KATHRYN HARDEN

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What do you like best about dance/find the most rewarding?

I appreciate the discipline dance taught me, both physically and mentally. Being pushed past limits I didn’t think were possible and achieving goals I only dreamt of. Dancing with Pacific Northwest Ballet’s company, performing 42 shows of Kent Stowell’s Nutcracker with a stress fractured metatarsal, performing Swan Lake for prima ballerina Louise Nadeau’s retirement show and dancing the lead role in Paquita are moments in my career that pushed me as a dancer. I also appreciate the ability to shape kids' learning to dance, through my knowledge and experiences. 

 
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Can you tell us a little bit about your history with dance? When did you start? 

Growing up, I’ve always admired my older sister. I remember watching her in the doorway of the studio taking a class, and attending her performances. I started taking ballet when I was 3 years old and all I wanted to do was run around the room... I couldn’t stand still. I ended up quitting for a couple of years to try other activities like basketball, but found myself missing the feeling dance gave me. Even to this day, when I am not in the studio, I feel a part of me is missing. My sister and I were blessed to have parents who supported us every step of the way, driving us to classes everyday, volunteering at every performance, making ends meet to put us through summer courses. Through scholarship, I attended summer programs at CPYB, ABT New York, National Ballet of Canada, Pacific Northwest Ballet, and Suzanne Farrell, studying from some of the most influential teachers and choreographers who shaped the world of dance as we know it today. 

 
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The summer of my senior year in high school, I was offered a position to dance with Pacific Northwest Ballet’s professional division, an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. After two of the most significant years of my dancing career performing with PNB, I was offered a contract with Ballet Idaho, which I accepted. 

By the end of my first year at Ballet Idaho, I became burnt out and uninspired with myself as an artist. I decided it was time to take a step back from my dancing career and attend school full-time at Towson University, where I double majored in Exercise Science for Kinesiology and Dance Performance. 

After earning my degrees, I moved to New York City for the opportunity to teach kids dance throughout schools in the city, with a non-profit called Kids in the Game, while dancing for a company called XAOC Contemporary Ballet. Through teaching, I fell in love with dance in a new light. 

 
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What prompted you to open your own dance studio, Steps PDX?

I created this studio as a safe space to preserve dance, as an art form and to nurture successful professional dancers, by offering opportunities to the community that at the time, were not prevalent. Offering various styles of movement under one roof at a professional level, educating the community on culture and history of dance, as well as inspiring each other to be the best version of themselves through dance, are the driving forces behind what Steps PDX stands for. 

 
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What are the different types of dance that you offer classes on at Steps PDX? What’s different about Steps PDX that makes you stand out from the other dance studios?
 

We bring together a diverse community of highly regarded artists and collaborations through Ballet, Contemporary, Hip Hop, Jazz, Modern, Dance Church, and Whole Body Conditioning, with more on the horizon. It is a home for all forms of movement. Although you can find these forms of dance in every city, what makes Steps PDX different is the quality of teaching and education that is being offered to every student. 

We also value giving back to our community through outreach programs. As part of bridging the gap for all dancers and non-dancers, we partner with schools in the Portland area to provide kids of all backgrounds, especially those whose families who don’t necessarily have the resources to experience a dance class in a studio setting, the opportunity to study and learn various styles of dance. Currently, we have a partnership with Kairos PDX and Centennial Park High School. I feel that exposure and experiences are important in growth and Steps PDX is here to provide those opportunities to Portland. 

 
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What was the biggest challenge you faced when opening the studio? How did you overcome it?

Being new to town, spreading the word and getting people through the door. By going out and making connections with new people everyday and through word of mouth, the studio continues to grow. 

 

What was your favorite part of the process of opening a small business?


Going into the studio every single day, for 10+ hours a day, and creating this space into my vision was one of the most rewarding experiences of opening the studio. Aside from the mirrors, I installed the flooring, carpeting, built the barres, and have my hand in everything that make up the studio. I have also really enjoyed seeing how well the studio has been received and supported by the community of Portland. It has been a positive and uplifting experience to meet new people everyday who support my vision and the studio. 

 
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As a woman business owner, have you felt the need to prove yourself?

Absolutely. I will always need to prove myself. I’m my own worst critic, because I have high expectations for myself, but that has gotten me to where I am today. 

 

Can you remember an incident where you experienced gender-specific prejudice? 

Every day of my life. Whether it’s asking for a loan, getting supplies from the hardware store, reviewing legal documents with brokers, or simply getting my car worked on. I believe it is a combination of being an Asian American woman and my age. Every day I’m asked, “How old are you?” A lot of people associate age with the ability to be successful. 

 
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You also have a pilot’s license. Can you talk a little bit about the process there? What drew you to flying?

I have my single-engine private pilot’s license. My dad is a pilot, so I’ve been flying for as long as I can remember. Flying feels as natural as dancing to me, and it brings me a sense of serenity and comfort. The process of getting a pilot’s license is a huge commitment, especially with time. I’ve never really had free time outside of dance or school, so when I was in the process of transitioning from New York City to Portland, I decided it was the best time to work on finally earning my pilot’s license. 

For four months straight, I flew every single day, sometimes twice a day, studied bookwork, and took online tests for my written portion of the final exam, all while working full-time. The final exam consists of three sections, a written, oral, and flight exam. Before you are even permitted to take the final exam, you are required to pass a physical assessment, have a minimum of 40 hours of flight time, which includes flying solo and two solo cross-country flights. It demanded a lot of time and hard work, but in the end, it was extremely rewarding. The best part of the entire experience, aside from earning my pilot’s license, was the privilege of having my dad as my instructor. 

 
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Do you have any other creative pursuits that we should know about? 

I really enjoy doodling. I made it a point to sit down at the end of every day and fill up a page with drawings, to maintain the discipline of a good habit, and as a form of meditation.

 

What’s next for you? Do you have plans for another dance studio, or just focusing on this first one for now? What are you most excited about in the future?

This studio is my baby and my focus is to nurture and tend to it, along with the people that support my vision in order to continue growing. With the growth of the studio, I look forward to making new connections, collaborating and spreading the love of dance to everyone I can. 

 

 

Check Steps PDX out on Instagram and their website.

And check out her Ten Facts feature here.