While schooling and academics are undoubtedly important, Spotlight Studio Director Katie Abraham knows it’s just as essential to foster physical expression and creativity in young kids. A long-time dance enthusiast and entertainer, Katie decided to share her passion with Hong Kong’s youth by opening up a dance studio for kids with co-founder Jessica Lee. While she’s had to learn a few lessons about balancing work and mummyhood ever since little Max came along over a year ago, Katie is just as energetic as ever both on- and off-stage. In this week’s Mamapreneur, she dishes on her passion for performance, thoughts on Hong Kong’s art scene and what she loves most about working with kids!
What is your background and how did you become interested in dance?
I grew up in Melbourne, Australia and was always exposed to musical theatre and dance by my parents who are music lovers. Dad loves classical and Broadway musicals, Mum loves disco and soulful ballads. For me, my connection to dance stems from my enjoyment of music. If I hear a great song I get goosebumps! love entertaining and performing because I love making people happy.
It wasn’t always easy — I used to be so shy and not very coordinated! But through years of training from wonderful teachers and mentors I have learnt so much and continue to learn. It’s physically and mentally challenging but I can’t imagine doing anything else – it’s just fun!
What was the inspiration behind Spotlight Studio?
Spotlight Studio is a performing arts and fitness company founded by my business partner Jessica Lee and myself. We provide a wide range of performing arts classes for all ages as well as entertainment for events. Jess and I met through teaching in Hong Kong and discovered we both grew up with a similar background in performing arts even though we were on different sides of the world. The inspiration to start our own studio came after a chance meeting one night when we discovered we had the same goals — to bring something different to the table and spread our love of dance and performance. After a lengthy chat, we gave each other a big high five and said, “Let’s do this!”
What do you enjoy most about working at Spotlight Studio? What do you hope to achieve?
I get to dance every day! I’m so lucky to have a profession I truly love. It’s hard work but Jess and I have so many laughs (as do all performers) and since opening the studio, we have had the chance to explore our creativity on a new level. I hope that our fresh, energetic classes can inspire performers young and old to throw themselves into music, movement and expression.
Does your son Max also take classes at your studio?
Let’s just say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree — my son Max is quite a character and really loves playing to the camera. As soon as he hears music or watches me dance, he’s smiling and wiggling! It’s really up to him if he wants to participate in the classes but if I had the choice I would love him to do drama. I think drama is an excellent practice for young boys to build their confidence, exercise teamwork and express themselves.
What do you love most about working with kids?
I love working with kids because they have no fear and they let their imaginations run wild. I especially love seeing the happiness on their faces when they feel a sense of achievement. Watching them improve and master tasks is such a rewarding experience and you always hope in some way that you’ve made a lasting impression when they leave the studio.
How is the dance scene in Hong Kong?
I have worked at some terrific schools, taken classes from excellent teachers, worked with amazing choreographers and watched countless talented performers. There are a lot of great work opportunities in Hong Kong but what this city is missing is a cultural presence. I feel that not enough importance is placed on performing arts education and children are not exposed to it the same way children in the US, Canada, Europe or Australia are. With Spotlight Studio, we are hoping to bring more awareness to just how much a student can benefit from taking a dance or drama class. Academics are important but so is physical exercise and the artistry of self expression and interpersonal skills.
What are some of the events / productions your school has participated in?
We just finished a big production at “Sunday Funday Hope Shines Through” for the Hong Kong Adventist Hospital Foundation. We choreographed dance routines for singer Joyce Lee, organised a flashmob and conducted a Zumba Kids® class all in the one day! We love organising such events and can’t wait for the next one.
What are some of the biggest lessons you have learned starting your own business?
It’s not easy! No matter how prepared you think you are there’s always room for improvement. The important thing is to stay focused and listen to others’ advice (even if you don’t like what they have to say). Take personal responsibility and communicate with honesty and integrity. Build a strong partnership and always have a backup plan. Above all, stay positive!
Can you talk us through your career pre- and post-baby? How did you get back into the swing of things after having Max?
Before Max, my career was on a high note — I was teaching, dancing in shows and extremely busy. My husband and I had planned to have a baby but I became pregnant earlier than expected. I was so happy but I knew I would have to put my dance career on hold and it meant I wouldn’t be able to travel for shows for a long time. It’s not easy dancing when you feel like a beached whale but I was still able to teach up until the end of my pregnancy. Getting back into the swing of things was tough especially when you work in an industry that places a huge importance on physical condition and appearance. It must have taken me a full year to get back into shape and I’m glad I took my time so I could spend it with my baby.
How has having kids changed the way you define work?
Being a mother has enhanced every aspect of my life including my work as a dancer and a teacher. The experience of raising a child inspires me to be better in every way. Being a parent and a teacher works really well together — it’s fascinating to work with kids and it requires a lot of careful planning, creativity and energy! Now that Max is in my life it’s so cool I can share that knowledge with him. We get to dance, sing and play together every day!
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received as a parent?
Be persistent with getting your child into a routine, be patient, try not to over think things and relax! Kids are so intelligent and extremely resilient so make their days filled with fun learning experiences and daily physical exercise.
What’s your most useful advice for balancing career and family?
Organisation is key. Like many mothers, I’m a big fan of writing checklists to make sure I’m on top of all my tasks. My work schedule is very hectic and involves me running around Hong Kong all day from show rehearsals to teaching classes. If I know I have a busy week ahead, I make sure to allocate quality time for family and friends. It’s also important to ask for help when needed and remember to give yourself a break once in a while!
What are your upcoming plans for Spotlight Studio?
We want to offer a broad range of dance styles such as jazz funk, hip hop, musical theatre, lyrical, ballet and dance fitness classes such as Zumba® for adults, Zumba Kids® and also kids yoga. We are very excited to introduce some unique classes to Hong Kong such as Video Hype (a commercial dance and music video class where students get to star in their very own music video) and Disco Babies (music, movement, interactive storytelling and games for babies and toddlers). We want to cater to all age groups and we’ll be holding classes at several locations around Hong Kong Island including Stanley, Sheung Wan and Tin Hau, to name a few. We’re currently holding a series of fun summer camps and the regular term classes will commence in September.
Do you have any tips for aspiring mamapreneurs in Hong Kong?
Don’t be afraid to take risks. Decide clearly on what you want to achieve and just get started! Make the most of your support network and get your family and friends involved as much as possible. You have to be committed one hundred percent and aim to make a difference.