Becky Harfst has always been a dancer at heart. She began dancing when her mother signed her up for a class when she was five years old. From that first day, Harfst knew she would become a dance teacher and that desire has driven her to direct and own The Dance Connection in Webster City for 25 years.
As a young girl, Harfst lived with her parents in Omaha. She attended dance classes regularly and was a competitive gymnast for six years. When she was in 10th grade, her family moved to Webster City. At the time, Harfst said her opportunities as a dancer were fewer in this small town compared to the big city she hailed from. Still, the move left Harfst undaunted in her desire to become a dance teacher.
While still in high school, Harfst owned a dance studio in Eagle Grove. She said she was approached to host dance classes her junior and senior years in high school.
Becky Harfst leads a group of young girls in dance at The Dance Connection on Wednesday. Harfst has owned and directed the studio in Webster City for 25 years as of this year. The Dance Connection offers recreational and competitive dance classes that include many styles.
"I loved the teaching aspects of the job and working with the kids," Harfst said.
For her part-time job, she would drive up to Eagle Grove, mostly on Saturdays, and teach. She started out with a group of about 30 dancers. When she left, the studio taught well over 100 dancers regularly. Continuing her education, Harfst attended college at Iowa State University where she was active in the school's dance department and taught for a local dance studio.
"I did a lot of performing, a lot of traveling, I just ate it all up," Harfst said.
Following graduation, Harfst and a friend considered moving to Chicago. As she contemplated the decision, she came back to Webster City and began teaching recreational dance classes at Fuller Hall. She hosted a six-week session, and then another. Eventually, the parents of the dancers asked her if she would be interested in opening up her own studio. She told them she would try it out for one year, a promise Harfst would fulfill and continue for many more years.
The Dance Connection opened in a small room near the Mc Farland Clinic in Webster City. The room contained a dance studio, waiting room and dressing room in a space that Harfst said is smaller than her large studio at her current location. During that time, she received support from her grandparents, who bought her first set of mirrors for the studio, and her parents, with her dad helping her with construction work.
After two and a half years, Harfst outgrew her first location. She moved into what at the time was the former Murray McMurray Hatchery building and is now Boman Funeral Home.
"People thought we were crazy," Harfst said. "We went in, we took out all of the chicken equipment. It was a very old building with a really big mess and we turned it into a dance studio and I loved my dance studio," Harfst said.
The Dance Connection was open for several years at that location. However, Harfst said she still had issues with the building as it had limited parking and no air conditioning. On one hot summer day, Harfst said she was complaining to a parent of a dancer about the heat. That parent was Colette Bertran, the director of Webster City Day Care, who told Harfst to look at an open space next to them on Beach Street.
"The minute I walked in, I knew," Harfst said. "There were no walls up yet, there were just support beams. I just looked at it and saw an office here, a shop there, a big studio over there, a small one there, and the way I saw it then is how it is now."
After six months of construction, The Dance Connection opened at its current location and has been there for about seven and a half years. Harfst said the studio is the culmination of many years of hard work.
"It's like my home away from home and I love it," Harfst said. "I think we're lucky in a town our size to have such a beautiful facility that we can offer to the dancers."
The Dance Connection offers a variety of opportunities for competitive and recreational dancers as well as other fitness classes at the studio. Harfst said she and other instructors offer classes for children as young as two years old through high school students. The studio offers a wide range of dance styles, from ballet, tap and jazz to contemporary, hip-hop and tumbling. Some classes are taught by former students, including extra competition classes.
The studio's dancers have the opportunity to compete in several competitions each year. This year, Harfst said local dancers will go to competitions in Ames, Des Moines, and one on a cruise ship that will depart from New Orleans. Each spring, Harfst said dancers will decide if they want to take part in these competitive events.
"It's a big commitment for these kids and their families. It's also a big expense," Harfst said.
Competitive events are available for many age groups. Those include her "Future Stars" group of children from age four to age six, her "Minis" from first through third grade, and groups all the way up through high school. Those students who decide to take part in the competitions will go to specific classes during the summer to prepare them.
After learning their competition dances, the dancers will continue with normal classes until the new year comes around. In a couple weeks, dancers will start attending full run-throughs of their performances with costumes. Harfst said that arduous process requires a team of committed students, parents and studio staff members.
"It's a huge job that I can't even begin to do by myself. I never want to take full credit for it all as the director. We have a really good group people to work with," Harfst said.
The studio's walls are lined with trophies and photos from competitions The Dance Connection has attended. Regardless of each competition's outcome, Harfst said they are good experiences for the dancers and staff.
"I love to go to competitions and see kids succeed," Harfst said. "I also like to maybe not do as well as we wanted because it shows the kids that they might have to work a bit harder, that they can always do more. As a teacher, it motivates me to come back and do better."
While the studio has won many competitions in its many years, Harfst still enjoys teaching students who participate in dance recreationally.
"I have so much respect for the kids who want to dance just because they love to dance. They don't necessarily need or want to go to competition. They just want to learn their dances, be in a recital, and that's a huge accomplishment for them as well," Harfst said.
After 25 years of teaching and competing, Harfst said her plans for the future are to continue the work she has done with dancers in Webster City. She fulfilled her longtime goal of becoming a dance teacher with her own studio. Now, she strives to help young dancers grow and succeed and get a little better herself each year.
"I don't want to get stagnant," Harfst said. "We had a great year last year and I want this year to be better. The minute I stop liking my job is the minute I'll step back and think about what I'm doing, but after 25 years, I love it more than I ever have. I feel really lucky."