) So for now I’m feeling more content than expected to let things continue as they are, at least until the median age of our students rises and we really cannot fit all the necessary classes into one space, there is only so much time in a week!
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
Dance has always been in my life, beginning as a student just before the age of 3. But I thought my professional life would go another direction and I studied Civil Engineering at Tufts University and began a professional career as an engineer that only survived about 4 years before the creative itch became overwhelming. While working full-time I also began teaching dance a few days a week (evenings and weekends) and before long I just had to jump in with both feet. I was worried about making a living as a dance teacher and became a certified yoga teacher as well in order to diversify my teaching abilities and to find additional work opportunities. This worked pretty well for quite a few years (albeit with a much lower income than as an engineer, but it really is true that the money isn’t as important when you enjoy what you do.) I was in Boston at the time and I might’ve stayed on this path had I not met my now husband and moved across the country to Los Angeles to give that relationship a chance.
Not long after I moved to LA (about 3 years) I made the move to open West Valley Dance Academy, and besides the obvious challenges of the pandemic there has been nothing that would make me want to do anything else. The pandemic definitely brought some moments of doubt and I seriously considered closing it all down at one or two points, but the community I had built within the studio was still so strong and was really pulling for us to hang in there. So I couldn’t bring myself to let it go, and I’m glad I pushed through because we’re still here and it’s a true joy to share my passion for dance and movement with year after year of new and returning students.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
If there was a show we’d enjoy happening at the Ford Amphitheatre I would definitely take them there (I brought one of my visiting former dance students to see The Syncopated Ladies tap group perform there a few years ago and it was amazing,) or any other open air venue like The Greek or The Hollywood Bowl. For my people from the east coast/New England it’s such a novelty to be able to enjoy the outdoors pretty much year round over here. Admittedly I rarely do any of these things normally but having a visitor is a good excuse to drive out to the beach, go on a day hike, or take a drive out to Temecula to visit wineries.
Because I live in the San Fernando Valley I love to not have to get on a freeway if I don’t have to so, I’d take them to The Village to shop, walk, and eat. They’d also have to experience the amazing tacos cooked right on the sidewalk under a tent that pops up nightly in the neighborhood. Coffee and boba are another thing altogether, we’d stop at Awkward Coffee, Bon Bon Tea House, Bounce Boba Lounge, and R Coffee House. Some favorite restaurants include Blu Jam Cafe, Dan’s Super Subs, San Carlo Italian Deli, Pho So 1, Uncle Ernies, Roll Roll, and Maru Sushi Bar.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Thelma Goldberg, my original dance mentor and boss. She taught me how to teach, gave me my first shot as a dance instructor, and also gave me her trust and helped me develop the confidence to be a leader.