“It’s not WHEN you start, it’s THAT you start”-Vital Germain. Ever since I heard this quote on The Gina Pero podcast a few weeks ago, I have been pondering this discussion in my mind and really embracing what it means for me and so many other dancers/potential dancers. In case you aren’t familiar with my dance background, I started dancing at age 16 with no prior dance experience. Okay…so I had tried out a few months of ballet when I was little, but let’s just say that didn’t end so well. My life had been consumed by sports such as basketball and volleyball up until this point, but I wanted to do something different. One night I was watching Dancing With the Stars and all of a sudden I was inspired to take my first dance class; from that moment on I was hooked.
I didn’t go into the group class with the intention to fall in love with this art form and want dance to be such a huge part of my life, but that’s what happened. I just knew that somehow, I wanted to be a professional ballroom dancer. I cannot tell you how many people thought that I was crazy (including my own family). You could count the number of dancers in the small mountain town where I grew up on one hand…and there were 0 ballroom dancers within a 60 mile radius that I knew of; I pretty much had to figure it out on my own.
Since that time I have had 3 different dance coaches, I have been on two different Ballroom formation teams, competed at various competitions all over the country (won some, lost some), and fell even more in love with dancing. But let me tell you, it has not been rainbows and sunshine. It’s hard work and the dance world will constantly push you, knock you down, reject you. The thing is, it’s totally worth it. I am thankful every day for this opportunity that I have to dance and I’m striving every single day to achieve my dreams.
Getting a late start into the dance world is scary and I wish I would have had someone that was previously in my position to give me advice about starting, as well as insider tips about what comes along with this amazing, beautiful, and crazy journey as a dancer. Because there is so much to learn, this will be part 1 of 2-3 posts on this subject. Today, I hope to inspire those of you who are maybe intrigued to take your first dance class, become a professional dancer, find a new hobby for you and your significant other, or to just take that step onto the dance floor at your local Salsa club. Whatever your situation may be, I want you to see that everyone starts somewhere and that it is NEVER too late to let dance into your body and soul.
The first piece of advice that I would give someone just starting out is to chasse out of your own way (if you’re not familiar with dance terms, a chasse is a quick stepping action used in Cha-Cha). Whatever may be holding you back from taking a class, let it go. Throughout my few years of dance training, I’ve noticed that the one thing that always holds me back is myself. Fear, doubt, nerves, deprecation…it all roots back to the fact that I’m not confident in MYSELF. I’m slowly starting to realize that if we just put away all of those fears and let ourselves achieve, there is no limit to what we can accomplish. As my confidence starts to improve, I see myself doing things that I never thought I would be able to do. So bottom line here is, you do not have two left feet. Research some studios/classes in your area and just take a chance. You may have to commute once a week or something like I used to do, but I promise that the drive will be worth it.
The second thing I think is super important to realize is that there is always someone better. You will be intimidated throughout your entire dance career (however long that may be) and it’s important not to let others’ success be your demise. Yes, there are hundreds of dancers who are better than you are; this is something I am constantly making myself come to terms with. I have caught myself in lessons, group classes, or at competitions watching those around me and thinking “what the heck am I doing here?” But here’s the thing, you have something that those other dancers do not have. You are YOU. No one dances like you, performs like you, hits that line like you do….brings what YOU do to the floor. When you take the pressure off of yourself to be the best, you’ll actually see yourself becoming better because you’re doing it because you love it, not because you have something to prove.
If you don’t remember anything else from this post, I want you to remember this next part. Age, race, physical limitations, financial situation, where you live….these are just excuses that most people use to fail or give up. I have encountered multiple of these, not even as severe as many people who achieve great things deal with, and I still find myself wanting to throw in the towel just because my journey is getting a little bit harder. These things will slow you down, they will frustrate you, they will make you think that this isn’t the path for you. But I have two words for you: Misty. Copeland. Anytime I start to think that I can’t be successful because I entered the dance world too late or that I have disadvantages because of my location, finances, etc. I just think about this incredible woman. You have probably seen her on things like Nike posters or commercials but weren’t really sure who she was. Misty started dancing at her local Boys&Girls Club at age 13 which is considered a very late age to start dancing, especially as a ballerina. She was discovered by someone who was opening a ballet school and then received a full scholarship to the program because she saw something unique in Misty: raw talent and determination.
Misty’s race presented more struggles than she ever though she would encounter, but she let that motivate her instead of cripple her and she soon became the first African American woman to be a principal dancer for the American Ballet Theatre. How insanely amazing is that?! Or think about the obstacles that people like Amy Purdy have conquered. If you don’t know, Amy Purdy was a finalist on DWTS and she didn’t have legs. She became an amazing dancer while on the show. I can also remember watching a girl dance at the Ohio Star Ball Collegiate Competition a few years ago, and she only had 1 arm. Not only did she beat all the people she was against in the highest level of American Smooth, but she was an AMAZING dancer and performer. We have no excuses. We (and I’m definitely including myself here) need to adapt this mentality and use our limitations to motivate us to work that much harder and become that much better.
Something I think that we all need to incorporate into our lives as well as dancing, is moving from a place of gratitude and freedom. Think about how lucky we are to even be considering this profession or hobby. There are people that would kill for this opportunity, so let’s remember that each time we step onto the floor. It’s really hard to do this sometimes, especially in our lessons when we are trying to perfect every move and all of sudden our brain becomes a complete and total jumble and we just hate life for a second (this happens ALL THE TIME to me). The steps and technique are important for sure, don’t get me wrong, but if we move with the intention of being grateful for each moment and LOVING this amazing thing we call dance, we will not only be able to dance better, but those watching us will feel more joy as well.
I hope you have enjoyed this little Dance Chat and that you feel excited and confident about starting your dance journey, or if you have already started, remembering why you started in the first place and putting away some of those doubts (supper normal to have!) you are experiencing. So just a little recap: Chasse out of your own way, there is always someone better, make no excuses, and move from a place of gratitude and freedom. There are so many more tips that I can give you guys, so stay tuned for another part to this series. Go out there and embrace this magical, beautiful, and FUN world of dance.
Cha-Cha for now,
Ashlyn Tori <3
PS: Huge thanks to my amazing Mother for shooting these photos. She’s the best.