The Magic Behind the Throne: Vaughn’'s passion for dance stretches back to childhood
At the tender age of 2, Jennifer Vaughn began training for what would become her lifelong passion and, eventually, career. By the age of 16 she was a paid instructor and performing with the Moscow Ballet, and by 27 she had opened her own dance studio in Hot Springs, Diamond Dance Company at 3812-A Central Ave.
Now, at 28, in addition to instructing her students and organizing events with her company, she will join local magician Maxwell Blade on stage for his shows at The Maxwell Blade Theatre of Magic as his assistant.
“When I first opened the studio in 2016 I ran into Max at a charity event and my students just loved him. They ran up to the stage and after the show was over they all wanted to take a picture with him. I called him over and he signed like 15 autographs and took photos and he ended up giving me tickets to his show. I’ve lived in Hot Springs almost my whole life and I’d never been to this theater before,” said Vaughn.
She attended his show and was amazed at the magic she was seeing right in front of her. She invited him to perform at her company’s first recital where, together, they combined dance and magic.
“He taught me a trick and it was intriguing to me because I was standing right there and when I got to learn some of the parts I just thought, ‘Wow, this is so much more work than anybody realizes.’ I don’t think he gets the appreciation that he deserves because it is a real talent.”
Vaughn and Blade performed together a few times after that, and he eventually asked her to join him on stage as his assistant for the upcoming shows at the newly renovated Malco Theatre.
“She’s really wonderful to work with and she’s very talented, of course,” said Blade. “We have worked together before at a couple of functions, I made an appearance at one of her annual events a couple of years ago and we’ve just become friends, so of course, in looking for an assistant for this new show, I reached out to her. She’s very talented, easy to work with and learns quick.”
“So I’ll learn some of the tricks and we’re going to collaborate the dancing and magic together, so I’ll be choreographing a lot of his shows as well,” Vaughn said.
“It’s been a long year. It’s been a hard year but it’s been well worth the effort and the money spent to bring the Malco back and we can’t wait to get back in, get settled in and start bringing other types of performances to town,” Blade added.
Vaughn said her love for dance presented itself at a young age. Her parents put her in ballet and tap dance classes at the age of 2.
“I did a little bit of gymnastics but at some point you kind of have to choose where you’re going to go. I was classically trained my whole life, and then I continued on and when I was 16 years old I performed with the Moscow Ballet. I trained with the Russians for two years and after that I was an instructor, so at 16 I was a paid instructor at a dance studio,” she said.
Vaughn worked with the Moscow Ballet for two years and learned the Russian style of dance.
“It was really nice to learn a different style. They put the foot placement differently than you would put it in the other styles. I loved how strict and disciplined they are. They really push you to be your best and they don’t settle for anything less than that. They’re very, very focused and I love that.”
Though she’s always loved ballet dance, her favorite style of dance is contemporary.
“I I really like the contemporary art because you can really express yourself and you can try so many different types of contemporary dance, whether it be really emotional or fun, there’s a lot you can do with that style.”
She traveled around the country taking workshops and continuing her education and attended UALR where she was a dance and business major. She then moved to Tennessee and helped a friend open a studio there and did a lot of independent contract work.
“When I was in high school — my high school yearbook actually says I’m going to open a dance studio, because when I was a child it was a dream of mine and I always wanted to do that in Hot Springs, Ark., because I knew there weren’t a whole lot of studios here and I wanted to bring a professional
level of training to this city and really give these kids opportunities, because when you live in Hot Springs you kind of limit yourself sometimes because you haven’t seen the world,” Vaughn said.
“You might be intimidated about what they do in New York and California so I try to bring people in from those states to give these kids education and help them expand outside of this town, and even if they want to stay in Hot Springs, you want to give them an opportunity to perform here and to continue their dream.”
Vaughn said she never dreamed that she would own her own studio at the young age of 28.
“I always knew I would have a dance studio but I thought I would be married with children and farther along. The opportunity came a lot quicker than I imagined so now I’m having to readjust, what comes next, because I’ve achieved this and I’m thankful but I’m not stopping here,” she said.
She said she hopes to expand and one day have a larger studio space.
“The one reason I like working with Max is because we have a lot of the same creative ideas, so we can work together and put together new shows. I would be fine with doing a new show every weekend. We have such a big tourism city and I would like to bring new things that people have never seen into Hot Springs. So my studio, we’re growing and we’re making it larger and new ideas are coming every day,” she said.
Vaughn said one of the things she loves about teaching dance is seeing her students overcome their fears and challenges.
“Sometimes they will try a turn and they can’t get it the first time and they get frustrated, so really encouraging them to keep trying, to keep going, and then to see them accomplish that goal is really exciting, and when we get to put choreography together, it starts out as just an idea and to really watch these dancers come to life and to see the parents so proud of them and the kids really feel like they’ve achieved something. I know that will carry into their personal lives too, because even if they don’t dance forever, they’re learning life lessons about discipline and about really pushing yourself to be everything you can be,” she added.
Students’ ages at her company range from 2 years old to elderly adults. Classes are level-based, not age-based, so students are placed into a level that the instructors feel they are fit to be in.
Vaughn said an injury in college forced her to stop dancing for a year, and during that year off she became a personal trainer because she wanted to help people strengthen their bodies, lose weight, and reach their goals.
“I do know quite a bit about nutrition and it’s very important to take care of yourself and how you eat. I worked out in the gym for years but now I get so much exercise just jumping around with the students. I actually eat more now that I own the studio just to keep the energy going. You really have to watch what you eat to make sure you can sustain the amount of calories that you’re burning. I’ve always been very focused on staying fit because I know it’s important, and having to keep up with these kids, I can’t let them outdo me,” she said, laughing.
If she could give one piece of advice to a young dancer interested in turning dance into a career, Vaughn said it is that you have to be passionate.
“That’s the biggest thing. If you want to succeed in dance or anything in life you have to stay focused and driven. There will always be obstacles, there are going to be challenges and things that you’ll have to overcome but if you’re focused on your goals, your dreams, don’t let anything stop you from that. Passion is a big thing that really keeps me going because through the hard days you have to stay focused on the end game and where you’re going with this. And once you achieve a goal, set a new one, don’t stop there because you never know what can happen next,” she said.
Another piece of advice she has is that “you have to be able to laugh at yourself and be OK with being human.”
“Sometimes you just slip and fall or you get tired and your leg gives out. You have to be able to make mistakes with grace and get back and up and don’t let it ruin your day,” she said. “In our studio the girls sometimes will fall for the first time and we laugh, we laugh at each other. I’ve fallen in front of the students before and we don’t want them to ever come out of there feeling like a failure because of that. We’re all human and dancing is an art. Some people look at it as a hobby but we work our entire life to make it look easy.”
When she isn’t dancing or teaching, Vaughn said she enjoys solitude and hanging out with her cat, Tuxedo.
“I’m around so many people and noise and lights so when I’m alone I love to travel, I like to see new places, whether that be out of the country or not. There are so many places that are gorgeous and it shows you what is important in life, and sometimes I think it’s important to take a step away from your normal life and see how other people live.
“I like seeing other people’s shows, I like to be entertained, because I’m constantly trying to find ways to be inspired. And I like the outdoors. I love anything outside, I like to hike, sit by the lake, anything that’s really relaxing and quiet. Spa day is my best friend,” she said.