If you took a survey of the most common goals, it would have to include these perennial New Year’s Resolution list-toppers:

  • Exercise more and lose weight
  • Stress less
  • Learn something new
  • Find romance (improve relationships/intimacy)
  • Enjoy life more

Now, who hasn’t sworn up and down once-upon-a-January-1st that you’d really do it, this year?!

If you’re reading this you’re probably a dancer. Thinking back on your dance journey, has ballroom dancing helped you reach any of those goals? Most likely, YES!

After 20+ years in the ballroom world, I’ve seen time and again that ballroom dancing can truly change lives, in each of these ways…and many more!

The funny thing is, sometimes people come in to take dance lessons, not knowing exactly why they’re there, or looking to resolve one need they have, only to find that dancing is like a tonic for the mind, body and soul.

Becoming Ginger Rogers book review

Dancers, you know EXACTLY what I’m talking about!!!

Ballroom dance was a totally new world, where I had to learn not only the moves but also the territory and the language, and do this in tandem with a partner. -Patrice Tanaka

One dancer who experienced this dance-morphasis is Patrice Tanaka, who went on to share her story in the autobiographical dance book “Becoming Ginger Rogers.”

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This book reminded me that as a dance teacher, sharing my skill of dance with others impacts them in far-reaching ways. It’s not just about getting someone to learn the box step or refining miles of Rumba walks.

We are introducing dancers to a world of beauty and grace.

Where we can explore ourselves and our artistry as much as our physicality.

A place where the simple act of touching another person and learning to move with them in unison teaches life lessons that go beyond the dance floor.

Our sparkly bronze-tanned world may look like a Vegas act to the non-dancer, but we know that through dance, both our OUTER appearance and INTERIOR selves are transformed when we dance.

Dancers like Patrice, who come into ballroom as adults and hobbyists, will certainly see their own dance journey mirroring hers. Coming from the corporate world, a high-achieving, self-made business woman, Patrice appeared to be at the top of her game.
And business-wise, she was. But inside, there was a vacancy.

It wasn’t until she began dance lessons that she put together the pieces of what was missing in her life:

  • laughter
  • joy
  • sensuality
  • sense of accomplishment
  • stress release

and even more unexpectedly, ballroom dancing helped her grow as a CEO.

Oh yes! Sure, everyone knows dancing will help you slim down (just look at practically every contestant on DWTS), and feel more comfortable socially, but the lessons you learn on the boards trickle down and out into every facet of your life.

How has dance changed YOUR life? Imagine your pre-dance self….Where you shyer? An slumpy awkward mover?

Did you feel like your creative muse was couch-bound with a bag of potato chips, rather than exploring the freedom of your expressive soul?! (that’s how I feel when I haven’t danced in a while!)

Patrice vividly paints the picture of her before and after dance-self, detailing how lessons on the floor translated into her real life.

How does her dance journey compare to your own?

 

ballroom following

 

1. Leading and Following

In competition I learned that following is not passive—it’s active.  -Patrice Tanaka

Lead and follow is a unique concept. I’m fascinated by it, really. When each partner does his/her role correctly, the results, for both the do-er and the observer, are sublime.

Non-dancers don’t understand that being a follower doesn’t mean you are being controlled by the leader. And, it doesn’t mean that the leader is a boorish dictator.
No, it’s so much more beautifully complex that that!

Over my years of teaching I’ve seen time and again powerful successful men who, on the dance floor, are afraid to assert themselves in their role as leader, and powerful successful women who find it incredibly difficult to give up their control. Finally “breaking” those habits is always the turning point for success.

The latter was the case for Patrice. She learned, though, that the role of a follower is not less important or even less powerful than the leader, just DIFFERENT.

Her newfound flexibility turned out to only help her win on the dance floor, but also in business. Had she not been open to the ideas of others and insisted on doing things herself, she would have missed out on the merger that ultimately secured her company’s future and growth.

Partnering makes us resilient, more understanding and when done right (underline, italicize, bold), reduces STRESS!
(although when you’re arguing over a connection, you won’t think so in the heat of the moment 😉

This is true in both dance and life. There have been many times in my life off the floor when I’ve actively chosen to “follow”. And that awareness has been entirely due to my dance training.

What about you? Have you taken your partnering skills beyond the ballroom?

 

2. Dressing Well & Behaving Well

The ballroom world is like a chrysalis. We go in drab and emerge with rhinestoned wings. Not only do our minds and bodies get overhauled, but often our grooming, dress and even manners evolve. It’s kind of like charm school!

Patrice shows side-by-side “before and after dance” photos in the book. Before, she looks serious, unapproachable. After, she’s much softer, warmer, happier (and thinner!)
It’s apparent that these changes ago well beyond the surface.

As her pro partner, Tony Scheppler, reminds her, dressing well and behaving well matters!
People are always watching. Whether it’s a judge who sees you berating the front desk staff or a future employer checking out the drunken selfies on your Facebook profile, how we act and present ourselves is important.

It’s definitely true for me. When I see poor sportsmanship in a professional sporting event, it’s just as much of a turn-off as seeing a dancer belittling their partner in the hallway or an ill-fitting costume.

I remember many (many!) years ago Sam Sodano, after seeing me off the floor with my second professional partner, said to me “You’re all different now. Even the way you dress off the floor. This is good.”

That’s what dancing does to us.

It revises us, edits us, makes us aware that the inside and outside are both visible and graceful.

 

dancing full out

 

3. The Success Mindset

Ever feel like you’re not getting further in your dancing? Have you stalled out and hit a plateau? Yeah, we all have. Dancers are a dedicated breed, though. Doubts are not obstacles that stop us, but rather challenges to overcome.

Patrice beautifully weaves her own business experiences with what she’s observed in the dance world, and passes on these gems of inspiration.

Living in New York City, Patrice was fortunate to have some of the best dancers in the world practicing right along side her. She noted that when they made mistakes, it wasn’t thought of as failure. Rather, it was simply part of the practice process.

Failure is not failure—it’s practice.

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” -Thomas A. Edison

The mindset shift is hands down what sets winners apart. Instead of feeling self-conscious at the studio, Patrice began to view it as a laboratory, where she could “practice failing in front of other people.” How smart!

If you are at all uncomfortable when you’re practicing at the studio, it’s time to GET OVER IT! Everyone else there is learning, too.

She goes on to note that although the top pros might get frustrated, they didn’t get mired down in negative self-talk. They just tried again!

Her nuggets of wisdom that every dancer should take to heart:

  • Spend your energy on learning, not judging (yourself or others!)
  • By experimenting with trial and error, you will advance.
  • There’s no such thing as perfect. Even the top professionals still keep learning.
  • Don’t be closed to new ideas. Resilience and flexibility can be a strategy for winning.
  • The more quickly you learn from your failures, the more quickly you…succeed.

 

4. Being Present

One of the biggest take aways Patrice learned from ballroom, was to be PRESENT in the moment. She says that learning something physically forces one to do so. You have to be aware of your body with every breath, every movement.

Do you ever feel like dancing is an escape? I think it’s exactly because of this idea. We can’t be thinking about our problems when we’re focused in the moment on which way our hip is moving, or the part of the foot we are using to take a stride. When we open up to syncing our movements with the partner and music, we have no choice but to be in the NOW.

One of Patrice’s teachers, World and U.S. Rhythm champion Emmanuel Pierre-Antoine, taught her to be present in mind, body and spirit…both in dancing and life! No excuses, just BE.

When you see your favorite dancers, that’s what we are drawn to. Their ability to be one with the partner, the music, the dance, the audience.

Fully present.

 

dancing with all of me

 

5. Are you a Dancer?

I found myself nodding my head in agreement with Patrice’s amusing anecdotes that only dancers would relate to. You know you’re a dancer when:

  • purchasing a peach colored fox stole at a vendors stall at the comp seems like a smart buy
  • hearing John DePalma’s voice snaps you into competition mode
  • you feel like your fake eyelashes are impeding your vision
  • and when all the heart, sweat, tears (and dollars!) you’ve invested in your dancing is justified when a stranger sees you on the street and asks you (as happened to Patrice):

“Are you a dancer?”

Reading Patrice’s quest to Becoming Ginger Rogers renewed my excitement in my students’ learning path as well as my own. From the start to the finish of the book, Patrice describes how what seemed at first merely like “dancing lessons”, not only transformed her into an accomplished dancer, but also transformed her business and personal life.

“Becoming Ginger Rogers” is a must for every ballroom dancer’s bookshelf!

What about you? How has dance changed you on and off the dance floor? Let us know in the comments!

Melissa Cyr

Melissa is a former National Canadian Professional Latin Finalist and U.S. Rising Star Latin Couple of the Year, and has been teaching ballroom for over 20 years. (She started very young 🙂


With her husband Erik, they are the founders of DanceSport Place and have a passion to help dancesport competitors reach their dancing goals.