Dancing My Way to Success

By GGTW Co-founder Amanda Epp

I mentioned in earlier posts the importance of reflecting on life’s lessons as a means to review accomplishments and set new goals. One of my accomplishments from the past year has been finding ways to downshift and enjoy life’s moments. Those of you familiar with life in a start-up probably know how difficult downshifting can be in such a high velocity and rapidly changing environment, and I am grateful that our company’s leadership training last year included this topic.  One of our homework assignments, in fact, was to create our “identity space” by pairing an activity with a visualization.  The instructor told us to listen to a song, have a snack, and do our visualization, then repeat the same song, snack, and visualization.  He explained that this combination activity would get us in the right head space to really take on the world, (or to go get the world, as I would say!)  

As I completed the assignment, I realized I had actually practiced this technique my whole life as a dancer.  The music would put me into the right mind frame to go out on stage, and before every performance my mother would give us pixie sticks as our “magic dust.”  Between the music and my mom’s inspiring snack, I was always able to get in the zone, step onto the stage, and enjoy the moment. Because, really, after all the hours of practice, I could just lose myself in the music and rely on muscle memory for the performance. That allowed me to fully enjoy every second.   

I started to think about other ways dance has impacted my life and made me who I am today, and I discovered there are actually a lot of them! So lace up your shoes, and get ready to follow these dance-inspired steps for success.

Practice. Whether it’s a speech, an important presentation or a performance, don’t wing it! I thought I could when I auditioned for So You Think You Can Dance. I had just two eight-counts to impress the judges (which for you non-dancers out there isn’t much time).  I went for it with a bunch of leaps and turns to “impress” them, but my routine was not prepared or choreographed.  It was a hot-mess and, as you might have guessed, I did not make the show.  This hard-learned lesson? Whenever you’re doing anything for an audience (even an audience of one) you should practice so much that what you do becomes muscle memory. 

Amanda at dance rehearsal
Dance taught me to practice enough to be able to rely on muscle memory for the performance.

Be prepared. In dance, I had to always carry extra blush, lipstick, safety pins, tights, and even shoes in my bag!  Sure enough, there were many performances when I needed to dig into the extra stock, pin or glue a dress, or allow someone to borrow something.  In business, it’s the same way. Prep for meetings and do your research ahead of time, because you never know what will be thrown at you.  Also, when traveling for work, it’s a good idea to pack an extra outfit in case you have to attend an unexpected event or your plane gets cancelled. (See some other travel tips here!)

Amanda wears a borrowed costume.
When I lost my costume, I had to borrow this one from another young woman for the rest of the competition season. Good thing she was prepared for anything!

Don’t get in your head. This happens when you start to overthink what you’re doing and don’t trust your preparation. When I was dancing, every time I got in my head, I would forget the steps! I learned to calm down, take a breath, and let all that preparation be my guide to get back on track.

Don’t let drama derail you. The show Dance Moms?  Yep, that is real life.  And when you add in the dynamic of a bunch of teenage girls in one place, and girls screaming at their moms backstage, it’s easy to get sidetracked. Fortunately, all that drama never got in my way…but it could have. It’s the same way in the office. There are always office politics, gossip, even backstabbing, etc.  Ignore it, and just keep on keeping on, doing the right thing.

Always go full out. In dance, the teachers will say, “Make sure this is full out!” It means use everything you have for all the jumps, turns, and tricks, and even for the expression on your face.  In the working world, I translate this to always wearing my game face and always performing my best. People in your industry will remember you and your work ethic, so always go full out and put your best foot forward.

Amanda dances in a production of West Side Story.
That’s me on the right going all out in a production of West Side Story.

Basics matter. (Or: Sometimes you have to do what you don’t want to do in order to do what you want to do.) Not all dancers love ballet, for example. But because it teaches the foundation and basic principles of dance–like turning out, being graceful, and understanding the movement of the body–most companies will not allow their dancers to take hip-hop or other styles of dance unless they have experience taking ballet. This is the same in business. You can’t jump from being a call center rep to being the president of the company.  You need to build your foundation and learn the basics for each role along the way before you can get where you really want to be. 

The real world might not applaud for you. I remember my first big presentation at a conference. I loved it. I smiled and moved around a lot. It felt just like a performance to me, so when it was over, I expected the same applause like after one of my dances on stage. Well, that didn’t happen.  There was plenty of applause, but it wasn’t as exhilarating as how I felt after completing a dance.  That experience reminded me that just because you don’t get a “good job” or a pat on the back in the business world, it’s okay.  Keep doing your best anyway. Eventually people will notice.

Amanda presenting at a professional conference
I discovered that giving professional presentations was a lot like performing as a dancer, but with different accolades.

The show must go on. I saved the best lesson for last. Professionally, I have been involved with two start-ups, where there are ups and downs (and honestly, all over the places).  In dance, if you’re sick, your costume rips, or a prop falls, it doesn’t matter…you have to keep going.  And that’s what you do in business.  Pick yourself up and keep moving.  Learn from your mistakes for sure, pivot if you need to, but always keep going.

Articles about the planning--and postponing--of a talent show and its eventual success.
The talent show I directed in high school was postponed TWICE due to snowstorms, but we didn’t let that deter us from hitting the stage eventually!

I learned a lot from dance, but I’m sure you have lessons you’ve taken from elsewhere that you apply to your career today. Tell us about them!

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