HUNTINGDON MEANS BUSINESS
PROFILE: HOLLE HARTZOG SMITH ’03, President, Ozark-Dale County Economic Development Corporation
In dance terminology, relevѐ means to rise. Holle Hartzog Smith ’03 knows that term well—from lifting to her toes on the dance floor; to breathing life into her own business; to uplifting others as a teacher and an economic developer.
A nearly lifelong dancer and a devout planner, Holle says she decided in third grade that she would attend Huntingdon College and would major in dance. By 18, as she jumped into college life with tap shoes clicking, she checked off both of those boxes. “College was probably the busiest time of my life, even more than working full-time and raising children. It certainly taught me about time management and balance,” she remembers. Up early for academic classes until lunchtime, followed by dance classes in the afternoon and rehearsals after dinner, Holle’s college years bustled from jig to jitterbug—not to mention that she served among the first group of Huntingdon Ambassadors, as an orientation leader, as a Dance to Glorify officer (a dance/worship team), and as choreographer for Mr. and Miss Huntingdon pageants (after winning the title herself during her sophomore year). Holle was also a member of and choreographer for Huntingdon music/theatre/dance combined productions, including “A Chorus Line.”
“Involvement gives a person the opportunity to make a difference,” says Holle. “It is easy to step back and criticize what someone else is doing, while not taking steps to better the situation yourself.”
After graduation Holle taught dance in Montgomery for three years before moving to her then-husband’s hometown of Ozark, where she opened and operated her own dance studio, Elevations School of Dance. She joined the Chamber of Commerce and was almost immediately asked to serve on the board—a role that continued until shifting to ex-officio status last year. Not one to tiptoe unless she’s in pointe shoes, her responsibility to the Chamber did not stop with paying her dues. “If you go to the Chamber events, join a committee, participate in their marketing opportunities, and attend the ribbon cuttings, the benefits are endless,” says Holle. “As trite as it sounds, you only get out of something what you put into it. I continued to get involved in my church and many more community opportunities, such as the Wiregrass United Way and the Dale County Performing Arts Council. These activities did not seem essentially important for a dance studio owner, but I have no doubt that the networking and partnerships with other business owners and community leaders helped me grow my business.”
Having taught in three different Montgomery studios with a diverse array of students, Holle’s vision for her own studio was inclusivity in body type, skill level, gender, and ethnicity. “Promoting a healthy body image was very near to my heart, as I had experienced an eating disorder at a very young age. It was important to me that all of my students truly believed that every ‘body’ can dance.” Holle also placed importance on making dance affordable and accessible.
At its peak, Elevations Dance Studio provided dance instruction for 200 students, with 20 participating in a competition team. Holle’s Chamber connections led to performance opportunities for students at parades and festivals and club meetings, knowing that “with each performance opportunity came the chance for these young dancers to get a little more comfortable in front of a crowd and to increase their confidence. And because we faced some not-so-ideal performance spaces at times, those experiences became lessons in flexibility and in making the best of what you have.”
“As a working parent, I recognized the time and financial sacrifice it takes to have your son or daughter participate in an activity,” says Holle. “As I made decisions, I always asked myself if what I was offering these students and parents was worth their time and money. I think that my liberal arts education helped to shape my dance education into a useful career path as a studio owner by providing the thinking skills, life-skills, and basic knowledge needed to make wise business decisions.”
Studio participants learned the importance of giving to the community through participation in dance-a-thons for the United Way, clothing and food drives, bake sales for childhood cancer, and collections of items for children in foster care. “I felt that it was important for our students to realize how fortunate they were that they had parents who sacrificed enough to provide them an extracurricular opportunity like dance, while there are others in the area with needs far greater than they could imagine,” says Holle.
Small businesses can have big impacts, both on the lives of students and on the community. “I think the moments that make me proud are when I run into a former parent or student and they remember and comment on what a great experience they had,” she says. “Sometimes people forget to express their appreciation in the present; but it is nice to know years down the road when the impact was lasting enough for someone to hold onto.” Holle was named Ozark Business Woman of the Year in 2014 and honored as Ozark Woman of the Year in 2017.
By late 2020, Holle was a single parent to two boys who continued their mother’s enthusiasm for involvement by playing after-school sports. Holle struggled with the guilt of not being present for their practices and games as she spent her evenings at the dance studio. Meanwhile, the studio had just survived, with the help of PPP loans and grants, the devastation of COVID-19. Exhausted from the battle but hopeful for the studio’s future, she began to consider new career options—perhaps something in sales, marketing, or office management—and continued her daily practice of prayer for her business and for her family. She soon learned that the board of the Ozark-Dale County Economic Development Corporation (ODEDC) was seeking to fill the vacancy in its presidency and preferred someone who lived in and loved Dale County. Holle drew on her involvement and connections through 16 years as a business owner and Chamber member to help her choreograph a career pirouette.
Now, Holle has a whole new arena in which her talents can shine. As president of the ODEDC, she is responsible for recruiting new businesses, developing and maintaining relationships with business partners, and assisting with business expansions within the county. “Relationships are key to this type of business,” Holle acknowledges. “Having been a small-business owner not only meant that I have the practical knowledge of how to start-up and run a business here, but it also gives me the ability to relate. I have an understanding of the business climate and its challenges and assets. And again, the network of people that I gained during my time as a business owner still helps me every day.” A teacher who worked with her at the studio bought the business and the studio continues to operate under the same name.
A broad education set the stage for flexibility in her career. “Without a liberal arts education, I believe the ability to make such a major and abrupt career change would have been much more challenging,” she says. “If I had focused on nothing but dance during my college days, I would not have been well-rounded enough to think outside of that box and have enough knowledge in other areas to have found my way in such a new role. Particularly helpful have been the critical thinking skills and communication skills that were developed within that liberal arts education.”
She continues to pass Huntingdon values forward. “‘Enter to grow in wisdom. Go forth to apply wisdom in service.’ I try to lead my life with this inspiring Huntingdon quote and probably recite it weekly in everyday conversation,” she says. “I certainly did not enter the dance field for the money; but whenever the lack of it was discouraging, I used this quote to remind myself of the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of my education.”
En pointe to grow her community with the same values and beliefs that contributed to her success, Holle has updated her expectations in light of life experience. “Some things have not gone as planned,” she says with a smile. “I thought I would have a boy and a girl exactly four years apart, but it turns out I am a ‘boy mom.’ I thought that my family was immune to divorce, but I found that even when you fight hard for something, sometimes God gives you a good firm no. I planned to dance forever, and now I am an economic developer. Thank goodness God changes our plans! If all the plans had stayed under my own control, I would have missed out on a plethora of blessings!”