Investing where it matters most

When a site reaches out to us to host four workshops in a single day with over 250 kids, I gladly accept without hesitation. It has nothing to do with the confidence I have in myself; it stems from the belief I have in our talented team. I have the privilege of working with my mentors, peers, and friends in the dance scene. Our work doesn't happen without them, and it happens at a high level because of them.

The moment I arrive for the all-day workshop, I'm greeted by teachers Daniel 'Chrybaby' Cozie, Kim Holmes, Cebo Carr, and Tweet Boogie and Director, Michele Byrd. We're all in high spirits, laughing with each other and getting pumped for the onslaught of kids and teenagers that will be streaming down the corridor towards the dance rooms.

All the teachers aren’t leading at the same time, but we are there to support each other. As one teacher takes the lead, others jump into the class as well to assist and pick up on the movement. I’m not dressed for it, but I join in and show that I still have it (or at least I think I do). We learn from and push one another. That’s how hip hop dance culture has progressed — competition. It is not always in a sense that someone wins and someone loses — though it can be that way sometimes. Through exchange, we challenge each other to elevate. We take inspiration from someone’s move, add our own twist, and share it back so the cycle can start all over again. So when I see some Chrybaby’s movement that day inspire some of Kim’s movement and vice versa, I’m reminded of the power of community.

After a week of travel and coming off a red-eye a day earlier, I’m full of energy as we wrap up the afternoon classes. This part of the work fuels me. It makes the hours of travel, writing, presenting, asking, and organizing work it.

How do we ensure this culture exists as we scale our organization?

We remember who we serve As much as our platform gives young people a quality arts education, it also provides an equally valuable experience to our teachers. It gives them the opportunity to grow and utilize their talents. They are able to learn from their peers about teaching tools and best practices. And as a leader, I need to make sure we tend to our most valuable customers - our students and our teachers.

Investing where it matters most We spend a majority of our budget on our direct programs - making sure the kids have access to dance and the teachers have access to training and professional development. We prioritize tools that allow the dancers to focus on teaching.

Create environments for peer-learning and exchange to happen Outside of our trainings, which occur monthly, we are fortunate to have opportunities for teachers to interact with each other. There are sessions, classes, and events that where were we can catch up informally. It gives us the chance to be in environments where it’s not about work, but about strengthening our own community.

Stay connected to the needs of the community I spend more time these days visiting our classes, observing and participating. The teachers don’t need me there. However, I need to be present to understand how to best support what they do. Is there more staff support needed? Is it complicated to get the audio set up? Are there space constrictions? I can theorize about these things all day, but when I experience it, I can go to work on them.

To understand what is needed long-term, I can never lose sight of what is going on at the ground-level each day. Luckily for me, that’s often the highlight of my week.