【Blog Post】Talking to Nattybop
By Anita Anandarajah
When you meet Natalie Jones, the first thing that strikes you is her delicate, pixie-like stature and her beaming smile.
Children warm to her instantly, and it’s easy to see why. Her energy is limitless, even as she enters her final trimester.
Natalie is a dance instructor, owner of Nattybop and party mistress.
It comes as no surprise that dance has played a major role in Natalie’s life. “When I could walk, my mum took me to a musical class, which I did up to my teens when I decided to specialise. I took up ballet, tap, modern, acro (classical dance merged with acrobatic elements) and stage class, which is like musical theatre.”
While Natalie admits that she was good at dance and went on to win medals, she didn’t see herself performing as a profession. Instead she lived out her other passion, art, and went on to study textiles at university.
Becoming a dance teacher-slash-party entertainer didn’t factor into her future plans either, but she feels that it was destiny that brought her love for children and dance together.
Natalie set about researching the dance school scene in Hong Kong and discovered that not many schools were about having fun. She set up Nattybop in February 2015.
Nattybop showcases a combination of styles, doing a little bit of it all. There is ballet, basic tap, modern dance and even a bit of Bollywood. “We also focus on learning skills like confidence, coordination and keeping fit,” says Natalie.
Students glide, prance, twirl and spin with a dizzying array of props that Natalie manages to fit into her roll-on luggage. Much like Mary Poppins and her carpet bag, Natalie pulls out pom poms, garlands, silk scarves, fedoras and feather boas, much to the delight of her young charges.
Another strategy that seems to have paid off is to tune into her maternal instincts. “From the beginning I’ve tried to think like a mum and teacher. There has to be control and respect, but I’m not too strict. They always have a giggle with me. It’s almost like a party each week.”
Just like a budget-conscious mum, Natalie doesn’t expect parents to go off and buy expensive shoes and outfits. Comfort and safety are key considerations.
As much as Natalie loved her own dance teacher, the latter was too strict and made a child cry. “I have a rule: if your child is not ready for you to leave the room, you are welcome to stay. For me, tough love doesn’t work. It disrupts the class and it’s not the best way for children to love dance,” says Natalie.
When asked what has been her most memorable teaching moment so far, Natalie says she couldn’t pick just one.
“There have been so many special moments. Seeing a once shy, nervous child perform confidently with pure joy is priceless. I will never get tired of witnessing and being a big factor in that kind of change in a child. It makes all the hard work completely worth it. Also, seeing my babies in the 1-2 year old class starting to follow my actions and responding to the music is very special.”
Nattybop classes currently take place in four locations: Ap Lei Chau, Cyberport, Parkview Tai Tam and the Shek Tong Tsui. Classes are on the Southside as Natalie wants them to easily fit around her family life in Ap Lei Chau, although she is not ruling out future expansion plans.
Apart from fun dance lessons, Nattybop is also about partying. And contrary to popular assumption, it is not just the girls who are into Nattybop parties.
“I speak to the parents and carefully tailor and prepare an hour’s worth of games and activities to suit any theme. That can be dance, team games and races, solo and team challenges, party games and action songs,” says Natalie.
Themes covered include Pokemon, Hello Kitty, Paw Patrol, Trolls, Frozen, My Little Pony, Ben and Holly, Peppa Pig, superheroes and firefighters. “Basically whatever that birthday boy or girl is into.”
Nattybop has been all over Hong Kong. “I’ve been to Sai Kung, Clear Water Bay, the Peak and even on a junk boat. I can travel to wherever the party is!” says Natalie.
What’s it like having Nattybop for a mum? Natalie’s older son Tynan, 7, complains about her singing the same songs over and over. “I always play music at home to familiarise myself with the words. They then get stuck in his head and he sings them too. Lately I’ve been putting on Counting Snowflakes.”
Her two boys assist in testing props that she designs for parties. Tynan and his younger brother, Xander, 4, act as guides for Natalie to match the size of the props to a particular age group, using their height as benchmarks.
Singing, dancing and designing are all in a day’s work for this family. “They’ve never complained about me being out at work too much. My busiest time is 3pm to 6pm because this is when I teach. It’s not ideal (as a mum) because I’m not around in the afternoon when Ty comes home from school. I do love that I can take Xander to school. But I am always home to read a bedtime story.”
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