Sophie Pierce has been dancing through life right from the start. Originally from Hudson Valley, NY, she loved dance from her first class at age three, and always dreamt of opening her own studio; she even ran an imaginary dance school as a kid! After attending Ithaca College, she danced in NYC and LA, before she started teaching dance to children, first privately, before opening a studio. Now, she has multiple locations of Sophie Pierce Dance studios, where students from 18 months to 18 years old can learn everything from ballet and hip hop to musical theater and acrobatics, whether recreationally or at a pre-professional level.
Sophie’s journey took an unexpected turn, however, when in 2022, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She endured her journey with a positive journey and keen eye on holistic health. She has since shared her story with The Fondle Project (thefondleproject.com), an incredible initiative to shift the narrative around breast cancer, encourage self-examinations and promote breast cancer awareness, while also sharing the stories of incredible survivors like Sophie. Read on for more!
SBS: What do you currently offer at Sophie Dance?
Sophie Pierce: Sophie Dance offers dance classes for children ages 18 months to 18 years. We have several different paths a child can take in our studios. Sophie Dance 3rd Street offers strictly recreational classes in ballet, tap, jazz and hip hop. We have a performance team for those dancers who love to perform at non-competitive events. Level Up Dance Academy is home to our competition teams, level-based dance classes for children ages eight and up, an aerial arts program and acrobatics for ages five and up. My Sophie Dance West location, located in Brentwood, is a bit of a blend, and it offers a substantial recreational program, as well as a competition program for those dancers looking to train several days per week and take their dancing to the next level. Sophie Dance West is also home to The Westside Players, which is a full-fledged musical theater program for children ages five to 12. Our upcoming fall show will be Willy Wonka!
SBS: How has your journey with dance affected who you are as a person and business owner? What do you hope to teach young dancers?
SP: My journey with dance has shaped my entire life. As a dance teacher and choreographer, I am constantly looking for inspiration in my daily life through nature, artwork and music. Being a business owner has taught me countless life lessons, but mostly how to listen to other people. I have learned how to consider the desires and opinions of others, while also remaining true to myself and my own personal values. I find the balance of these things has led to a really colorful existence for myself.
SBS: What has your journey with breast cancer been like?
SP: I was diagnosed with breast cancer in February of 2022. I was cancer free four months later. thanks to early detection and a positive attitude. It was a crappy diagnosis, but I made the most of the journey by educating myself and listening to my body. I opted for a lumpectomy and did four weeks of daily radiation. I simultaneously worked with energy healers and focused on a plant-based diet during my treatment. I journaled every day and continued with yoga.
SBS: What are some practices and approaches you found helpful while navigating your recovery and path?
SP: I took a whole body approach. This wasn’t just about healing my physical body. I truly believe what happens in our body is a response to what our spirit is going through. I had been through tremendous challenges, like many, between 2020 and 2021. As a business owner, the pandemic came with a lot of abuse during those years, whether it was trying to constantly pivot to pay the bills, or being the sounding board for parents dealing with their own fears about the virus. It was a lot coming at me for a long time. I had to relocate my family and my daughters’ schools, and that led to the remodel of a home in a new neighborhood. By January of 2022, we moved into the house that felt like it nearly killed me and my marriage. So by February of 2022, when a doctor told me something was wrong, I can’t say I was shocked. I reassessed everything in my life, including all of my relationships, when I was diagnosed. It led to a lot of necessary changes and ultimately strengthened my marriage and me.
SBS: What has changed about your approach to health, wellness and work during your journey?
SP: I let things go with much more ease these days. When your mortality is questioned, you fast-track to focusing on what really matters. I focus on things that bring me joy, which include healthy food, being active, being creative and enjoying my family. I remind myself when things get overwhelming, that if I am not here, none of it will matter. So it’s best to let things go that don’t serve my family and me. Being here for my girls is everything.
SBS: What self-care practices have been most helpful along your journey?
SP: I continue to journal, workout and keep my mental and physical health a priority. I take time off to focus on myself and my kids as needed. And most importantly, I just approach life with an open heart, which is a healthy way of avoiding painful conflict that I could internalize.
SBS: What have been some challenges, as well as happy surprises, along your journey?
SP: The biggest challenge, still today, is overcoming the fear. I am still very fearful my cancer could return, so I have to work at mentally not letting that fear paralyze me and trust the universe and my body. The happy surprise that came out of this was coming to terms with how strong I really am, both physically and mentally.
SBS: How did you manage your business while dealing with such a challenging health experience?
SP: I am so blessed with an incredible team, and I let go of the need to control my business a long time ago. So ultimately, it was all about putting my faith in my team and business partners, and trusting them. My team always shows up and steps up when needed. The families I work with were incredibly supportive, and I felt so tremendously loved which made my healing so much easier.
SBS: What are the most helpful things others can do (or avoid doing) for loved ones dealing with a similar issue?
SP: The people in my life who reached out and/or showed up meant everything to me. I never felt alone. The truth is there isn’t much anyone can ‘do,’ but knowing friends around me cared and would check in, sometimes send food, and just express their love, was everything.
SBS: What was your interaction with The Fondle Project like? What is so special about the Fondle Project?
SP: The Fondle Project has been such a positive experience. Gina and her team have brought awareness to early detection in a whole new way, making me, and all of us, feel sexy, empowered and beautiful in the process. She is breaking down the taboo of self-exams, and I am so proud to be part of this campaign.
SBS: What was it like filming your beautiful video piece for The Fondle Project? What felt important and special about it for you?
SP: Gina and her entire team were incredible. Charlie was warm, open and the most beautiful listening ear. I felt very safe and comfortable sharing my story with him behind the camera. Knowing Gina could relate to everything I was sharing made her the perfect person to interview me. When it came time for the photo shoot, all of the women involved (stylist, hair, makeup, assistants and Kate Powers) were all so confident and warm. They truly made the space a joy to be in. I felt very honored and lucky to be seen by The Fondle Project.
SBS: How did you approach being a mother while dealing with your journey?
SP: I did not want my daughters (now ages 12, 8 and almost 7) to be fearful. The ‘cancer’ word is scary. I had total faith in my doctors, and I wanted them to also have that faith. I shared with them what I was going through in terms they could understand, and I assured them I would absolutely be fine through it all. They were so compassionate and loving through my entire ordeal. They were my inspiration to get through it with no more than a scar.
SBS: In your Fondle Project video, you mention a spiritual approach. Can you tell us more about that?
SP: For me, this diagnosis was about more than bad cells. I had to evaluate my whole person, which included my mind, spirit and body. I had to take a hard look at the energy around me. I noticed I wasn’t using my voice in many situations where I needed to. Making those changes in my behavior I truly believe led to smooth healing. I didn’t experience any side effects from my treatments, and I think a lot of that was because I was using my own energy and power to protect myself from anything unnecessary. I remember during radiation I would envision a white forcefield all around me. I would focus on the radiation just going to exactly the cells it needed to and not affecting anything else in my body. I did this every day, and when doctors would ask if I was experiencing the expected side effects, they were surprised I felt well through all of it.
The best, zaniest part of being Sophie: I find humor everywhere, and I am not afraid to pivot.
Sophie’s SBS Mantra: Be Thankful resonates the most with me. It is in gratitude that I find all of the answers, always. When I am feeling or expressing my gratitude, I’m the best version of myself. In gratitude I feel feminine and capable of loving and being loved.
Sophie’s LA Faves:
Healthy Restaurant: Summer Buffalo Burbank
Splurge Restaurant: Bestia
Nightlife Spot: Flappers Comedy Club
Yoga Studio: Artha Yoga and Wellness Sanctuary
Fitness Studio: Phitosophy
Fun Activity: Anything I do with my husband, Neil Mahoney
Calming Activity: Puzzles
Online Resources: Weelicious and SophieDance.com
Books: Carry On, Warrior by Glennon Doyle, Radical Survivor by Nancy Saltzman, Meal and a Spiel: How to Be a Badass in the Kitchen by Elana Horwich