Builders Series: Happendance


The Builders Series highlights individuals and organizations developing healthy communities. Whether focused on a city, workplace, home environment, school, or nation, this series explores how people are thinking comprehensively about health and the environment in which individuals live and grow.

HDlogo2014blueI had the opportunity to interview Missy Lilje, MFA and Heather Vaughan-Southard, MFA of Happendance.  I have a long history with this organization:  I was once in their professional company (if you search closely in the archives you can find me–it was ’08 and ’09 where we obviously had a lot to say about the economy–making art about $100,000 undergraduate degrees, underwater mortgages, and rust-belt revitatlization).

As Happendance is preparing to celebrate its 40th year, is 2.5 years into their current strategic plan, and has opened their Happendance Exchange location on Kalamazoo in Lansing’s Eastside neighborhood I thought it would be a good time to learn more.

Missy Lilje

Missy Lilje

me:  So what do you each do?

Missy: I serve as the CEO of the organization.  I oversee the development and all operations for our professional company Impulse,  pre-professional company Velocity, school, touring Exchange education programs, and our two locations.  I am responsible for and accountable to the Board of Directors who supervise my work and evaluate my progress quarterly.  I’ve been in this role for 2.5 years.

Heather VS head shot

Heather Vaughan-Southard

Heather: I serve as the Director of three Happendance Departments, Happendance Heals, Happendance Exchange in Lansing, and the Happendance Education Exchange Services.  While I’ve been affiliated with Happendance in the past on previous projects and teaching residencies, I have fully come on board this year to take on these exciting new projects.

me: What are some challenges in your roles?

Missy: Advancing from educator to Director and then into the CEO position was a huge learning curve.  I knew that I was going to be responsible for a significant amount of financial development but didn’t know how that actually worked.  I knew it had something to do with “networking” but not a clue how to do that effectively.  I stumbled all over in the beginning where I was focusing on the outcome of financial development rather than building meaningful relationships with people who shared my interests and the interests of the organization.  I’ve learned a lot and now I am really seeing how it actually works.  I’ve been spending my time simply learning more about people and organizations that complement our work and we’re finding ways to work together and support each other.  I’ve got a long way to go, but I’ve learned a lot in the 2.5 years I’ve been at it and now things are really starting to move for us.

Heather: I think that we struggle to translate the value of what Happendance produces.  Yes, there is a top notch school which prepares dancers for college and career, but we are also reinventing the function and form of dance in a community.  (for more on this you should be following Heather’s excellent writing about movement education here and getting involved in DANCE Lansing and many community based efforts).  We are striving to clarify the mission so that the community understands that, while we train dancers, we also see dance as a tool in the development of every individual. Dance is universal to all people, not just dancers.

We’re really excited to develop and expand the Happendance Heals project.  We are partnering with healthcare providers to support individuals of all ages in applying movement to facilitate their recovery or management of a chronic condition.  This may be someone working through grief, managing PTSD, or rehabilitating after knee replacement (after their full course of physical therapy).

Editor’s note:  I’ve pasted the class schedule for Happendance Exchange at the end of the so you can see what’s she’s talking about. 

me:   On the topic of fundraising, what would you do with more financial resources?

Missy:  My goal is to provide a better compensation package for our staff.  Our faculty instructors currently are on par in the marketplace, but our leadership and administrators are not.  We are already attracting top notch faculty and administrators, those who are qualified to teach at the university level but who are choosing to be part of Happendance. I want to provide for them financially so we and they can commit long term.   I also have a vision for expanded and upgraded facilities and a meaningful marketing budget.

Heather:  On that note, as a Director the ability to focus on developing one of the departments more fully, rather than patching together multiple assignments would allow us to fully develop the curricula, faculty, and community partnerships necessary to launch and sustain that venture.

me: Who do you admire inside or outside of your industry?

Missy: First and foremost our founder Diane Newman who had a vision for Happendance forty years ago and built and sustained the organization.  In the field, Liz Lerman is the model for community based dance education and development. Everything she’s doing in Washington DC is the type of work Happendance hopes to do in our community.  I have the same admiration for Erik Larson at Impression 5 Science Center in Lansing.  I believe that his work is a blueprint for Happendance to follow.  He is ten years ahead of us in organizational development.  I watched him go through the process of securing support for an exhibit (the Water Room) and how he was able to translate the importance of the project from the individual student learning to a conversation about global water scarcity.  He is also a high school classmate of mine and I’m grateful he is applying his talent to our region.

Heather:  Definitely Liz Lerman — she is it.  Then of course the big hitters like Seth Godin and Brene Brown  have given me a lot to think about this year.  Of course I have a much longer list running as well!


Winter Fest Kids (ages 4+) December 9 Fee: 00.00
6:00-7:00 pm Pre-Holiday Stress Relief for Adults/Teens December 16 Fee: 00.00
6:00-7:00 pm Nimble Body Book Club KIDS edition (ages 4+) December 23 Fee: 00.00
6:00-7:00 pm New Year Kids Workshop (ages 4+) December 30 Fee: 00.00
6:00-7:00 pm New Year Brain and Body Boost for Adult/Teen January 6 Fee: 00.00
6:00-7:00 pm Super Hero Training Session: Kicks and Jumps (ages 4+) January 13 Fee: 00.00
6:00-7:00 pm Moving Limited Bodies: Adult Edition January 20 Fee: 00.00
6:00-7:00 pm Nimble Body Book Club: Kids Edition (ages 4+) January 27 Fee: 00.00

Happendance Heals

Workshops Saturdays 11-12 pm
11:00-12:00 pm Moving Attitudes about Pain December 5 Fee: 11.00
11:00-12:00 pm Giving Care to Caregivers December 12 Fee: 11.00
11:00-12:00 pm Moving through Parkinson’s Disease December 19 Fee: 11.00
11:00-12:00 pm Moving Limited Bodies: Kids Edition January 9 Fee: 11.00
11:00-12:00 pm Moving with Veterans January 16 Fee: 11.00
11:00-12:00 pm Moving through Grief and Stress January 23 Fee: 11.00
11:00-12:00 pm Moving toward Breast Health January 30 Fee: 11.00



2 thoughts on “Builders Series: Happendance

  1. Paula Harney

    Wow! I didn’t know all that about Happendance. Thanks for putting it out on your blog.Paula Harney 

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