For any small business, reaching the 20-year milestone is a huge accomplishment—and one that requires ample amounts of passion, devotion and industry expertise. For National Dance Showcase, meeting this landmark anniversary not only required these things in spades, it also drew on hefty doses of flexibility and innovation, too.
Sonia Pennington, as the executive director of operations and logistics for National Dance Showcase in concert with her partners, has led NDS’ mission to stay true to the competition’s values throughout the last two decades, focusing on enriching the local community, building personal and fruitful relationships with dance studio directors, and, first and foremost, ensuring the best possible experience for each dancer who competes.
“We value being part of the journeys of so many amazing young people,” Pennington says. “It really is an honor to look back after 20 years and see that we have been a piece of shaping tens of thousands of young dancers’ lives, that we’ve had the purpose and impact through this medium of dance competition.”
A Drive to Be Different
NDS has been innovating from the beginning, says Roseann Gatto, the director of Chez Dance Studio in Turnersville, New Jersey. Gatto has been bringing her dancers to NDS for all 20 years of the competition.
“They’re one of the first dance competitions to do some special things that no other competition was doing at the time, like having a dance-off, which was really exciting,” she says.
Taheerah Allen, director of Nutley, New Jersey’s Dancers In Motion, says National Dance Showcase also stands out in the way it makes each dancer feel special. According to Allen, the competition does its best to offer each school an award when they compete. NDS even offers college scholarships to dancers, which a student from Allen’s studio recently won.
“National Dance Showcase is a very safe environment, and very entertaining,” she says. And, she continues, “it’s a very fair competition, which you don’t get a lot.”
Factors like these have kept both Gatto and Allen coming back year after year. Gatto even says her daughters, who danced at the competition when they were young, now bring their own dance students to perform at NDS, too.
“It’s a really nice thing to see the continuation of the quality of the competition,” Gatto says. “They make you feel welcome and they work with you.”
Creating a Community
Deep community roots and supporting the local arts community are values central to the ethos of NDS. By putting dancers and studio owners first and taking their needs and wants into consideration when structuring the competition, NDS has developed a rich, wide-ranging and devoted community of participating studios.
Their new headquarters, NDS HQ, is a continuation of this mission. Located in Voorhees, New Jersey, it serves as the 20,000-square-foot physical home base for all things NDS.
“Now that the venue is in one particular location, it makes it much more convenient for all the local studios, not just mine,” Gatto says. “They also make all the studios feel special and they make all the students, whether they’re a beginner or more advanced, feel proud of what they do.”
Aside from hosting its flagship competition at NDS HQ, Pennington and her team have made the space available for other arts groups in the area, too. Thus far, NDS HQ has served as the venue for performances by local dance companies and choreographers, as well as the set for an independent film.
“We have a home, and now our home is open to so many other people,” Pennington says. “It’s really exciting to have broadened our reach.”
Continuing to Evolve
Although there’s been bountiful growth at NDS since its founding, the team still has more plans to expand—and no intention of standing still. Many of these upcoming changes come in the form of new improvements to NDS HQ.
In addition to building more dressing room space for competitors—and continuing to make improvements related to stage, lighting and production values of the competition itself—Pennington specifically highlights the venue’s upgraded atrium, which will serve as a comfy downtime space for dancers and their families during the competition day.
“We want to give those dads and brothers and sisters a space to hang out and get away from the craziness and frenzy of dance competition, while still being able to be a part of it,” she says. National Dance Showcase has made it its hallmark over 20 years to willingly and gratifyingly adapt. “We’re tapping into the entire experience.”
Ready to join NDS for its 20th season? Click here for more information and to register your studio.