We had the good fortune of connecting with Kayleigh Schadwinkel-Hickman and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Kayleigh, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
I firmly believe that risk taking and failure are two of the key ingredients that are essential to leading one to success. Risk-taking and failure gets such a negative tone in society, however, all of the most iconic innovators, artists, athletes, and influencers at some point in their journey had to step outside their comfort zones, and took a leap of faith to be known for their amazing accomplishments today.
My whole career and let’s be honest, my whole life is based on small daily risks that have given me the confidence and courage to take some big and bold leaps of faith that have positively changed my life. One of my favorite quotes is from Samuel Beckett… “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” I personally like calling failure a “learning opportunity” – an opportunity to develop, grow and refine myself to become a better version of me. In order to do that, I have to make a daily choice to step out of my comfort zone, take risks, and choose to keep trying even when things don’t work out. I value this mindset for it has taught me steadfast resilience and to quickly learn from my failures to rise above my circumstances and to choose my goals and dreams over my setbacks. I feel the first step towards success begins when we change our mind towards failure and give ourselves permission to step out of our comfort zone to try and fail as we work towards our goals and dreams. I have noticed that when I approach failure as a learning opportunity, it’s given me the freedom to take more risks and in turn achieve more at a very young age. Within these moments of personal growth, accountability and daily small acts of bravery are what have led me to some of my most instrumental business developments, positive life-changing decisions, and greatest accomplishments.
For example, as a senior at Doane College in 2015, I was asked to be an unpaid intern for the Crete Chamber of Commerce and City of Crete for the first ever Crete’s Great Pumpkin Festival. When my supervisor and head event steering coordinator received a once in a lifetime opportunity to attend an Economic Development trip to Turkey a few weeks before the event, I had a choice to sit and stay in the background in a room full of business and community leaders or step up to fill this vacancy to share my learned knowledge to lead this team while my supervisor was away. Within working behind the scene on all aspects of the festival details and wishing the success of this event for the community, I took a huge risk during this two week period to lead a group of seasoned business owners and community leaders along with over 100+ volunteers to host an extremely successful 1st ever Crete’s Great Pumpkin Festival and be named Co-Steering Coordinator of the Festival as a full-time senior in college. Because of this choice, small act of bravery plus over 300+ hours of hard work, my community event planning and leadership skills were noticed by the local city officials and Chamber Board in which I was hired as the Executive Director of the Crete Chamber of Commerce as my first “big kid” job out of college. To this day, I can proudly say I was the youngest Executive Director in the state of Nebraska for three years and appointed to this position at the age of 22 years old. From my work on this first festival, I in turn took multiple chances over the next three years at the age of 25 years old, I along with the amazing support and work of a group of community volunteers to grow the Crete’s Great Pumpkin Festival to be known statewide and nationally as “Nebraska’s Fall Pumpkin Celebration” acclaimed by The Food Network Magazine.
My community event planning work in my three years as the Chamber Director would also be featured in:
– The Midwest Travel Magazine and Omaha Magazine for “Must-Do Fall Events To Do In the Midwest” (audience reach of over 4 million readers)
– Acclaimed by Governor Pete Ricketts and the Nebraska Tourism Industry as one of the top 3 start-ups festivals of attendance under 10,000 in less than four years.
– and Highlighted by Nebraska Tourism Commission as one of the “Most Successful Festival in Nebraska” within its 2nd year of establishment
To this day, I am extremely humbled to have had the leadership and business experiences I did at such a young age and to serve my local community, county, and state in this amazing capacity. Looking back, all of these once in a lifetime opportunities and accomplishments came about, because I personally looked fear of failure or fear of judgment from others in the face to take hold of my circumstances and work to create the best possible outcome. I still remember when I was 23 years old and attended my first statewide Nebraska Tourism Conference. I accidentally walked in late to the “Festivals Outbreak Session ” with my light pink business blazer and dress on and I quickly snuck into the back row of the room to try and blend in. When suddenly the keynote speaker asked, “What makes your festival and community event different from others?” I remember looking around and see many executives being shy to speak and I remember feeling nervous, but without any hesitation, I remember being bold and yelling out, “We have a zipline down Main Street” and the entire room turned around to look at me. Because of taking a risk to speak out, at the age of 23 years old right out of college as a Chamber Executive Director, the remaining portion of the outbreak session I was sharing my failures and successes from planning the event and giving advice to executives and community planners on what we did to have a successful Crete’s Great Pumpkin Festival to be able to incorporate into their own communities. From being bold and speaking up, this decision then led to my community festival being noticed and acclaimed within its 2nd year of establishment as “One of the Most Successful Festivals In Nebraska”. The Nebraska Tourism Commission even came to my office to conduct a personal interview with me to share my secrets of success with other communities to replicate! I know without taking these risks I would not be where I am today!
However, one of the greatest and most rewarding risks I have taken was when I decided to step down from the Chamber after building it up to be acclaimed as one of the top ten chambers in the state to pursue my dream and love of dance and choreography.
For eight months in my final year at the Chamber, I was scared and almost paralyzed to make this decision. I was absolutely afraid of the “what ifs”…scared of having the “artist” unsteady income, fear of failure, fear of letting others down, and ultimately, fear of judgment of what other people may think of me if this dream of mine didn’t succeed. However, two people really helped and encouraged me to not stay in my comfort zone but to risk it all and seize my lifelong dream of owning and running my own dance and choreography company. It was my business coach and dear friend, Nancy Stelter and my mom, Robin Schadwinkel who gave me the push to do it. One of the profound things my mom shared with me was “If you fail, honey, just know that we will be right here to catch you when you fall.” Knowing this unconditional support along with having a solid business plan that Nancy helped me create, it gave me the confidence to stop worrying and fearing the unknown, but to be bold and seize my dream.
On July 10th, 2019, I stepped down from the Chamber and officially became a full time dance entrepreneur and traveling choreography. When I publicly made my decision, I did have a few critics and doubters who “made fun” of my choice, but these individuals were actually very few. I was actually quite surprised at the outpour of support and encouragement I received from my Chamber colleagues, my Chamber Board and local businesses along with my peers for pursing my life long dream. Many of the fears and worries I had did not come true in which I wanted to kick myself for allowing fear to be such a factor in this decision. From this experience, it has encouraged me to live more boldly – I am so grateful for taking the plunge; I don’t regret it!
Since then, my companies, POYDS Dance Company and Kayleigh Schadwinkel Dance & Choreography, have grown to connect dancers of all ages and dance backgrounds across the US and world to put on their dancing shoes and enjoy the wonderful art of dance in our weekly studio classes, musical theater dance workshops, and traveling choreography gigs! I am proud to be one of the youngest, women owned dance entrepreneur and professional traveling choreography in the Midwest and the owner of not one but four (4) dance studio locations successfully stretched across two states including: Nebraska, Colorado along with being the 1st virtual dance studio in the state of Nebraska established in 2018 PRIOR to COVID-19.
Within my dance career, I took big risks to develop our online choreography business in 2018 and our dance studio services in November 2019; in which I received a ton of criticism for this prior to COVID, many doubted that virtual dancing could not be successful. However, when the national shutdown was looming, I took a huge risk to transition all of our classes virtually. I stepped out of our comfort zone and the norm at this given time. We did lose a few dance families for it, however, our proactiveness and forward thinking actually made POYDS grow expeditiously.
During the height of COVID, my dance company, POYDS connected more than 23,000 individuals of all ages and dance backgrounds in 17 states in the US and 44 countries worldwide to put on their dancing shoes in our free weekly online community dance classes. We can proudly say we were one of the only dance studios in the Midwest to NOT miss a single dance class whereas the average studio was closed for 3 – 4 weeks. Because of this risk and the early advertising efforts we took to promote it, it allowed POYDS during COVID to expand POYDS to have not one but four branches of the company to be established in Crete, Nebraska, a full-service Online Dance Studio and a physical studio located inside Legacy ATA Martial Arts in Highlands Ranch, and a mobile traveling dance studio doing remote on-site dance classes at the Sterling Ranch Community Center.
Just think, if I would have settled and not stepped out of my comfort zone, in 2019 when virtual dancing “would never work as a dance platform” or quit after being criticized, I would have done such a disservice to countless individuals around the world who needed our dance and fitness classes, but also our uplifting and positive virtual community when they needed it most during COVID. It’s these little moments and decisions that spur me on to continue to be bold, take risks and step out of my comfort zone along with encourage others to do so as well. I hope that my story can encourage others to dream big and have the courage to live their life the way they want to live!
At the age of 27, I am so grateful to be doing my dream job! In less than five years of establishing my two dance businesses, I am humbled to have choreographed over 290+ dances and 25+ musicals across the Midwest portion of the US including my choreographed work being featured in the:
– Harlem Globetrotters World Tour Event’s Halftime Performance in Lincoln, Nebraska
– A music video in Chicago, Illinois
– Live Online Kids Dance Club Choreography in Oceanside, California
– And the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF) Invited Scene Showcase – “Mermaid Outta of Me” of “Peter & The Starcatcher” performed by Doane University in Des Moines, Iowa.
I am most proud and humbled to have the opportunity each and every day to share my love of life and dance with others and to encourage individuals of all ages dance backgrounds and skill levels to enjoy the wonderful art of dance.
In full, I believe that success is not a destination defined by our awards or promotions, but success is an ongoing journey of self-discovery, personal growth, and risk-taking that is demonstrated in times when faced with adversity, failure, and disappointment. It’s in these moments when we have the choice to quit or press forward that true success is made.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
At POYDS also known as Put On Your Dancing Shoes, we have taken a big risk to strategically position ourselves to serve a niche market of individuals and classes who are being underserved in the dance and musical theater industry. Because of this, we have become known as a non-competition recreational based community performance arts dance studio that strives to create an inclusive, welcoming dance and musical theater environment for individuals of all ages, body types, dance backgrounds and dance & fitness skill levels to put on their dancing shoes with us. Many of the dancers who come to POYDS feel that they don’t belong at the standard dance studio, because they wish for something different! At POYDS, we are proud to be their dance home! In addition to our standard 3 – 18 years classes, we have created specific dance programs for: -young boys and young men who wish to use dance to improve their athletics skills sets such as a “All Boys “Bust A Move” – Sports Based Creative Movement class that focus solely on making athletes better athletes at their craft through dance agility / footwork, flexibility and coordination exercise and more;
– Athletics, gymnastics and figure skaters who wish to cross train to become more flexible, stronger and faster for their craft – “Ballet for Figures Skaters Dance & Fitness Courses along with our Acro Dance and Stretch & Strength Courses;
– working adults ages 19 – 49 years who are wanting to continue their dance training in a fun and inclusive dance environment to take beginner through advance classes in over 10 different styles of dance;
– aspiring & working musical theater professionals who are wanting to become a triple threat in the industry through taking our Pre-Professional Musical Theater Dance Classes in Choreo Audition Prep Workshops, Musical Theater Hip Hop, Contemporary, Musical Theater Leaps, Jumps & Turns Jazz Class, Tap and more!;
– 50 years+ dancers who are motivated to find a creative and exercise outlet that best fits them such as our Ballet for 50+ dancers and Stretch & Strength Fitness Classes.
– We particularly love first-time dancers who claim they have two left feet and have featured recreational seasonal classes for them like “Dance Class For the Two Left Feet”, “How To Survive A School Dance 101, “Salsa Fever – Latin Fusion Ballroom Classes and more for everyone to feel welcome to and to feel like they belong!
At POYDS, we are breaking down dance stereotypes one dancer at a time!
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Being originally from Nebraska, I have so enjoyed embracing Colorado for all its wonders. From my previous position as the Executive Director of the Crete Chamber of Commerce in Crete, Nebraska, I value small businesses and their important impact and contributions to make communities thrive. Because of this, I love shopping locally as much as I can. Whenever friends and family are in town, I am constantly seeking out new local attractions and places to embrace the people and communities around me. I love food, shopping, and playing, which below would be my ideal day with my friend. Note lots of food! I would start out with some morning exercise and soaking in the gorgeous Colorado views at the Roxborough State Park with a hike before heading to Highlands Ranch to grab a cup of coffee and do a mini shopping spree at The Festive Cup & Boutique located off Broadway to start off our day right!
Afterward, we would go and relax in Enchanted Grounds and grab a Cherry Key Lime Fruit Smoothies while checking out their vast board game selection before picking out one of their outdoor booths to sit and catch up. In the afternoon, we would hit some of the local community trails through Highlands Ranch to showcase the community to my visitors or head to one of the multiple beautiful parks located throughout Highlands Ranch. After the morning of food, I highly doubt you’d need more food, but just in case we would need something to tide us over until a late supper, the jalapeno popper style Philly cheesesteak sandwich is the way to go to no pun intended to have a “Taste of Philley” right in Colorado. Taste of Philley is located off County Line and University in Highlands Ranch. In the late afternoon and early evening, I would suggest taking friends down to downtown Littleton to enjoy an amazing shopping experience at all their local stores. Afterward, to finish out the evening, I would highly recommend taking some friends to Game Train located off County Line and University for some great homemade appetizers and drinks along with playing multiple board games from their 300+ collection for a fun evening together! You name it and they have it! Plus don’t forget to check out their train simulator in the backroom! If it’s not too late, we can all agree that we all need a little midnight snack to fill in the cracks of all the amazing food we ate throughout the day in which I would recommend to anyone to stop by Heaven Creamery located in Centennial for a gourmet tasty treat of ice cream, gelato and more! The orange dark chocolate ice cream gelato and almond pops are my absolute favorite! All of the above experiences I have actually done with my out-of-town friends within the last two years of being here in Colorado – and trust me, you won’t regret these amazing local attractions!
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Wow, where do I even begin on this! I believe it takes a community to run a business and to make it thrive. Over the last 5 years, there have been well over 2,000+ individuals from across the US who have contributed, supported or been a part of POYDS in some way to propel our company to where it is today! I have been so grateful for this support from individuals all across the midwest and US to make POYDS into the midwestern dance and choreography brand that it has become! In addition, there are a few special individuals I would like to also give a shout out to for being beside me through it all!
My Family – Thanks for your continued love and support and for jumping in headfirst to all my POYDS projects, photoshoots, parade floats, outreach projects, and for letting me constantly take over the living room to be my mini studio! My POYDS Dance Family started with you! I love you guys so much!
Andrea Holmes, Sara Bournia, and Nancy Stelter – Thank you both for being my unofficial “POYDS Executive Team”; I am extremely grateful for your wisdom, support, and knowledge. These ladies have been with POYDS when it was solely just a dream again thank you for pushing me and never letting me settle for less than my dreams!
My Husband – Zach Hickman is a pretty special and patient man who is extremely supportive of my dance and entrepreneur dreams. I am so grateful to have him by my side through this journey and embrace me for me!
My Mom and My Grandma – Last, but most importantly, my mom, Robin Schadwinkel and my grandma, Shirley Ruppel – Words cannot begin to describe how blessed I am to have these two amazing role models in my life. They each have taught me grit, perseverance, hard work and to have faith even in the darkest of hours. They are both an example of what Godly women look like and I am extremely grateful to have them both as my sounding board, shoulder to cry on, and also my best friends. I love you! Thanks for pushing me to be the woman I am today! I won’t be where I am without you! PS. All those dance lessons have paid off!
Jack Wagner – Cover Photo Caitlyn Nelson Photo Credit To Personal Dance Families for their dance submissions over the years