When I first dreamed of opening my dance studio, I was coming off of a high from dancing professionally. Dance brought me so much joy and I attributed that to competing and performing. I LOVED everything about dance and I thought opening a dance studio and helping children to feel that same joy would be amazing.
When I first opened my dance studio, I thought I would have the most innovative and challenging routines for teenage dancers. I wanted the Elite experience to feel like taking classes in LA like I did as a kid. I wanted the speakers bumping and the dancers sweating and steaming up the windows! I wanted every dancer to push as hard as they possibly could to win competitions. I wanted to be sure that my dancers were number one at every competition and performance they went to. I thought that was success.
Over the last 20 years, my ideas and mission have changed. I believe they have changed for the better. My ego has taken a backseat to my true mission. No longer do I think that “winning” trophies ensures happiness or success. Instead, Elite has pivoted to focus on helping children be their best in life, not just in dance.
In line with my mission, my perspective on “winning” at competition changed over a decade ago. Judges at a competition can look at the same routine and have three completely different opinions about it. Dance is not black and white. Competitions do not have a standardized scoring system like that in other sports like soccer, basketball and football. Points are subjectively given or taken away. The minute dancers walk on to the stage, judges begin forming their “opinion” about them and because dance is so subjective, those opinions can vary immensely. Judges are humans with all different backgrounds, preferences and personal beliefs about dance training and dance in general. They are not objective even on the best of days. Even on days when you win first place, highest platinum, specialty award.
I realize that dancers can’t control the personal opinions of judges. Neither can parents. Neither can teachers or studio owners.
Because of this, I am a proactive studio owner who keeps things in perspective and reminds dancers, parents and staff about what we are in control of. Prior to any performance or competition, we ask dancers about their goals and intentions to set the tone for an event. We have them reflect on past experience in the season and what they learned from that. We ask them to set personal and group goals. Last, we remind them that they have worked hard up to that point and that they should remember to have fun!
Parents, too, have a huge impact on their dancers with their words, their actions and their body language throughout a dance journey. Dancers model what they hear and see at home, during side conversations in the studio lobby with other parents and yes, at competition or performances. When parents give unwavering support and positivity, dancers will learn to be proud of themselves. Proud of their effort and dedication to their sport. When parents provide a soft landing place when things don’t go as a dancer wishes, the child learns how to fall and still get up with a smile. If parents support teachers and decisions they make in their expertise, children learn to respect adults who care about them and their dreams. When parents mirror the sentiments of teachers, that improving and growing takes time and effort consistently over long periods of time with great attitude, work ethic and effort, dancers learn to build grit and drive to be proud of.
Reflecting on over three decades in dance and 20 years of dance studio ownership, which is more than twice as long as most of our students have been alive, the lessons I’ve gained and want to teach in dance are so much deeper than how to win at competition. I write with humanity, emotion and deep experience too. My fondest memories of dance have never been about a trophy I received, ever. When I auditioned for professional dance jobs, I didn’t get the job because I won trophies at competition. No one ever asked me about what trophies I got at competition, ever. My success in dance has come from hard work, strong values and showing up respectfully and confidently in dance environments and in life.
What do I really want for dancers through competition? I want to provide lessons. I want them to learn how to be more confident. I want dance to provide happiness and strength for them in their lives. Every day, dance teaches us all something. It’s up to us to decide how to interpret those lessons.
One of my dance studio owner friends describes lessons for parents too:
“Sometimes the lesson is for parents too. Was the lesson today that my dancer was reprimanded for misbehaving in class, or was the lesson that my dancer was exhausted, or hungry, and as a parent, I need to look carefully at her schedule so she can make it through the day at her fullest capacity? Was the lesson today that the same dancers always get the special parts, or was the lesson today that my dancer can learn to work more consistently over time? Was the lesson today that judging was rough, or was the lesson today that my dancer received valuable insights that he or she can continue to work on? Was the lesson today that my dancers’ instructors don’t like her, or was the lesson today that my dancers’ instructors are holding her to a potential she is capable of reaching, but hasn’t committed to yet?
Parents and dancers, I promise you this. As the leader of Elite, I will constantly strive to be the best at educating and inspiring children to be confident, happy and strong through our love of dance.
Trust your instructors. Trust the lessons. Trust the process in class. Trophies get dusty and thrown away. No one remembers even one week later who won Ultra Platinum Extra Titanium Brightest Medal World Stopping Award at the Dolly Dinkle Dance World Competition in the year 2023 for the routine called We Are the Best Dancers in the World. Instead, they remember the lessons they learn, the real friendships they make, the pizza parties and group swims at the hotel where they compete dance too. Most importantly, they remember the way dancing, in general, makes them FEEL.
Let’s Work Together to Keep that Feeling at Elite!!