One decision can change your life

By Marianne Renner, Leadership  Coach, Author, Speaker

Once upon a time

there was a group of kids who liked to hang out.

You couldn’t categorize them exactly. They weren’t “the athletes.” They weren’t “the dancers.” They weren’t “the cheerleaders,” or the “stars of the school play.”

They came from all walks of life. All ages. All backgrounds.

They connected around one magnetic bond: a magnificent obsession for hip hop dance.

In a Midwest working class community in the 1990s, the term “hip hop” was not a household name. Most people didn’t know what it meant.

The kids knew. They knew.

They somehow found their way to a white girl teaching hip hop at the local YWCA.

It wasn’t exactly the glamorous scene found in the Mtv music videos of the day.

But one thing remained true – that magnificent obsession for hip hop dance. Some call it passion. Some call it purpose. I call it a moment of clarity that rose from the chaos.

These kids were no strangers to chaos. Even as children, many already had lost love ones to gang violence in our neighborhoods.

In those days, kids in our community fell into 2 categories: you either lost someone to gang violence, or you knew someone who did.

Each week our group of kids escaped their chaotic world and slipped into the clarity found in their magnificent obsession.

On any given day, they danced. On exceptional days, they showed up for a local parade or small fundraising event to shine their magnificent obsession on small audiences.

The invitation.

On one particular day, they were invited to compete in the National Junior Olympics. This prestigious event rolled out a new category called “Dance Sport.”


The National Junior Olympics was for real athletes. Names like Shaquille O’Neal, track legends Carl Lewis and Jackie-Joyner Kersee- those names had competed in the National Junior Olympics – the best of the best!

Our kids, many of them, had never taken a formal dance class. Some had no background in sports.

They weren’t “the best of the best.”

They would be competing against kids from across the country who had every privilege money could buy – kids who took private lessons all their lives, who studied in elite dance studios with the most professionally trained instructors.

These kids didn’t have the most professionally trained instructors. They had me, a coach with no dance background and never played sports. A white girl teaching hip hop at the local YWCA.

With those odds, why even bother? Why risk being laughed at, defeated, or even humiliated?

They made one decision that changed the game.

They said “yes.”

It was time to get to work.

A summer of blisters and bruises ensued.

In an unairconditioned, second-floor room of an old school building, they practiced. And they practiced.

Repeating the same 8-count steps over and over.

Replaying the same 8 seconds of a Run DMC/Sugar Hill Gang remix.

Wake up early.

Stay up late.


…Do it again.”

At times it was boring. At times it was hot. At times, they were tired.

But their magnificent obsession carried them through.

It was that simple. It was that clear.

The big day finally came.

We hopped on a plane and flew off to West Virginia.  When we entered the auditorium, there were dancers as far as the eye could see.

These were real athletes!

With their muscle-toned bodies, they glided across the floor. Every head held high; every chest stood tall. 

Dazzling sequins and glittered costumes reflected off the bright lights. Matching pony-tails bobbed, and false lashes fluttered around the room.  

Here we come. Off the Ground Dance Troupe from Aurora, Illinois.

We ambled in with that hip hop swagger, dressed in our red soccer jersey’s and black swishy pants. You remember swishy pants. When you walk, they go “swish, swish.” Now remember, this was all very cool in the mid ‘90s!

Finally, it was our turn. The announcer called out:  “Off the Ground Dance Troupe.” That’s us!

The kids took the stage.

My big prayer was to just blend in. That was our big goal. THAT was the seemingly impossible. Let us not be last!


The music blared, off they went, stomping, clapping, hollering with an electricity that filled the room.  

For the first time in the entire competition, the whole audience was on its feet! All the other dancers, all the parents: shouting and whistling for OUR KIDS! There was not a person in that auditorium sitting down or sitting still.

As the kids walked off the stage, I saw the look on their faces of satisfaction, self-worth and accomplishment.

I knew they had achieved their goal.

They had been invited to face the seemingly impossible: to compete in the National Junior Olympics.

They made one decision. They said “yes” to the seemingly impossible.

Then came the big moment. At the end of the day, the judges called out over the loud speakers:



The kids rushed the stage. Their heads held high. Every chest stood tall.

I watched the judges place those red-white and blue ribbons around their necks with those huge, gold medals dangling off the ends.

In that moment, I realized that it was not their hard work alone that won those gold medals. Of course, they did work very hard. But so did a lot of other kids.

They won that competition because of one decision.

One “yes” is all it takes.

Never once did it even enter their minds to think about the kids from across the country with every privilege money could buy. Never once did they consider their lack of formal dance training or study of proper technique.

Never once did they think about the “seemingly impossible.”

They saw possibilities. They saw opportunities.

Now it’s your turn.

What are you saying “no” to?

Are you thinking, “I don’t have the right degree, I’m too old, or I’m too young?”

What’s your magnificent obsession, your purpose?

It’s time to say “yes.”

1998 National Junior Olympic Gold Medal Champions, Off the Ground Dance Troupe, Aurora, IL

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