stage door dance

Are you ready to talk dancing, specifically, Raleigh’s best dance studio in town? Next up in the Wake County 360 series is Stage Door Dance!

Meet Chasta and Willis, the incredible couple I interviewed recently on a chilly fall day in North Raleigh. I met this husband and wife team at their dance studio, Stage Door Dance. The space is just beautiful and after Chasta finished chatting with parents who had just dropped their kids, she and I retreated to her office in the back for a one on one chat. (Willis had to stay up front and run the studio with the help of their two dogs, Mimi and Laila.) Chasta’s office is rather charming as it backs up to a music store and she works to the beat of a drum set pretty much constantly, a sound she has simply begun to tune out. When asked what Stage Door is all about, this was her response:

Stage Door Dance teaches all styles of dance for ages 2-18. We offer strong technical training that incorporates style and focuses on individual attention. We believe strongly in education, community service and developing strong, well-rounded dancers.

Are you outside of the 2-18 age group like me? No problem. Stage Door Dance also has Zumba classes in the evenings for adults too.

Chasta always had a vision of opening her own studio. At 35 or something, you know slightly older, not at 23. But plans changed after she became engaged to her now husband, Willis. (They met in a stage directing class at NC State. She played hard to get for a while but Willis never became any less interested. Finally, she caved.) He encouraged her to pursue her passion of opening her own studio. They took NINE months (much like baby, really) to plan the grand opening, and a few months after they were married, Stage Door Dance was official. They opened with no clients lined up. ZERO. This is unusual for a studio and was a huge risk for them. When she looks back telling me this story she admits that it wasn’t nearly as scary then as it seems now.

But Stage Door Dance grew from about 100 students four years ago to nearly 500 students today. When you listen to Chasta discuss her devotion to the studio, it doesn’t really come as a surprise. Unlike others, Chasta and Willis devoted all of their time to the studio. Their entire livelihood is wrapped up into the success of Stage Door Dance–it’s not some evening side project. Now Willis does business plans, scheduling, payroll, taxes, and occasionally dresses up as a polar bear with a tutu for the Christmas parade. Chasta teaches classes and manages the artistic side to the business.
Chasta wanted her own studio because she felt that focusing on the artistic aspects of dance alone was selling her students short. She longed to create a studio that valued student growth in more than just dance. Perhaps it was her experience as a Park Scholar at NC State that cultivated her commitment to community service and individual growth. By focusing on these aspects with her students, they gain a lifelong appreciation for dance and beneficial skills that are valuable on and off stage.

Stage Door Dance is a unique studio because they reach out to various programs throughout Raleigh. As a college student, Chasta began a tap project with the Governor Morehead School for the Blind. She continues that today, which really demonstrates her desire to help others. She also created a badge called Make Every Dance Step Count for the Girl Scouts of the Carolina Coastal Pines and assists varying troupes in earning their patch Chasta also works with the Junior League of Raleigh, leading a puppet troupe called Kids on the Block.

She is truly proud of the studio’s intensive series. The studio is able to bring in guest artists such as dancers and choreographers from New York and Los Angeles for special programs in studio. Some examples of past guest artists include So You Think You Can Dance veterans, Broadway performers (such as Nick Adams from Priscilla, the guy in the Barbie shorts below), and the Emmy-winning choreographer of the television show SMASH. In addition, Chasta is working on a side endeavor that involves business consulting and information sharing with other studios (this project will launch early in 2013). Stage Door Dance is a member of Dance Masters of America and Dance Educators of America (exams are required to gain membership into these organizations). Chasta and the studio’s Assistant Director, Sara, are certified in multiple styles of dance.

Stage Door Dance is impressive when you look at the “pedigree” of their dance instructors. Most have college degrees and some professional experience. One instructor is a Radio City Rockette and several have performed with companies in New York City. Chasta herself even coached NC State Dance team for a semester when the studio first opened. It’s no surprise that Dance Teacher Magazine is doing a feature article on Stage Door Dance in their January 2013 issue focusing on their branding and logo.

Chasta truly believes that dance IS a sport, and one that requires so much more than physical prowess. I promised that I wouldn’t mention her least favorite part of owning a studio. I assured her no mention of her “love” of cleaning mirrors would be present in this article. Consider that promise kept, Chasta. I think we all understand.

You can like Stage Door Dance on Facebook or find out more about the dance classes they offer at their website.

P.S. Congratulations to Chasta for being named a Goodmon Award Recipient in the Category of the Arts for 2012! Leadership Triangle annually presents the prestigious awards to 4-5 individuals/elected officials/partnership/organizations/public officials that exhibit outstanding regional leadership through vision, diversity, and excellence. She will be recognized in an awards gala on Monday, December 3rd.