Wyonna Chenault began dancing as a 7-year-old, but she was in college when she first choreographed a performance. That team, which she was once a member of, went on to win its first championship.
“A lightbulb went off. You’re not here to be a dancer,” Chenault realized. “You’re here to make champions out of other people.”
That is what Chenault has been doing for almost 30 years. She founded Chenaulte Dancers in 1994, and her five competitive travel dance teams have racked up a wide range of honors ever since. In addition to the teams, her Trotwood studio also offers dance and recreational classes that don’t compete, starting at age 3.
But more than learning dance forms like jazz, hip hop, contemporary and more, Chenault aims to teach her students about dedication, endurance, responsibility, respect and hard work.
Some youth at the studio train to enter Stivers School for the Arts or want to dance in college. But even those who don’t walk away with memories and important skills.
“I get to be a small, developing part of tomorrow’s success stories, tomorrow’s leaders,” she said. “I get to mold and introduce through the art form of dance so many life qualities that we are hoping and praying our next generation has.”
Local poet and writer Sierra Leone nominated Chenault as a Dayton Daily News Community Gem because of the way she gives of herself and serves young people. Chenault models what competition should be, whether or not they win.
“For me, her biggest trait is her commitment to youth, her commitment to community and her commitment to service,” Leone said.
Chenault, 50, was a member of competitive dance and drill teams for more than a decade and participated on several all-star teams in nationally televised bowl games.
As the founder and choreographer of Chenaulte, her teams have won national, regional and state honors over the years, including several national grand championships. The awards are the result of hard work, she said.
“I feel like there are no shortcuts to our success,” said Chenault, of Huber Heights.
Chenault said that dancing is her passion, but she wants her legacy to be bigger than that. Her dancers learn to reassess and surpass their goals and that there is room for growth. She helps them become not only better dancers, but also a better team.
Chenault, who has coached dance teams at Wilberforce University and Sinclair Community College, also has won several awards herself, including being named director of the year by Showcase America Unlimited in both 2007 and 2017.
The Dayton native has taught hundreds of students. She has never had a business card, instead growing her family-oriented studio by word of mouth.
Although she has been asked to join and coach other programs, she enjoys working with and influencing the region’s youth, showing them the success and creativity that can be cultivated in their hometown.
“(Dayton is) strong and resilient, and we’re raising strong and resilient Daytonians,” she said. “That’s important to me.”