From their Greenwood dance studio, 26 young dancers took the national stage and brought home nearly 30 awards after showing off their skills.

“In 18 years we’ve never decided to go to nationals,” said Suzy Shaw, instructor and owner of Emerald City Dance Explosion. “Every year we’ve qualified for nationals, but this year we had a group of kids who have been with me for 16 years, so I just wanted this for them.”

Her competition group is made up of 26 students, ranging from first grade to high school seniors. In day-to-day lessons, Shaw said the focus at ECDE isn’t on preparing students for competition — she said she’s confident her program will give students the skills they need if they want to pursue further dance education and become professional dancers. Instead, she said the focus is on making sure that dance class is something that enhances her students’ lives.

“Whether you spend five minutes, five days or five years here, do you leave this program a stronger person? That’s the question,” she said. “My group, they may not train nearly as many hours a week as some of these other dance schools, but that’s not to take anything away from the time they do spend training. I, as a director, know that we have a limited amount of time with these kids, and we have to use every breath.”

Students at ECDE are involved in school clubs and extracurricular activities as well as just living their lives, Shaw said. They spend about three hours a week training, while some of the advanced-level groups they competed against spend between 10-15 hours a week training. Still, she said the Epic Dance Showcase nationals, which were June 19-23 in Sevierville, Tennessee, were her students’ first chance to see how they performed at the national level.

Turns out, they were epic — literally. Beside taking home 17 first-place awards in various categories, three dancers cinched “photogenic” titles in the mini/petite, teen and senior categories, along with Kynslea Philcox taking home the first-place overall as a senior soloist and a judges award. Their production of Les Miserable earned the honor of “epic moment of the year,” from the judges, an award Shaw said is given out to a performance that simply stuns the judges.

Their success stunned Shaw, too.

“Who would imagine that our teensy dance studio who barely comes to class compared to some of these other studios could do all this,” she said.

Seeing her students be honored for their hard work and dedication was breathtaking, Shaw said, and brought tears to her eyes. Even still, she said competition had a greater role to play in helping hone these young dancers.

By performing for judges, she said her students got feedback from a variety of people who may notice or comment on things that she doesn’t see while in the classroom.

Shaw said these accomplishments are something all of Greenwood should be proud of. Her students have gone on to study dance at academies and schools throughout the state and beyond, and she said their hard work and talent represents Greenwood well.

Contact staff writer Damian Dominguez at 864-634-7548 or follow on Twitter @IJDDOMINGUEZ.