Former Pro Dancer Empowers the Next Generation of Performers

Former Pro Dancer Empowers the Next Generation of Performers

Posted by Motionwear Team on Jul 26th 2022

Total Empowerment

As a coach, judge, entrepreneur and mom, former pro dancer Wanda Weir devotes her boundless energy to helping young people chase their dreams.

When Wanda Weir took over the dance team at Catholic University in Washington, DC, three years ago, the program had churned through head coach after head coach and was in serious need of stability. The Catholic dancers, for all their energy, enthusiasm and commitment to the team, had some work to do on their physical strength.

They couldn’t have picked a more perfect leader than Wanda, whose entire career — her whole life, really — has been about uplifting and empowering others.

“When I took over the team, I told them that everything is about progress,” Wanda says. “There are no overnight success stories. We are laying the building blocks. So we focused on consistency in training, establishing a workout routine, and I developed a strength and conditioning warmup that we did at every practice. We had ballet drills and technique drills that we did, and it was just consistency of how we ran rehearsals. I told them, ‘If we’re committed to each other, and if we stick with this, we will see growth over time.’ It was really amazing to see it all come together.”

True to her word, Wanda’s steady presence every day at practice, her emphasis on strength and conditioning, and the bond she formed with her dancers paid huge dividends. Catholic placed second at nationals this year — the best finish in school history.

“Coming into this year, we were ready,” Wanda says. “We had built so much, and [dancers] understood that it’s about hard work, that it’s about the program and all the little wins you have along the way that nobody sees — the symbolic wins, like looking in the mirror and seeing your shoulders and saying, ‘I feel so strong!’ Or just feeling competent, replacing the ‘Oh, we can’t do that,’ with ‘Oh, we can do this.’ And we didn’t let each other down, no matter what we went through.

“There were a lot of teams that didn’t make it through [the COVID-19 pandemic]. Universities cut their funding, coaches were fired, and luckily, we were still able to go on. We kind of had something to prove to the university, to our fans and to each other, and we didn’t give up. We just worked our butts off this year. We really did, and there is no magic formula; it’s just consistency.” 

As a dancer, Wanda was a true powerhouse — small in stature, but with an effervescent personality and undeniable passion that made her larger than life on stage. She started performing tap solos at the age of 3, and even in her earliest memories, she just knew that dance was her destiny.

“When I got on the stage, I describe it like sunshine through my body,” says Wanda, a native of the Washington, DC, area, who grew up to dance for multi-national champion Towson University. She then went on to dance for the Washington Wizards of the NBA, where she also acted as team director for three seasons, and the NFL franchise now known as The Washington Football Team.

“I could be having the worst day, but they would call ‘contestant number whatever,’ and I would step on the stage, and it was like, ‘Here I am!’” Wanda recalls. “And it wasn’t the awards. Humbly, I will say that I was nationally ranked and consistently placed at regional and national competition, but that’s not why I did it. It was that there is nothing like it.”

Flash forward a few decades, and Wanda has taken her show (mostly) behind the scenes, but she’s still shining her light on everyone she meets. Now, she’s using her strong personality and passion — not to mention her 25+ years of knowledge and experience — to help the next generation of performers pursue their dreams.

“I don’t feel like you ever really ‘arrive,'” Wanda says. “People talk about self-actualization, and I don’t ever want to be at that place, but I’m really comfortable with being me, and it took me 40-plus years to get here, but I like myself, and I have done a lot of work to be where I am. I know I have a lot to contribute and I want to give back to the dance community that has helped me and that’s why I love coaching because the dance community has poured so much into me and now it’s my time to give back.”

Wanda calls herself a “Mama Coach,” which seems like the perfect moniker, given her various roles as a mentor, motivator and matriarch.

She is the owner of Premier Dance DC, a dance consulting company that helps competitive dancers strengthen their bodies and minds with an intense, dance-specific training regimen. While her coaching job at Catholic forced her to step back from judging collegiate dance championships, she still continues to adjudicate at high school, all-star and international dance competitions, including The Dance Worlds.

Her most important role, though, is Mom to two vivacious young entertainers: Adrianna, 9, and Mila, 8, who love the spotlight as much as their mom did at their age. Along with her husband, Josh, Wanda and the “Wonder Weirs,” as the family is known on social media, are a dedicated showbiz clan with agents in numerous cities and a full slate of bookings.

The family travels all over the US from their home in Stafford, VA, to appear in everything from print ads to TV commercials to Broadway productions to Kidz Bop music videos to costume catalogs. Adrianna and Mila both attended a recent Costume Gallery photoshoot in Bristol, PA, where they modeled our 2023 collection — coming soon!

When they’re not rehearsing or performing, the Weirs are self-recording audition tapes and voiceovers whenever their agency calls with a new opportunity. Adrianna and Mila also take regular acting, singing and dance lessons to keep their skills sharp.

“Typically it’s a little crazy, but it works for us, if that makes sense,” Wanda says. “It feels full to us, but it doesn’t feel stressful.”

To help manage the family’s hectic schedule, Wanda homeschools her daughters, which gives her yet another job title: teacher.

“I am with them all the time, and I am their #1 source of everything right now, which is great — but it’s also a lot of pressure, like I’ve got to have my stuff together,” Wanda says. “But I also make sure to show them that mommies don’t always have their stuff together. I tell them when I need a moment, and I encourage them to do the same. We dialogue a lot, and I think having conversations with them is so important.”

Growing up amid the pressures of competitive dance, Wanda says her own mother insisted on regular check-ins and never let Wanda off the hook when it came to expressing her true thoughts and feelings.

“She would painstakingly make me talk to her, and then eventually it became, ‘Oh my gosh, Mom! Guess what happened today?’” Wanda remembers. “And I just wanted to talk with her because she wouldn’t take ‘No,’ or those one-worded answers, and so I was able to talk through my emotions. So that’s what I do with [Adrianna and Mila]. I try to make them feel like their emotions are valid, even when they may be inappropriate. I talk to them about how we can choose a better emotion or ways to, if you’re feeling this way, it’s OK to take a timeout and come back to a shared space so that we can all get along. So we talk about all those things, big time.”

Wanda says that becoming a mom has helped to shape the way she coaches her teams. She began coaching before she was married, even beating out a long list of older, big-name veterans to become the Wizards’ director/choreographer when she was just 28, and she remembers telling her interviewers, “I can guarantee that you’ll be hard pressed to find someone else who works as hard as I do.”

She has not lost that tireless work ethic — or that self-assuredness — but over time, Wanda has learned to redefine success and set different kinds of goals.

“My younger years coaching, I coached from a very results-focused approach,” she says. “I wanted to win. I was driven. I had the tools, and I was like, ‘Let’s go after it!’ As I’ve gotten older, and mainly after I became a mother, I became a more heart-centered coach and that’s when I saw results start to happen. And by that, I mean, especially when you coach collegiate athletes…I am their ‘Mama Coach,’ and I let them know, ‘Listen, before we start one physical activity, I need to know how you are doing. I don’t want to know what you did on a test. I don’t want to know about how the routine is going. I want to know how YOU are doing.’

“I think in years past, when I was a competitive dancer, everything was about pushing through it, just squashing it down and fighting through injuries, and I don’t coach that way. I really want them to know that I care about them, and I do. My dancers become like family who leave a lasting imprint on my heart.”

While her strength and conditioning program enabled the Catholic U. dancers to elevate their physical performance, Wanda’s motherly approach to coaching and willingness to “be real” helped to strengthen their mental game. The result? A club program that, prior to Wanda coming aboard, had gone through numerous coaching changes and constant upheaval, then fought to survive through the COVID pandemic, has now established itself as a real force to be reckoned with on the national stage.

“When I came into Catholic, there was barely anyone coming to tryouts,” Wanda says. “Now, I have girls emailing, saying ‘Catholic is on my list because of the dance team.’ You talk about winning. That is, to me, we just won the grand championship!”

Her accomplishments at Catholic, on top of all her other leadership experiences over the past few decades, have left Wanda with plenty of wisdom. Asked to share some “Mama Coach” success secrets to inspire other dance educators, business women and busy moms, she offered four of her favorite “nuggets”:

  • There is more than one way to win. “The more experienced coach in me who has lived through a lot, with doors slammed, missed opportunities, gained opportunities…I’ve learned that there is not only one way to win, and there is not only one winner.”
  • You can only live one day at a time. “We can get so task- and goal-oriented that we don’t ever celebrate anything, you know? We’re just, ‘Oh that was good, but we can do better.’ Or you’re in one competition but you’re already thinking about nationals. I tell people, ‘Let’s live in the moment right now.’ It makes me chuckle sometimes when I think about the things I often stress about. I’m like, ‘Wanda, legit, you couldn’t even open a door to tomorrow if you tried, and the past is in the file cabinet, sealed!’ So, right here is the one that’s in bright lights. What we do today, it is going to affect a future day, we just haven’t seen that yet. So we have to make it count.”
  • There's only one you. “I know that sounds cliche and kitschy, but I would say, honestly, that I didn’t really compare myself to a lot of people growing up. My mom was really good at saying, ‘There is only one Wanda,’ and she taught me to work hard, but not so I can be better than you. I’m not really trying to be better than anyone. I have enough on my plate just trying to be better than myself every day, and that’s what I try to tell my team and my girls: ‘There is only one you, and you matter, no matter what happens on stage. Think about that. Be you, just keep working to be better at it.’“
  • Nobody ever gets anywhere alone. “I have a strong network, a village that is thick and deep that has really helped me get where I am today. I come from a family that is family-first and all-in, in terms of, ‘We’re going to do what it takes to help you reach your dreams.’ And that’s how I am with my girls and whoever wants me to mentor them. I’m someone who lives by that all-in approach: ‘If you need me, OK! Let’s tackle this together!’”

Motionwear would like to thank Wanda Weir for taking the time to share her experience, wisdom, and photos from her personal archive. You can follow the adventures of “The Wonder Weirs” on Instagram @the_wonder_weirs, and learn more about Premier Dance DC on Facebook @premierpomprodance and Instagram @premierdancedc.