Photos by Adam Vo.

10 questions with new dance studio Evolve 26

Despite her young age, for 22-year-old Mason Bettis, the establishment of her very own dance studio has been a long time coming. When she opened the doors of the brand-new Evolve 26 studio on August 10 of this year, she was fulfilling a dream she has had since the beginning of her 21-year dance career–regardless of the obstacles posed by COVID-19.

Training around the country and the world, Bettis and her teachers bring unique perspectives to the dancers they mentor. Notable is the focus on the dance industry. Giving students the tools and exposure in order to pursue fruitful careers in the dance field, Evolve 26’s team hopes to mold dancers who see much further than just the next competition or recital.

We sat down with Bettis for an inside look at the new studio and it’s classes. Read on for the full interview.

Owner Mason Bettis (front center) along with some of the Evolve 26 dancers.

1. Why did you decide to open Evolve 26?

Opening my own dance studio has been my dream for as long as I can remember. I’ve wanted to bring something new to my hometown for a while and now, going into my 21st year of dancing and my ninth year of teaching and choreographing, I finally decided that I was ready to start my own studio and team.

2. What is the meaning behind the name?

The word “evolve” means to grow and progress over time; to transform. I wanted to incorporate this word into the name of my business as a reminder to myself to always keep my business evolving and transforming with time. I feel that it is my job to ensure that every dancer who trains with us continuously grows, learns and evolves.

Around two years ago, I began seeing the number 26 every day, multiple times a day. When I searched the meaning, it came up as an angel number meaning to follow your passions and talents because with hard work comes rewards.

3. What has it been like opening a studio in the midst of COVID-19?

I was a little nervous to open because of COVID, but I know that dance can be a very therapeutic. I know it’s needed for many people, especially in these times after such strict quarantine.

We are following COVID-19 protocols based on the governor’s guidelines. I have received great feedback from everyone so far. It has truly been humbling and motivating during this terrible pandemic.

4. What is a typical day like for you and your staff?

A typical day at Evolve 26 is filled with positivity, hard work and support between our dancers and faculty through our shared love of dance. We have a great amount of training weekly! We have auditions coming up on August 30 for ages 6 to 21 in order to pick members for our company team. We are also accepting virtual submissions (those can be emailed to [email protected]).

5. What sets Evolve 26 apart?

Our facility style is what sets us apart. I have traveled to many different dance studios all over the United States and to other countries. At every dance studio and every dance class I have attended, I have taken note of the specific things I really favored and wanted for my studio. I believe our dance room is one of the biggest in Baton Rouge–it’s 2,000 square feet and equipped with top-of-the-line Harlequin sprung and Marley flooring. We have an acrylic sign that lights up, 9-foot mirrors, five sets of gym stall bars, adjustable ballet barres and portable ballet barres, in addition to providing exercise balls, Pilates balls, yoga mats, yoga block and much more.

When the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, our lounge will be open for parents to come watch what is happening in the studio via three cameras that surround the dance room. We are excited to also have space for dancers to do their homework in the lounge, as well as vending machines for them to get refreshments before or after class.

6. What are the first things dancers see when they walk through your doors?

At 11 years old, I made up the symbol that is incorporated into our logo. I always said I would use it as part of my brand for my dance studio and dancewear one day. The first thing dancers see when they walk through our doors are the acrylic signs of our symbol and our mission statement.

If you add a line and a circle to the top of the symbol, it evolves into a dancer. I have always said the symbol stands for the words “believe in yourself.” This was the saying my mom always told me before every dance class, competition and performance.

7. What kind of classes does Evolve 26 offer?

We offer dance and fitness classes for all ages, starting with baby ballet at 1 year old, all the way up to fitness barre classes and adult beginner hip-hop cardio classes on the weekends that require no dance experience. Weekly, we offer ballet, tap, jazz, hip hop, barre, contemporary and more.

One class we offer that is different from any other studio is our “industry” class. It is a different style each week and is taught by a choreographer who is working in the professional dance industry (we stream it on our 12-foot projector). The dancers love this class as it is always challenging and fun to learn from many choreographers they look up to and idolize in the dance industry.

Evolve 26 has an app available for download in the App Store and on Google Play. Our app makes it easier for parents to register their dancer, pay their account balance, and purchase the virtual punch cards for drop-in classes. More information on our classes and schedule is available through our Evolve 26 app.

8. What are the benefits of dance?
Dancing brings new perspective to children through experiential learning. This is the process of learning through experience, more specifically defined as “learning through reflection on doing.” Experiential learning is one of the most fundamental means of learning because students learn not to fear mistakes but to value them. Experiential learning is designed to engage students’ emotions, as well as enhance their knowledge and skills.

Dancing is an all-around healthy art and sport that can improve your mental, emotion and physical health. Dance can be a therapy for some, allowing them to communicate how they feel through movement rather than words. In our classes at Evolve 26, I hope dancers can experience something from each class that makes them engage physically, emotionally and mentally. We hope that this experience helps people–young and old–grow in a much deeper understanding of themselves as dancers, artists and individuals.

9. Why should parents prioritize this extracurricular activity? What is your advice to those hoping to get their child involved in dance?

I believe parents should prioritize this activity because dance has many outlets that not only help children mentally, physically and emotionally, but also requires discipline and focus. Joining a dance team can bring many opportunities in the future for children including college dance teams, NBA or NFL dance teams, commercial work, Broadway, concert companies, and so much more.

My advice to parents who are hoping to get their child involve in dance would be to let them try classes first through drop-ins with our virtual punch cards and then enroll them into the class they enjoy most. In my years of being involved with dance, I have observed that the most successful children are those whose parents keep the activity positive. We all want our children to succeed, but success is not measured by the trophy a child brought home, the row they stand in on stage, or how many pirouettes they can do. Instead, it is measured by the effort they put forth. If they give all they’ve got to give, what more can anyone ever expect? Some of the best words of advice you can give your child are to believe in themselves. Teach them to work for what they want and continuously remind them to have fun!

10. Lastly, if you could describe Evolve 26 in 10 words or less, what would they be?

A judgement-free place to evolve and believe in yourself.

Learn more about Evolve 26 and sign up for classes on the studio’s website here.