As a ballet teacher, Jessica Peoples knows all about a pirouette, but she never could have predicted the turns in her life journey that brought her from her hometown of Phoenix, Arizona to founding a dance studio in Donegal. Zona Dance Studio is a classical based dance studio located in Mulroy Business Park in Letterkenny.
Jessica is a qualified dance teacher with a Degree in Dance Performance, a Post Graduate Certificate in Dance Education and is a registered teacher (RTS) with the Royal Academy of Dance. Jessica loved dancing as a child but when she moved on to high school, she decided to take a break. “It wasn’t as cool at 12 and ballet gets really challenging at upper levels” Jessica said. “You either get serious about it at that age or you quit, and I decided to be a cheerleader and a volleyball player more than a dancer.”
In high school she was not even aware that dance class was an option until she went to a show in the school to support a friend. She was so moved by that performance, she started dancing again and later took dance in college: “I had gone to college with a pretty open schedule to see what my options were. I wanted to dance but I think my family would have preferred me to do something more mainstream.” At the end of her first year her dance teacher told her that she was good enough to do this, so from there she moved 3,000 miles to the University of the Arts in Philadelphia where she got her degree in the performance of ballet.
When she finished her degree, she moved back to Phoenix where she danced with a contemporary company but when she suffered a knee injury, things took a turn again: “I had a bad dislocation and that changed the perspective a lot. I had taught a little bit with the company at summer camps and intensive training days but instead of dance teaching, I took my career in a completely different direction.”
Jessica had been working in administration in a hospice for a secondary income while dancing professionally, and she became interested in nursing and availed of a return to college program where her employer would reimburse her tuition fees and she began a degree in nursing. In her second year she came to Ireland on spring break, where she met her future husband John: “We quickly decided to be in each other’s lives and a year later we were married.” Jessica wanted to continue her education and started a degree in Nutrition in Letterkenny Institute of Technology, and while completing her degree she began teaching dance again for a local dance studio. She realised that if she wanted to dance while living in Donegal her best option was to teach. She started teaching classes in Letterkenny; at first, there were two ballet classes but this soon grew to four and then six; eventually it got to a stage where there was no more hours available to rent at the studio she was working from, but the business kept growing and she made the decision to open a purpose-built ballet studio; the building was a challenge; the timeline was a challenge but Jessica couldn’t walk away from the exponential growth that was allowing it to happen.
Since then, the studio has enjoyed great success: “We’ve had students become members of the Irish National Youth Ballet, and some have successfully auditioned for third level colleges and universities in Ireland, USA, England and Scotland. We have the privilege of an ongoing relationship with Ballet Ireland and are fortunate to have private tuition with Stephen Brennan” Jessica added.
Jessica worked with her Local Enterprise Office to help develop her website with a Trading Online Voucher. When she looks back on it now as a business owner, she believes every single experience has been a stepping-stone to this place:
Each step was vital; once I got past my own thoughts of what I wanted for myself, I realised that the love and the passion I had for dance could come from instilling that same feeling in somebody else. That is a more satisfying reward than I could ever have imagined.
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