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But I Didn't See a Single Trophy


Recently I was invited to teach at a studio I'd never been at before. I was really excited about this because it's always fun to teach new people (and be inspired by what their regular teachers are doing really well) and because this studio has a great reputation for training excellent dancers.

That reputation is well-earned and those dancers were a joy to work with. The business side of the experience was great, too. The office staff was expecting me, gave me a useful tour of the space, and explained how and when they take roll. I saw pretty much everything I thought I would, including wonderful technique, a smooth carpool drop-off procedure, and parents giving encouragement to their own kid and also their kid's teammates.

But I didn't see any trophies.

I know they have them, or at least have been awarded them. But there are zero trophies or plaques on display at the studio. If I didn't already know their reputation, I wouldn't have figured it out from their decor. But you know what I easily figured out?

  • Who their elite team of dancers is. They have beautiful headshots of each dancer on a wall specifically dedicated to their most advanced, most committed team.

  • Who their graduating seniors are. They have a separate wall celebrating all their graduating seniors, regardless of which team they are on. Each senior had a short bio along with their picture that talked about what they were excited to do next. It was clear that the faculty and staff were proud of these kids whether they planned to keep dancing or not. And it looked like those pictures and bios were up all year, not just the last month.

  • Which team recently met a technique goal they had been working towards. The achievement was in big letters on the whiteboard that all the dancers and parents check for calendar information.

  • What the studio motto is. It was on a wall in every studio I was in, in letters large enough to read from anywhere in the room. (It's a flourishing business so I was in four separate studios throughout the night.) You want to know what their motto is? "Our dancers are smart, kind, and hard-working." And those dancers lived it. They picked up combinations quickly and/or asked questions that showed they were thinking on a deeper level than just "make it look right." When a kid got chatty I didn't say a word because a classmate said, "Hey, we can't learn while you're talking. But I really like talking to you between classes." And no one groaned, no matter what challenge I threw at them. I also didn't hear a single person tell me they were sore and the only kid who told me about an injury was telling me so that I understood the limits their physical therapist had given them. None of the "blah, blah, blah but I'll try my best" nonsense. It was already a given that everyone would try their best. I loved it!

  • What the character trait the teachers were asked to encourage was that month. Next to each sound system there was a laminated picture saying, "Our dancers are building perseverance." It looked like those got swapped out monthly so I'm guessing they have 12 characteristics that support their motto. It was really easy for me to support their mission because it was clearly stated. I could ask, "What have you been working towards?" and then create combinations to support that. I could give a very challenging combination and say, "So this is something to work towards. We're going to break it down into smaller pieces today and then revisit it at the end of class but it's more of a month-long goal I'm giving you."

This studio celebrated their dancers, not their wins. It was an amazingly growth-oriented environment to be in. Yes, the faculty are all extremely qualified. Yes, the dancers work very hard and put in a lot of hours. But I'm willing to bet that what super-charges the training is the culture they've created.

Plus, no one has to dust those trophies.


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