Chasta Hamilton ‘07 is the keynote speaker for sPark, the Park Scholarships conference taking place Sept. 22 and 23! Chasta’s speech, “Your World As A Mirror: Leveraging Leadership for Meaningful Change and Lasting Impact,” will touch on observing the world around us and facing challenges.
Chasta graduated from NC State in 2007 and is the owner of Stage Door Dance Productions. In 2023, she was named one of CBS 17’s Remarkable Women.
Chasta talked to us about her journey to opening up a dance studio, what it means to be a transformative leader and why she is looking forward to sPark!
What were some of the highlights of your experience as a student at NC State and a Park Scholar?
One of the greatest things that I learned at NC State was the power of starting over, and finding and creating a new community. It is important to look at your surroundings and figure out how you can apply your passion, your purpose, and what you do best to the place where you’re at.
When I was a Park, I had imposter syndrome. I was in a cohort that was super successful and hyper focused and I wasn’t sure that the arts could stand in that environment. So I started down the path of becoming an attorney. I did an internship with the Attorney General at the time, and spent the whole summer researching how to stop the production of methamphetamine in the state, which included moving pseudoephedrine behind the counter. And I hated it so much. It was a huge awakening for me.
After that, I started doing things that were purposeful to me. I remember choreographing “Annie,” at Centennial Middle School. I started Relay for Life on campus. I produced a tap show with the Governor Morehead School called “The Sightless Rhythm Tap Project.”
These moments were incredible and really special. There is power in being at NC State and being a Park Scholar. Wherever your talents lie, you can find a way to fit in and to explore. I feel like I really did that during my tenure on campus.
How did your experiences as a Park Scholar contribute to your professional choices and opportunities?
After I graduated college, I was doing freelance dance choreography and teaching. I was enjoying it and was successful. In 2009, I opened Stage Door Dance Productions.
Looking back, the Park program gave me the confidence to move in a different direction than what was expected of me. And it was kind of inadvertent, right? I went from having impostor syndrome to having the confidence to explore and do something different, and do it well. Park allowed me to disrupt what was “typical” and pave a new path for art education, as well as the youth extracurricular experience.
The arts matter so much. And they can be a business like any app or tech company. It is remarkable to be a part of something like this, to have this platform to support the advancement and progression of arts education.
Tell us more about how you “disrupted” the “typical” path.
At that time, one of the things you did to be successful with dance studios was to participate in dance competitions. Around 2013, I started questioning what we were doing. We were successful and we were winning trophies, but I was seeing something that was contrary to the vision that I had. I wanted to offer this very holistic approach, like I had when I was dancing growing up. I’m not anti-competition at all, but there is a time and place. So I spent two years kind of vetting the industry and in 2015, we made the decision to fully extract our studios from the competitive piece. I wanted to help others lean into their purpose and potential so that they can change the world, and focus on empowerment and leadership instead of deregulated, pay to play trophies.
That piece of my story, the competition piece, led to me writing my first book, “Trash the Trophies: How to Win Without Losing Your Soul.” It was released in August of 2020. And while it’s set to the backdrop of competitive dance, it’s ultimately about personal and professional transformative leadership.
What does transformative leadership look like?
It’s so easy to resist change. I believe that transformative leadership is being change-persistent instead of change-resistant. I think it’s looking at what is in front of us and saying, “How can we elevate? How can we evolve? How can we do better?”
It’s the highs and the lows, and the accomplishments and the real just like life experiences that happen alongside of them. It is asking yourself important questions, like “Am I living my truth, in a way that will represent and make proud the people that really matter?” Because there’s so much noise if the people and the spaces you are in don’t matter.
What advice would you share with current Park Scholars?
I wish someone had told me this when I was younger, but I’m really big on where you are directing your energy. You only have so much of it, so what are you putting it towards? Direct your energy towards things that tie into your passion, purpose, profits and peace of mind.
When you’re in college, you are building your foundation and setting yourself up for success on the other side. I think you need to be intentional about how you’re choosing to use your time, who you are choosing to spend your time with and the organizations that you are aligning yourself with. These things are so important because they are paving the path for where you’re going next.
Why are you excited about sPark (happening Sept. 22 and Sept. 23, 2023)?
I’m so excited about sPark! I was on the very first committee of sPark in 2016 and I chaired the committee during the pandemic. This conference has such a strong place in the program. I can’t wait to be back to reconnect, to listen and to learn. You know, it’s almost like going back to being a Park for a couple of days.
We don’t always have that engagement, that connection, that conversation, happening on a day to day basis, nor do we necessarily get to celebrate all of the amazing things that the alumni of the program are doing, and what the current students are doing. So it’s a celebration, it’s educational, it’s intellectual, it’s engaging, it’s innovative and I just love it.
And you are the keynote speaker! What will your address be about?
I’m really going to focus on what we want to see in the world around us. There has been so much change in the last few years, and there’s a heaviness to everything. We are the leaders, we are the thinkers, we are the innovators, and we have a huge opportunity to pave the path forward to create a world that mirrors what we want to see. So I’m going to talk about that and I’m going to offer some advice to take on the challenges we face.