Charity Spotlight: Happendance

Promoting lifelong physical and mental well-being through dance education and performances.

Happendance makes the art of dance accessible to people of all ages and backgrounds through a variety of educational programs, indoor and outdoor performances, and concerts. By appealing to diverse audiences, Happendance can promote the healthful benefits of dance for generations to come.

In this charity spotlight, I spoke with the Executive Director of Happendance, Missy Lilje.

Origin Story

In the 1970s, many dance mentors found themselves traveling to New York for work and return home to continue their studies. Diane Newman, a mentor for Orchesis at Michigan State University, was no exception, but she found it increasingly difficult to travel.

On June 12, 1976, Diane decided to remain in Lansing and host outdoor dance concerts that would be free to anyone who happened upon them. These “Happenings” introduced contemporary dance to a much more diverse audience, and they wowed attendees for over ten years. They also formed the inspiration for Happendance’s name.

The success of the summer concerts revealed a strong demand for traditional dance concerts, so a winter series was added. The winter series also turned out to be an immense success, and Happendance continued to evolve into its current offering of educational, outreach, and professional programs.


The services that Happendance offers are almost too numerous to count. Over 75 dance classes are taught every week to anyone 18 months old or older. Their educational exchange also sees Happendance in public schools providing additional dance instruction. Additionally, Happendance To Go is a student outreach program that adds audience participation to dance demonstrations.

Happendance Heals works in conjunction with Sparrow Hospital to offer therapeutic dance to children and families. DANCE Lansing is a community project that aims to build and enrich a diverse dance community. One such program is Everybody Dance Now, which has people of all levels of experience, including beginners and people with disabilities, dancing together.

Happendance also has community, student, and professional dance companies that put on a wide variety of performances.

Big Wins

Happendance managed to grow through the recession and saw one of their biggest years in 2015. They opened their second studio, Happendance Exchange Lansing (HXL), and received over $30,000 in support through donations and partnerships.

Through a fortuitous series of events that included a partnership with Sparrow Hospital and the addition of Heather Vaughn-Southard to their team, Happendance has also been able to grow their dance therapy practice.

To Nonprofits

“In business and sales, the biggest mistake is thinking you know what your constituents want.” Making a wrong assumption is a mistake, but it’s also easy to avoid. Missy suggests talking to your audience, customers, volunteers, students, or anyone else you are working with and learn instead of guessing.

If you work at something you care deeply about, you will be rewarded in kind. In Missy’s words, “passion-inspired work begets passion and inspiration.”


Missy would love to see Happendance become an institution that shows how a professional dance company can be both world class and profitable – this is not typically the case. This all begins with getting dancers to mingle with new audiences. In order to grow dance as an art form, the stigma of dance must be removed. And that’s exactly what Missy wants, more art in everyone’s life.

To Volunteers

There are so many ways that you can get involved with a charity, all you need to do is reach out. You can be an audience member, an advocate, a cheerleader, or a board member even. Every little bit helps, and the perks can be pretty nice too!

Get Involved

If you want to learn more about Happendance, you can reach them by clicking one of the buttons below.

Photographs courtesy of Happendance.