CYstarters Spotlight: Dancing with Miss Maddy

By Lindsey Murray | ISU Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship

CYstarters Spotlight: A 15-part series highlighting student entrepreneurs pursuing their business ventures as part of the CYstarters 2023 summer cohort. Through this program, students have the unique opportunity to prioritize the development of their own startup or business idea. Each individual receives $6,500 and access to resources such as mentorship, networking opportunities, and educational sessions on entrepreneurship and business startup.

It is inevitable that someday, every child will be asked the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Most children have comical yet unrealistic answers that they grow out of as their perspective on life changes. Maddy Ladehoff (21) was not like most children. When her parents casually enrolled her in a dance class at the age of three, she discovered what her answer to the frequently asked question would be – a dance teacher. Ladehoff is heading into her senior year at Iowa State University, and 18 years later, her answer is still the same.

For her entire life, Ladehoff has danced competitively. “It was the best and the worst thing, all at the same time,” she said, describing her experience. As a high school student, Ladehoff was not only consumed by dance, but she was interested in business and entrepreneurship. She signed up for every business class her school offered. So, when she arrived at Iowa State University in the fall of 2020, she knew she would pursue entrepreneurship and dance coaching at some capacity.

Ladehoff kicked off her college career as a Spanish major, but quickly transferred to an entrepreneurship major with a minor in Spanish. But in order to achieve her goal of opening her own dance studio, she needed to add dance coaching to her curriculum. Unfortunately, it was not recognized as an official degree program at the university.

So, she took matters into her own hands and petitioned the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences to create the degree she wanted. She worked closely with the kinesiology faculty and the dean of the College of LAS to figure out the curriculum. After many meetings and some initial push back, she walked away having successfully created an interdisciplinary major in dance coaching.

From injury to entrepreneur

From June 2020 to January 2021, Ladehoff underwent surgery on each of her hips. These surgeries were necessary to repair damage from previous injuries she received during her many years of competitive dance. As she slowly recovered, she recognized that her injuries could’ve easily been prevented had her dance coaches been properly trained. The frustration she felt did not deter her, but instead, reinforced her desire to be a safe and knowledgeable dance educator.

Throughout her recovery, Ladehoff coached several dancers and choreographed the solos they would perform at competitions. As soon as she was cleared to dance again, she decided to turn her part-time coaching gig into a legitimate business. Dancing with Miss Maddy was established in February of 2021.

Dancing with Miss Maddy offers safe and inclusive dance lessons to kids ages 3 – 18. “Any body can be a dance body,” said Ladehoff, “if they’re given the right environment to thrive and grow in.” Her top priorities as a coach are to teach proper dance form for safety and to practice inclusivity. Inclusivity, to Ladehoff, looks like practicing body neutrality and providing costuming that is comfortable and appropriate for all body types and skin tones. Her business model is all about making dance opportunities more accessible to the community.

(L-R) Charles Yang (’22 data science), Maddy Ladehoff (’23 entrepreneurship, Spanish), and Jassma’ray Johnson (’23 psychology, communication studies), celebrate their success in the College-by- College Pitch Off.

Dancing her way to success

Ladehoff continued to work on her business as a member and part-time employee of the LAS Innovation + Entrepreneurship Academy at ISU. Beginning in 2021, she entered several pitch competitions across campus to test the validity of her business. In the spring of 2022, Ladehoff was awarded runner-up in the existing business category at the College-by-College Pitch Off. The obvious next step for Dancing with Miss Maddy was to get involved in CYstarters.

Since being selected for the 2023 CYstarters cohort, Ladehoff has identified several difficulties she is facing as a new business owner. One of her biggest challenges is communicating the importance of dance safety to the parents of potential dancers. Ladehoff has learned that the best way to get her point across is by sharing her personal journey. The CYstarters staff and mentors have helped her to mold her story into a compelling narrative that clearly communicates her mission of safety and inclusivity.

Ladehoff with two Dancing with Miss Maddy soloists, posing beneath the Iowa State University campanile.

Ladehoff has seen improvement in customer retention, with three dancers returning for solo choreography. She also collaborated with local drag queen, Miss Lonika LaBelle Knight, to host Drag Story Hour. The event was hosted at Dog Eared Books, and allowed Ladehoff to connect with new dancers, families, and local business owners.

The future of Dancing with Miss Maddy is bright. Ladehoff hopes to sign up more local dancers so she can teach classes regularly, and eventually move into her own studio space. As the CYstarters 11-week program comes to a close, Ladehoff is grateful to her fellow cohort members for all of the support and growth she’s experienced, stating, “CYstarters is like having a little network of cheerleaders.” What more could a dance coach ask for?

Together, we can support Ladehoff and Dancing with Miss Maddy by connecting her with local families and potential dancers. Follow her on Instagram and head to her website for more information on lessons and choreography.