Written by: Terrex
40 years ago, a 7-year-old girl stood in the storeroom of her parents’ restaurant, keenly scrutinizing packing boxes she had arranged in a neat semicircle on the ground. Fresh from her very first dance lesson, this little girl started to impart a newfound knowledge to her ‘students’.
Sometimes, your path in life… finds you.
Victoria McNamara, a determined young lady in that scene, is now owner and head of the family at Victoria Dance Studios.
“I literally knew what I wanted to do my whole life!” she says of that day when organizing those boxes and pretending to put on her own dance class.
Victoria was a ‘competition kid’. Between four and six times every spring, she would travel to Minneapolis from her hometown of Mason City, Iowa to participate in dance contests. Recalling that fervor, there is almost a hint of surprise in her voice when she reveals she got a college degree in marketing, not dance.
But the dance bug was only hibernating. A 5-minute break from finals prep turned into answering an ad for a competition instructor. Which turned into a 4-year stint as a tap teacher straight after college.
In June of 1993, after another 4 years at a different dance studio, Victoria stepped out on her own and Victoria Dance Studios was born. However, Victoria never intended for it to be just another dance school; she wanted her contribution to be a school of life, centered around dance.
This novel approach resonated with the Edina community. Victoria Dance Studios (VDS) had 74 students within the first year and has an attendance of 400+ today. Its students consistently win awards at state level competitions against much larger studios and the school even has one alumnus who is currently a lead on Broadway.
Everything Changed When
For Victoria, though, winning and being the best takes a backseat to the things that really matter. She attributes her philosophy to a moment of clarity that came as she gazed at her newborn child, a beautiful daughter.
“Looking at her, I realized It’s not all about you’,” she says. Victoria applies that same attitude to VDS.
“It’s all about the kids and giving them a foundation to be the best adults they can be. Victoria Dance Studios is so much more than a dance school – we try to give our kids the tools to face the challenges life will throw at them.”
Victoria Dance Studios has faced its own challenges. The aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks led to a huge drop in class numbers because a third of her students’ parents were airline employees. Later, the surging popularity of high school dance clubs was a tough trial as her dancers were poached away.
All through this, Victoria told herself, “It’s not all about you.” She overcame each challenge by keeping her focus on four balance points – Family, School, God, Dance – whose order of priority she insists can and should change as we live our own lives.
Victoria and her team establish a ‘Drama-Free Zone’ whether they are training at home or traveling to compete. “Please don’t assume what you see on TV is actual reality,” she pleads, referring to certain kids’ dance school ‘reality’ TV programs, “Our drama-free zone is not lip service.”
“Everyone at VDS is free to be themselves, whether you are quirky, geeky, a sports jock, lead vocalist, love math or love gym. Once you walk in the door, you are in a safe place.”
A big part of the Victoria Dance Studios message is Respect; respect for themselves, seniors, juniors, parents and staff.
Victoria acknowledges it is not an easy message to impart when dealing with budding teenagers. The daily pressure to conform, combined with constant scrutiny and judgment have become an integral part of social media. Putting respect in the backseat.
For Victoria and her team of staff and students at Victoria Dance Studios, a large part of learning respect and other lessons is appreciating what they have and contributing their time, energy and efforts to help those less fortunate.
One of their signature charities is Alex’s Lemonade Stand. It is named after Alexandra Scott who was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a form of childhood cancer, before she had even turned one.
After battling both the debilitating disease and treatment for three years, four-year-old Alex told her parents she wanted to set up a lemonade stand to raise funds to cure cancer. That gorgeous little girl then helped build a lemonade stand on her lawn. It raised $2,000 in the first year.
Alex’s story moved people. Around the United States and around the world, lemonade stands cropped up asking for donations to help the little fighter’s cause.
Alex passed away in 2004 at the tender age of eight. In the short time she spent with us, her efforts helped raise over $1 million so “doctors can help other kids, like they helped me.” Alex said.
One of the main reasons Victoria chose Alex’s lemonade stand because it a 5-star charity, one in which over 92% of donations go directly to the cause instead of operating expenses and galas.
Victoria Dance Studios puts on performances at malls and speaks to the crowd between each dance about why they are there and to urge them to donate generously.
Victoria Dance Studios has also started a tradition of an annual Nutcracker camp where kids write their own interpretations of the traditional story. It has been a great success all of the four years that it has run; last year, all $5,000 raised went directly to Alex’s Lemonade Stand.
There is little doubt that Victoria and her team have created not just an award-winning group of dancers, but a team of young individuals who appreciate that giving makes us richer in many ways. They are using their talent and the joy of dance to express it.
Victoria has picked up some invaluable life lessons on her journey. By applying these lessons both personally and professionally, she has turned Victoria Dance Studios into the success it is today.
Little girls and their parents from all over Edina Minnesota are attracted to her message of respect for self, for others and for the world at large. It is the first step of molding these young ladies into the strong women they all have the potential – and desire – to become.