HAPA- One Team One Dream
Hunter Academy of Performing Arts (HAPA) is more than just a dance studio. For me, they are my family. I’ve been dancing at HAPA for nearly a year now, and after taking time off due to injury, I felt welcomed right away and knew that this was the place for me to make my comeback. But HAPA isn’t just about me; it’s about all the students and teachers who make the studio possible.
HAPA is owned by Karen Stackman, one of the kindest souls you will ever meet. Initially, HAPA ran under a different name in Thornton for two years when the studio was co-owned with one of Karen’s friends. Due to unfortunate events where a vast majority of students defected to another dance school combined with Karen taking on the role of a Foster parent on top of already raising her three children, she decided to hand the studio to her friend. At this point in time, HAPA only had around 15 students and when her friend wanted to close the studio down, Karen felt that it just wasn’t right to leave the kids without a dance sanctuary. So, the 15 students worked hard and at the end of the year, performed a concert for their family and friends. This would be the start of big things for HAPA.
The following year, 45 students were enrolled; 66 the next. The studio had moved to an East Maitland Hall but they were soon outgrowing that. Over 2 years ago, they moved to a three studio premises in East Maitland where, on some nights, all three studios are occupied.
Now, as the 2019 year begins, there are over 80 students enrolled with nearly 20 new students. There are also two more studios in the Hunter; one in Tea Gardens and the other in Bulahdelah. Each studio has between 20-30 students, but this will only increase.
HAPA have recently started competing at various eisteddfods in the Hunter Valley will great results for both their team and individual participants.
Why HAPA Is Different
HAPA is different to all other dance studios and it’s not because of the style or classes offered. No. It’s different because of what defines HAPA. The studio is 100% not-for-profit. This means that all fee money goes to paying the teachers and the upkeep of the studio. Mrs Stackman believes that all children have the right to dance which is why she has made the HAPA studios so easily accessible. “Classes are $6 per recreational class, capped at $20 per week no matter how many classes you do. We also offer technique which is a slight additional cost and Elite classes for those dancers who are wanting to compete,” she says. HAPA also offers cheer classes.
At HAPA, the word can’t is simply not in anyone’s vocabulary. “Every child can dance. HAPA is a place where kids from all backgrounds can come together and dance”. There are a lot of children who have never danced before because their parents haven’t been able to afford it previously. Some have had bad experiences with other studios that have left them questioning their passion for dance. And others have disabilities that would ordinarily stop them from dancing at other studios. But at HAPA everyone is welcome, even if you are in a wheelchair like one of the current students.
Maddy Gallagher has been with HAPA since it first began and considers the studio and all the students and staff family. She had been to previous dance schools where she didn’t feel welcome and felt like she wasn’t a good enough dancer. Once she found HAPA, she found her love for dance. “HAPA has given me so many opportunities and has taught me so much. It’s somewhere that I love to be and somewhere I feel welcome,” Maddy says.
HAPA has taught Maddy so many skills and has given her encouragement to improve in various areas. It has also given her the confidence to dance as both a group and a soloist. She has won prizes as several dance competitions for her solo work, something she treasures greatly. Through her years at HAPA, Maddy has formed unbreakable friendships with other students and has even taken on co-teaching duties.
Miss Sharna's story
Miss Sharna is one of the talented teacher’s at HAPA and she wouldn’t change that for the world. 2019 is her fourth year at the studio. “I wish there was a dance school like this when I was younger. I grew up in a low-income single parent family where even keeping food on the table was a struggle but my wonderful mother always came through with my dancing,” Miss Sharna says. She also says that she loves teaching there and giving the students an opportunity to dance in the Maitland community without the large price tag and fear of not fitting in.
One of the may things that Miss Sharna loves about HAPA is the zero tolerance for bullying. “We create a safe haven for kids to come dance, have fun and learn skills without judgement. I have really connected to so many of our students and have become a person to lean on for a lot of them. I am so passionate to help the kids,” she says.
Miss Sharna sees herself working for HAPA long-term because they are her family and she will never get sick of the great vibes of the studio.
My Story As Part Of The HAPA Team
I’ve been dancing since I was three and have always had my share of issues. My self-doubt surrounding my dance ability has been high in recent years. I’ve had a back injury and tendinitis that have greatly impacted my dancing over the years. After a studio I loved closed down and my back issues got worse, I never though that I would dance again. Last year, I was introduced to the team at HAPA and realised that I could dance at my own pace and on my own terms. I was welcomed straight away and the teachers, being aware of my past injuries, let me take things slow and only do what I was comfortable with.
I did two ballet classes and a contemporary class last year and loved every moment of it. Unlike some other studios I have been too, which I did love but sometimes felt weren’t right for me, there was no pressure to do exams or specific classes. My self-doubt slowly went away and after seeing the results of the concert, for the first time in a long time, felt like I could really dance again. I was even awarded Senior B student of the year last year alongwith two other achievement awards.
This year, I am pushing myself a bit further with the Elite classes. I am taking ballet, jazz, contemporary, musical theatre, technique and pointe. I’m nervous about dancing on the tips of my toes again but I am confident that with the guidance of the terrific teachers there, I will be able to do it.
HAPA Is The Place To Dance
HAPA has helped me find my love of dancing again and is a really positive and inspiring environment to be at. Everyone is friendly and all the classes are so much fun. In all my years of dancing, I know that I have truly found a place that’s right for me. I recommend HAPA to anyone in the East Maitland area looking for fun and affordable dance classes. HAPA- one team one dream.
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