As a young man, I developed a passion for hip-hop dancing. It wasn’t easy because at first I felt I couldn’t dance at all! It took a great deal of concerted effort, drive, and passion to develop my skills. From my humble beginnings, I became an award-winning hip-hop dancer who has performed and taught all over the world and participated in FOX TV’s show So You Think You Can Dance.
Although I have fully transitioned to the work I do now with Assistagram, I still carry the hard-earned lessons I learned from my years in dance. The work that I put into dance also helped me develop myself as a public speaker, entrepreneur, and human being. In a sense, dance was really a journey that tested me all along the way. Those tests – and there were many – allowed me to become who I am today.
Here are the five big takeaways from dance that I hold onto every day:
- Focus erases stress – It’s really hard to carry mental and emotional stress when you need to focus on learning something. Putting your mind to one task constructively is an effective way to reduce overall stress and anxiety. Your life may be full of stressors, but focusing on one thing and doing it fully helps you to let go. And if that one thing happens to be a physical activity – like dance, working out, or even walking – you will also feel better physically after you do it. You can’t keep carrying around the stuff that’s happened in the past if you focus on the task right in front of you.
- Discipline for body and mind – Becoming a hip-hop dancer and teacher took extraordinary discipline. Sometimes I felt that I didn’t have it in me, but I was driven by a passion to succeed. Mental and physical discipline are essential to excelling in dance. Dancers train their bodies as well as their minds, and if you are not disciplined in both, it can lead to burnout, failure, or worse, to injuries. To succeed, you must train your mind to be disciplined in your practice. As Frank McCourt said in Angela’s Ashes, “You might be poor, your shoes might be broken, but your mind is a palace,” and you should treat it as such. There are any number of recommended paths for mind-body discipline; check them out here, here, and here. Experiment, test different methods out, and see what works best for you.
- Taking breaks – As a dancer, it was vital for me to step away and take a break. Your body is your main tool, and if you don’t take a break, you risk serious injury. In the same way, our minds need breaks too in order to refresh, recharge, and remain engaged. This is nothing new. People know that mental health and wellness are vital to success and productivity. Culturally, we have continually glorified burnout, but hopefully, a silver lining of the pandemic has been the greater clarity we are developing about the importance of a healthy work-life balance. Step away from the laptop and take a walk!
- Trying something different – Doing hip-hop dance was a big part of life, but I tried different styles of dance – ballet, jazz, etc. – in addition to my primary focus. It’s important to add variety to your routine and try something other than “what I do.” I promise, it’s allowed! Sports medicine doctors recommend highly-focused athletes to do multiple sports, because the variety allows their bodies to develop in a variety of ways and prevents overuse of a particular muscle group. The same holds true for our minds. Albert Einstein who proclaimed a century ago that “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” If you’re in business development, why not take an online art history class? If you’re a mathematician, why not join a Tai Chi group? It may open up whole new ways of thinking, or at the very least, allow you to take a much needed break from the every day and give that mental muscle group a rest.
- Improvisation is the spice of life – Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and that is definitely true of dance. In the dance studios of my youth, I would lean against the wall and watch other, more experienced dancers for hours. I would go home and practice and try and try again. But at a certain point I realized that part of the fun with hip-hop dance was the opportunity to experiment and improvise. In my own dance workshops, I would encourage my students to make their own movements, be creative, come up with their own steps, and be different from the dancer next to them. The same holds true in life. We are all creatures of habit, but good grief, break out of the mold and try something different every once in a while. Approach a meeting differently, try an unusual approach to a sales call, or just take a different route to work. Who knows what a difference that improvisation might make? It might turn out to be a total failure, but how bad could it be? That said, if that improvised route to work winds up getting you stuck in traffic for an hour, don’t blame me.
Along with other thinkers, I would argue that dance was just as important for my development as any class I took in school. It gave me the opportunity to grow, fail, try again, succeed, and ultimately grow into a more accomplished, more confident version of me. For me dance was a microcosm for life, and I deeply appreciate the chance I had to push myself. You may find the same benefits in other activities that require skill and that are pursued in earnest, from mountain climbing to cooking to playing the saxophone. What might you learn from your passion?