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For dance studio owner Chasta Hamilton, embracing change was a precursor to success.
Chasta Hamilton has been dancing on a stage since she was 2 years old. Now, she’s the founder and owner of Raleigh studio Stage Door Dance Productions, though she’s had to be flexible—in more ways than one—along the way.
A native of east Tennessee, Hamilton knew she wanted to go to college out of state. She visited UNC Chapel Hill to explore and thought, while she was in North Carolina, she might as well check out NC State, too. While visiting the campus, Hamilton picked up a brochure about NC State’s “Park Scholar” scholarship program. She decided to apply and was one of a handful of students to receive the scholarship, attending the university with a full ride for all four years.
During her time at State, Hamilton did an internship in then-state attorney general Roy Cooper’s office, thinking she wanted to be a lawyer. But, she says, she discovered law wasn’t her passion. After graduating with a degree in arts application and administration, with an emphasis in theater and a minor in film studies, Hamilton worked as a nanny and freelance dance teacher. She bought a condo in Brier Creek and every day on her commute to work, drove by an empty space that would soon become the home of Stage Door Dance, a studio that originally focused on competitive dance teaching.
Five years after opening her first studio, and still teaching classes at Carolina Country and North Hills Clubs, Hamilton realized she needed more space. Opening a location on Lake Boone Trail helped Hamilton see the importance of culture in her brand, she says, and that she no longer wanted her studios to be in the competitive dance arena.
“I wanted to focus on technique, performance, community and character,” says Hamilton. The new focus allowed the studio to create shows that gave back to the community, to use performances as fundraisers for charitable causes and to showcase that dance is more than just about winning a trophy.
Recently, Hamilton attended a dance seminar to speak about this shift in her studio’s mission. She describes another studio owner coming up to her in tears, telling her how her message resonated. Hamilton says she realized others needed to hear that they, too, could make a shift in their businesses and still be successful, so she decided to take her message broader.
This August, Hamilton debuted a book entitled “Trash the Trophies: How to Win Without Losing Your Soul.” “The book is about personal and professional transformative leadership,” Hamilton says. “It applies to all of us, not just those in dance.”
Looking back, Hamilton says shifting focus several years ago allowed her the flexibility her business needed to face the challenges of 2020. “[It] taught me lessons that allowed our brand to pivot and shift with the pandemic,” she says. “We added online class, an academic enrichment program, a full and half-day academy for pre-K, all while creating our own curriculum to help students learn and find activities that stimulate. These programs not only helped serve the community but they also helped to provide hours for staff.”
Looking back over the last 12 years, Hamilton laughs remembering her grassroots marketing efforts. Every weekend she found herself setting up a table at Frankie’s Fun Park, the amusement park between Durham and Raleigh, handing out flyers and driving around putting business cards on mailboxes. Stage Door now teaches more than 700 students annually and employs a staff of 19. And, this year, Hamilton is expecting a baby boy, a little dancer of her own.
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