Tonya Matheny: A Trailblazer in Dance with a Powerful Community Vision


Born in San Francisco, Tonya Matheny discovered her passion for dance at age 7. She joined the Palm Beach Ballet Company and later moved to NYC, training at Joffrey and Broadway Dance Center. After returning to Florida, Tonya owned three dance studios, choreographed for Miami Vice and Miss Florida contestants, and founded Ready Set Dance, celebrating its 20th year. She resides in Ocoee, where she enjoys spending time with her two dogs, Ryver and Rekker, and giving back to her community!

What is your WHY

My “WHY” is a passion and love for dance and the Arts. I have danced since I was 7, and from the moment I tried on my first pair of ballet shoes, I knew my life would always include dance. I never wavered from that goal. At 13, I became a member of the Palm Beach Ballet Company; at 17, I moved to NYC to dance, and by the age of 23, I owned my first dance studio. 

I love that dance is so inclusive that everyone is welcome, and when you walk through that studio door, nothing matters but dance. I love that all the young people at my studio feel it’s a safe place – where everyone can be authentic without judgment, and their dance friends and teachers feel like a second family.

What motivates you to put one foot before the other on your most challenging days?  

I’m motivated by my students – the thought of those sweet faces, eager to learn and happy to dance—the hugs, the coloring pages, and the pictures that cover my home refrigerator. I’m motivated by the students that go off to college but still text me and come to the studio whenever they are home. I’m motivated by the families that support the studio and believe in what we do. We all make up a community I’m honored to be a part of.

Have you drawn inspiration from other women? Tell us about women that have inspired you.

So many strong, intelligent women have been in my life. 

The two that immediately come to mind are Grace “Teacher” Thomas: She owned a family-operated and family-friendly studio I grew up in. She taught me confidence, discipline, and to never give up. At 80, she still taught the advanced tumbling class, of which I was a student, which was awesome. I think of her often as I approach 60 years of age, and I can’t help but wonder how she did it!

The second woman that comes to mind is Stephanie Bowman of One Heart for Women and Children. I met Stephanie about 15 years ago when her two daughters danced at my studio. She is an inspiring example of what you can overcome and what you can accomplish. Through her positive model, Stephanie has taught me how to be more compassionate, kind, and grateful. Whenever I feel a bit overwhelmed or disillusioned, I go to One Heart and volunteer, donate supplies or connect with Stephanie.

Would you change anything about how you have handled challenges or successes thus far?  

 I often reflect on my life and consider what I may have done differently. Still, everything in my life, including my choices (good or questionable), has led me to where I am today and to the person I am. For that, I’m grateful. I think, if anything, I would not have placed such importance on perfectionism in my life. I would have adopted the motto, “Don’t sweat the small stuff!”  

What are you most proud of?

I am most proud of the dance business I have built over the past 20 years – this fantastic studio where young people feel safe and free to be themselves and dance. I’m proud of the families that put their trust in me to guide their children and the teachers that teach for me and consider the studio family.  

I am proud that as a woman-owned small business, I have made wise choices that have allowed me to do what I love. I am also thankful that I can give back to the community that has supported me.  

 What is your biggest challenge, and what did you learn from it?

I am sure this answer is similar to any small business owner’s response. Covid was my biggest challenge! In my wildest dreams, I could never have imagined that we would have to close my studio doors and dance would temporarily not be allowed. 

However, thanks to my staff and my families, we adapted, rolled with the constant changes, rules, and distancing, and became creative! We delivered costumes to front doors (contactless), put inspirational cards in mailboxes, and emailed out countless dance coloring pages and puzzles to help keep our dancers occupied at home. And yes, we did Zoom dance classes! We had fun contests on our Facebook page and found a way to hold 10 mini recitals, socially distanced when we finally were able to open our studio gradually. Just surviving as a business was phenomenal, but surviving as a business that requires togetherness and hands-on was terrific. 

We stayed in business, and I am happy to say we are still thriving.

How do you manage stress and maintain your mental health? 

Sometimes I am not sure I am managing it! Joking side, I have a strong sense of family; I love spending time with my family, filled with strong women who support me and are always there for me. My mom, Carol, and cousin Ashley are my constant cheerleaders! During Covid, I started a garden in my backyard, which I continue to maintain. I am an extreme dog lover and have two rescues that bring me great joy and sometimes chewed-up shoes!

What is your favorite way to practice self-care? 

This is difficult for me. Running a dance studio is sometimes a 24/7 job! 

I love getting together with friends, and admittedly, I am addicted to facials when it comes to relaxation. I enjoy trying new things, and one of my most recent adventures was taking fencing classes! I also love volunteering and helping others; that is just so satisfying.

How do you stay motivated to maintain a healthy lifestyle?  

Are macaroons a healthy lifestyle?

I do my best to eat healthily, currently have three healthy meals a week delivered to my house. I love to cook, but finding time can be challenging. I work out two times a week with a personal trainer and, whenever possible, stretch with my classes. Having to keep up with my three and 4-year-old dancers helps me stay motivated to be healthy. 

Jumping, leaping, tapping, and tumbling with them constantly reminds me that I must be in good shape!

How do you prioritize your time and energy to achieve your personal and professional goals? What tips can you offer others?

This is something I have had to learn to do. It hasn’t been until recently that I have given priority to my personal life. Learning to step back, delegate, and let others help has been a recent lesson within the past two years. Taking at least one day off a week or a mini weekend vacation is a great way to de-stress and recharge personally and professionally. My professional life benefits from attending events and networking with other studio owners or dance professionals. Sharing ideas, challenges, and solutions within the dance world always motivates me to return to my studio and try something new, change something up, or maybe just be thankful that I have made some good decisions.

The greatest tip I can give is basic. Find something you love, and do it! Make time for yourself and your family. Be honest, hold to your values, and be a nice human!


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