Dana Hesse

Oftentimes when we do something for others, we end up unknowingly doing something for ourselves. When Dana Hesse enrolled her daughter Ani in a School of Rock summer camp, it was about keeping her engaged and learning, while still totally rocking out. And while that did happen as Ani discovered a budding talent, Dana also found herself being inspired by the School of Rock’s mission. As Danna puts it, “I found myself singing along and wiping a tear of joy … I was hooked.”

A few months and another School of Rock program later, a location near Dana went up for sale. Without so much as a second thought, Dana — who was retired at the time — jumped in with both feet and bought the School of Rock in Burbank. One of 140 schools and counting since the program started at a single school in Philadelphia, Dana’s School of Rock location is part of a greater mission to inspire kids to rock on stage and in life.

Your dreams will come true, if you stay true to yourself and what you believe.

What drew you specifically to the School of Rock organization and how were you able to launch your own school?

Our daughter, Ani, got us involved. She attended the School of Rock summer camp prior to needing to undergo corrective surgery for her congenital scoliosis. We were amazed by the enthusiasm the kids had for performing together. Our daughter continued in the summer camp for three more weeks and she was having a blast. The classes helped her really open up in new ways.

And it wasn’t just Ani’s experience that amazed us; it was inspiring to watch kids pick up an instrument for the first time and then be able to perform in front of a crowd. I found myself singing along and wiping a tear of joy from my eye. I was hooked.

After Ani’s surgery, I signed her up for a performance program. Music has always been a huge part of her life and through School of Rock, she was able to nurture her talent and feel normal again. At this point I was already retired, but I found out that a School of Rock location was for sale near our home and I jumped on the chance. We’ve been owners since March 2014.

What responsibilities do you have in your role?

I’m the general manager of the school. I take care of the day-to-day operations of the school, from hiring to payroll and marketing. My corporate experience has really helped ease me into this management role, but there are still plenty of challenges. I make sure that we follow the School of Rock philosophy of music education that comes from passion and inspiration.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?

As a parent, I thought I could only be excited when I would see the accomplishments of my own child. I had no idea that at the Season Shows, when students showcase what they’ve been doing all season long, I’d feel so proud; like each of these kids were my very own. It’s so rewarding to see how the kids have matured musically. Plus, the shows are amazing. The families and friends are in complete awe and it’s a thrill to see the staff at the venues in complete shock as these kids perform. It’s inspiring from every angle, during every note they play.

What challenges keep you awake at night?

The thought that keeps me up at night is, “How can I take my school to the next level?”

With any startup, you have to build your reputation and visibility in the community just to get started. I wake up in the middle of the night excited about a new idea that just ran through my mind on how I can get our school out in the community. Once I book one place, I lay awake wondering how I am going to top it for the next performance. I’m constantly thinking, “How can I make this a positive and memorable experience for each kid that walks through our door?”

Is work/life balance ever a problem with you? If so, what is one no-fail tactic you use to create balance?

Well, I’m not going to lie: I’ve never been great at work/life balance. I dedicated more of my time to work than I should have, especially when my daughter was young and I worked in corporate America. As a woman, I always had to work harder and had to be smarter to succeed. I missed out on a lot of stuff with my daughter, but that’s all changed since I opened the school. The only no-fail tactic for me was the support that came from my family. It truly takes a village to raise kids and I apply those lessons to running School of Rock.

What are some of the rules you live by?

I try to live my life by being ethical and fair. I live and breathe karma. It really is simple for me and always has been to “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” And finally, ALWAYS give credit where credit is due.

What qualities does it take for someone to be successful in your line of work?

I’ve found that many of the qualities that make a good parent can apply as a School of Rock owner. In my line of work, you have to be passionate about inspiring others and opening a child’s world to new experiences. It’s been essential for me to be able multi-task! You need to understand your success comes from providing a platform “for our students to rock on stage and in life”.

Where do you see the future of School of Rock?

Under the new leadership of the most inspiring women I’ve ever met, CEO Dzana Homan, I believe the School of Rock will be the most inspirational music educational “go-to” place in the world. We’re saving music education and rock music one student at a time.

What one piece of advice do you wish you could tell a 21-year-old version of yourself?

Your dreams will come true, if you stay true to yourself and what you believe. The future is great, but take the time to enjoy the little things. And for the aspiring musicians out there, keep playing! From personal experience, if you buy a bass guitar because you’ve always wanted to learn, don’t give it away or you’ll end up regretting it. (Yes, I bought one at 21 and gave it away and don’t play at all today.)

What advice do you have for other women your age who are not musicians but who might be considering a franchise business or starting over with a new career? 
There’s simply nothing more rewarding, in terms of employment, than being an owner of a School of Rock. You don’t have to be a musician to own one — it helps, but it’s not necessary. You have to love kids, love seeing them succeed and love being part of a community. This is the business to own!

How is your daughter Ani doing and what are her latest adventures?

Ani is great. We just got back from her 12-month post-op appointment with her surgeon after the 10-hour scoliosis corrective surgery. It was a reassuring appointment and she was cleared to start doing things she loves to do like aerial, golf and body surfing. She saved up her money to buy a keytar, a keyboard you wear around your shoulders, but we would not let her get one until the surgeon said she could carry more than five pounds.(She got her keytar as soon as we got back.)

Ani’s also trying new genres of music to help her grow and learn. She’s actually doing our Metal Show this season at the School of Rock in Burbank. Ani is pushing herself in directions I never thought possible; another reason why music education is so powerful.