As a professional ballroom dancer I have the luxury of meeting all kinds of interesting people through my line of work. Dancing isn’t cheap — at least if you want to have private attention, that is — and so naturally the people who continue with you are successful and able to maintain that level of investment in their lives whether it’s as casual as coming in to salsa dance once a week or training every day to be the next Pro-Am champion at a national competition.
Either way, you are always surrounded by really interesting people that are usually up to a lot. Life is never short of lessons on the dance floor.
I’ve taught Fortune 500 CEO’s, doctors, dentists, you name it. People who own their own businesses, artists, mothers, married couples and about-to-be-married couples. All walks of life each with their own story — and while each of those types of lessons surprised me the first time I had them, one thing that never seems to lose its charm are how many students I’ve had that live a world away yet still come back to dance year after year.
Enter my Canadian friend, Carrie.
I’ve taught Carrie going on her third year now and she lives way up north from me (I’m in Arizona) in a beautiful small town named Sault Ste. Marie in Ontario. She comes down every spring for about two months and during those two months I see her almost every day where we sway our hips to some of J-Lo’s Let’s Get Loud or waltz around the floor gracefully to Come Away With Me.
She’s an amazing woman, and while all my students are superstars — occasionally I get to take a break from my teaching role and learn a thing or two from them that’s really worth passing on.
A bit of context...
I admire Carrie — not because of her keeping that fire lit 10 months out of the year (there are no studios in her town in Ontario), but for her strength as a person and dedication as a mother to 4 very successful children. In all of our time spent together in those short couple of weeks every year I really got to know her and the character that has endured through the many, many challenges this woman has had in her life.
As a dance teacher you do a lot more than dancing with people — you really get to know them, their story, their struggles, their deepest hopes and dreams.
You are much more than someone that is showing them some choreography — you are a life coach, a clown, a marriage therapist, a friend, a motivator and, sometimes, a shoulder to cry on. We have many hats as any dance teacher will tell you, and the most rewarding ones to wear (at least to me) have little to no rhinestones on them.
That is, they have less to do with dancing and more to do with personal growth.
Looking back on my career I’ve taught over 10,000 lessons in the last decade or so of doing this professionally. As I move into the personal growth and transformation arena and finish out my competitive career, I realize that the moments I loved most about teaching weren’t when someone did a step more beautifully but when something inside transformed and changed that person anew — the look on their face when they conquered their first performance, or when they could do a “Rumba walk” without me holding their hand, or go through a full round of 5 Latin
Dances at a competition for their first time and begin to see a new future in their life where there previously wasn’t.
And while all these experiences have been very rewarding , it is easy to forget what it was like being a younger instructor with a lot more to learn. I believe it is good to maintain a practice of open-mindedness as we advance in skill — our ability to reconnect to the beginner’s path is absolutely essential as we journey into mastery, and if you want to grow as a teacher then you must always be able to relate to the person first starting.
We are never done learning and our students are also our greatest teachers (whether they agree to it or not) — so you never know what kind of lessons you will get when you show up to work on a particular day should you keep your eyes and ears open.