We had the good fortune of connecting with Leah Monet and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Leah, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
Risk taking has played a big role in my life. I took a step out on faith deciding to open a dance studio. I had no knowledge in being a dance studio owner or where even where to begin. Dance has always been apart of my life since the age of 3. I took my first dance class at daycare and the dance teacher told my mom that she needed to put me in a dance studio ASAP. So my mom did and there I was dancing at Ballethnic in Atlanta, GA. My dad was military so we eventually moved back to Jacksonville, FL where my mom decided to put me into a magnet school here in Jacksonville, FL. For elementary school I attended Pine Forest School of the arts, for middle school I attended Lavilla School of the arts, and for high school I attended Douglas Anderson School of the arts for 1 year. Then we were stationed in Norfolk, VA where I attended The Governor’s School for the arts as a Sophomore. As I got older being a professional dancer was my one and only goal. Dance wasn’t just a hobby for me anymore. It was going to be my career. At the age of 13 I decided that I wanted to focus just on Ballet. When I was younger I tried almost every dance style: Ballet, Jazz, Contemporary, Tap, and Character. Learning all of these styles certainly helped me become a better dancer. Moving to Virginia is where my passion grew for ballet. Attending The Governor’s School for the arts gave me so many opportunities to evolve as a dancer. Being a student here I was able to perform with the symphony, work with guest artists from different dance companies, and become a trainee with Virginia Ballet Theatre. Learning all of the different ballet’s were preparing me to be a company member one day. My junior year of high school was the year I had my first injury. During a rehearsal for our winter concert I sprained my ankle. I’ve never felt so much pain in my life and having that little voice in the back of my mind telling me you need to get up now and continue to dance. As I tried to get up and stand on that ankle it was impossible to put any weight on that foot. There I was in tears and worrying I won’t be able to perform. Thinking of all the hard work and time I had put in and now it going all too waste. I had a doctor’s appointment and he informed me that I shouldn’t perform. I kept feeling like I could of prevented this but things just happen sometimes. There I was on crutches, icing, and resting. The next day I came to rehearsal with a flesh tone brace ready to dance. I decided to take a risk which probably wasn’t the best thing to do but I knew in my heart that I could do this. And there I was on stage with a big smile on my face. This is where I belong ! My senior year came and it was time to apply and audition for college. I only auditioned for one school which was a big risk to take. Only applying to one college and hoping for the best. I auditioned for The Hartt School in Hartford, CT where I was told on the spot that I got in. Later on I got the official letter stating I was accepted and I received a 90% paid scholarship to attend. I remember that moment and feeling overjoyed and I felt like I made a big accomplishment. As my senior year started to come to an end we were preparing for our last concert. This was one of the biggest performances of my life. I remember rehearsing everyday and on top of that I was still training as a trainee with Virginia Ballet Theatre. I began having pain in my left shin and it started out hurting just when I walk, then it would hurt when I jumped, and then just sitting the pain got worse. There I was again in the doctor office again. I had MRI’s done, blood tests, and more imaging done. When the results came back I was told I had a tibia stress fracture, ” The dreaded black line”. The rest of the year was over for me. There was no way I’d be dancing again. I was out of dance for 6 months then returned and then I was out again.After I graduated I took summer classes at The Hartt School to regain my strength but it just didn’t heal the way I thought it would. I never fully recovered from this injury which meant I wouldn’t be attending college. I came back home to Jacksonville, FL and had to rethink my entire life over. There was a point where I felt like there was nothing else for me to do in life. Dance was all I had ever known. I felt so many different emotions and just felt as if I’d never find anything else to do. But one day I went to go visit my old dance teacher from Lavilla School of the arts Mrs. Ottley and I told her everything that had happened. She felt my pain but then told me that I still had another option.Going to school for something else was not an option for me but she told me that I didn’t need a degree to open my own dance studio. I told her I couldn’t see myself as a dance teacher. But she saw that I was more than a dancer. I went home and thought about it and there I was searching for a studio space to rent. I was able to find one and I rented a small studio from “The Performers Academy”. Which was a space for many artists. I decided to take a risk, I really didn’t know where it would take me. I was 19 years old owning my own dance studio. “Monet School of Ballet “was born in 2015! It took some time to truly appreciate being an instructor but I realized that it wasn’t about me. It was about these young dancers who wanted to learn about ballet and I wanted to give them what I was missing as a dancer. My mission is to help build character and confidence in dance and in life. Being a young girl isn’t easy yet being a young black ballet dance sure isn’t easy either. I want to show them that they can do anything they set there mind to and don’t let anyone tell you different. If I were to listen to the negative things I was told I wouldn’t be who I am or where I am today. Taking a risk has played a big role in my life and career. If I would of stayed in my comfort zone I wouldn’t have learned anything about myself or my students. Here I am today 25 years old and I am still the owner/ artistic director of “Monet School of Ballet”! I am truly thankful for the support I have from family and friends. But none of this would happen if I didn’t take a risk!
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
The most thing I’m proud of is being able to teach these beautiful dancers. I meet so many different personalities and at time they are teaching me things. I love to see the girls so excited to come to class and ready to learn. Seeing them pick up on choreography so quickly and continuing to grow. Getting where I am today was not easy and nothing in life is easy. Having my mind set just on becoming a professional dancer and having that taken away from me broke me down. I felt like having dance out of my life I didn’t know who I was. But I overcame that challenge and realized that my purpose was to be a teacher. To help mold these girls into something greater. What we learn in dance we can use in the real world. Such as organization, great work ethic, and confidence. One lesson that I have learned is that everything happens for a reason! I’d like the world to know that anything is possible and don’t ever give up. If I would of given up I’d never have known what my purpose was. Monet school of Ballet is a family and we work together. Working on their technique is always important and continuing to make sure they are using the corrections I give them and they keep it mind to help them further. I love my students as if they were my own!
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
If my best friend came to town we would have weekend full of things to do! One of my favorite places to have brunch is Southern Grounds in San Marco. I’d get the California Breakfast bagel: Smoked salmon, Avocado, Fried Egg, and a Sesame Seed bagel. It wouldn’t be brunch without a Mimosa Bucket or a good Hazelnut coffee. Then we would go to Rain Dogs in 5 points for great music and great people. Then on Sunday head on over to Neptune Beach. We would bring subs from Publix, a big blanket to lay on, a speaker, and a boogie board. When I am looking for something to do I refer to Cre8jax to see what events are going on in Jacksonville. Another great place to check out is the Riverside Arts Market. There are local vendors and also artists who perform. Actually my students have performed there a few times. The environment there is so free and uplifting.
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?
I would like to make a shoutout to my mom who has always been by my side and supported me in everything I do! She was there whenever I needed a shoulder to cry on or whether I just needed a good life. My mom is my best friend and I love her with all of my heart. That goes along with my family as well. I’d like to also give a shoutout to two of my mentors one is local here in Jacksonville, FL Mrs. Ottley. She has helped me grow as a teacher and giving me the opportunity to teach at my old middle school as a guest artist. Thank you for giving me the push I needed! LAst but not least I’d like to give a shout out to Misty Copeland. She has been a an amazing mentor to me. She helped me get through an injury that changed my life and it was something she could relate to. Her support means so much to me. I’d like to thank you all for helping me on this journey!
Other: Email: firstname.lastname@example.org