Though I put that career path behind me, it would be a HUGE waste of money if I didn’t get any takeaway from it. I find myself getting upset every now and then that I’ve essentially lost all my skills as a ballroom dancer, and though it may seem like it was a waste of 16 years, I definitely got some irreplaceable experience from it that benefits me every single day in the real world.
- The importance of your image. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, I live by the wise words of Oscar Wilde, “you can never be overdressed or overeducated.” The same applied in the world of ballroom dancing, whether you were on the competition floor, taking lessons at a workshop, or just attending an event. You never wanted to show up in a black dress when everyone’s gowns were covered in Swarovskis, or with your hair disheveled when everyone’s was neatly hairsprayed, nor in jeans when everyone was wearing dresses. No matter how unimportant you may have considered a certain competition, you still had to look (and perform) your absolute best, because you never knew who could have been watching.
- It was always important that my dance shoes were in immaculate condition. No stains, no wear and tear. And believe it or not (you best believe it), this applies to the real world as well. As my mother always tells me, you could be wearing rags instead of clothes, but if your purse and shoes look great, then you can look like a million bucks.
- On the topic of shoes, 16 years of ballroom dancing has also prepared me for a lifetime of wearing high heels. Whether it’s while working retail at a store that required me to wear skater dresses and stilettos for 8 hours at at time, or just for a long night of dancing and drinks, I’m a girl who can handle her heels.
- After enough competitions abroad that required waking up at the crack of dawn completely jet lagged, not only did I know how to do my own hair and makeup, but I learned how to do it efficiently. Full face of makeup? Give me 15 minutes. After enough “training”, I was able to get ready for a competition in a little over an hour – intricate hairstyle included. And these days, in a world obsessed with contour, highlighter, and all that other beauty nonsense, efficiency not only saves me time, but product as well.
- I essentially learned how to be a secretary by having to take care of absolutely everything. From every detail of planning an extended trip of workshops and competitions around the world, to organizing events to showcase our dancing to our friends in Toronto, and to keeping track of a changing schedule of practices, teaching, travelling, working out, and appointments, growing up in this industry definitely taught me how to manage not only my time, but my whole lifestyle.
- Nutrition and fitness were a huge part of the success of my career, since I needed to be slim as well has have strength to endure long hours of practice. If I wanted to look good, I had to eat healthy, if I wanted my muscles to look toned, I had to include working out in my schedule. Now that I no longer dance, I still make sure not to over-indulge in non-healthy foods, and make a point to do some sort of exercise to keep myself in shape. Not only do I look good (to my own standards), but I feel good too.
- Always arrive early. In the dance world this applied to competitions as well as lessons. Competitions required a good warmup, as well as a chance to test out the dance floor. Arriving early to lessons not only gave us time to warm up, but gained the respect of the coach we were taking a lesson with. The same applies to the real world. I’ve always made a point to arrive to interviews 10 minutes early, and made a habit of leaving my house ahead of time when heading to work or an important meeting.
- There’s something about mastering an art for so many years that forces you to start paying attention to detail. The best part? Once you start noticing the small details in one thing, you become trained to pay attention to them everywhere. Nowadays, I catch myself making sure to take care of every little detail of a blog post, a photo, even a tweet, not to mention the work I put into my studies as well as my job. I can’t begin to explain how many hours were spent in front of the mirror at the dance studio, perfecting every single detail of every single move…
- …which ties into the art of discipline that developed with so many years of practice. As research goes to show, it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something, and that was the aim, to hit that 10,000 hour mark for a given move, dance, or technique. And the same goes for the real world – the endless hours of studying to get our degrees, that time spent training to become better at our jobs, it’s all about discipline.
- Last, but certainly not the least, a sort-of career in competitive ballroom dancing has taught me the most important lesson of all. Failures will happen. Not only will they happen, but they shouldn’t be taken so seriously. There’s only so much that is worth stressing over, and once we’ve failed, all we can do is learn from it, and use it as motivation for the next time. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve gotten 2nd place or a less than desirable result at a competition, but if that’s what it took to become a world champion one time, it was well worth every failure.
So perhaps I went to university late, didn’t get the same “teenage experiences” as my peers, but I got experiences that others didn’t, ones that taught me much more than I could have ever imagined.