Don’t count yourself out

I was almost content to count myself out. I can’t tell you how many times in my career and in my life in general where I seriously declined to bet on myself and my own potential. A few years ago I almost made the mistake of counting myself out fully, moving on to a “safer career” and giving up on something that I truly wouldn’t be myself without. Now I am writing this so that you learn from the mistake I almost made, so that you don’t make it yourself.

I had the divine gift of being born into a home and family that supports me all the time, sees endless potential in me and always sees the best in me, even when I struggle to see it in myself. My mom literally doesn’t think there’s thing on this earth that I can’t do. If I called her tomorrow to tell her I was going to become an astronaut she’d say “Beam me up, Scotty.”

What I should have learned from all this a bit earlier in my life is that my mind is my own worst enemy when it comes to blocking my own potential. However, it was not and is not always as easy to see myself as the limitless creature my mom knows me to be.

Why is that?

I think a lot about the quote “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?” I think about it mostly because, well…you can’t fail. What is failing? Life isn’t an exam with a Scantron sheet where there are answers and grades and a pass/fail system. You can live in the woods with a small amount of money and modest possessions and pass away early in life but be indescribably happy and do great things—is that a failure? You could live an opulent life into your 90’s with a big home and a secure job but wish you had pursued a passion – is that a failure? What constitutes a failure? I think maybe the bigger or more valid fear is “what would you do if you knew you wouldn’t be labeled a failure by others?” …right?

I think we need to find the balance between using the people around us as a mirror – listening to their opinions and feedback and sifting through it for valuable information – and also remembering that ultimately, only we ourselves know our own divine purpose in this life and that we ourselves have to be the ones to trust that instinct and answer to that calling – regardless of anyone else’s feedback or opinion.

I know doing that can be incredibly difficult, especially when the opinions come from people you love and respect like your family, friends or significant other. I made the mistake of letting someone’s opinion of me and my ability color my feelings about myself and my worth and it made me so sad and miserable that I nearly got lost completely. I stifled all my own power and stopped being myself. I stopped giving to myself and therefore became empty. I almost stopped existing altogether in an attempt to feed someone else’s ego and life. I allowed that to go on. It took me a while to accept that I allowed myself to be stripped of my power that way; but it was my doing.

Why? Because truthfully, I was afraid. What if I went for it and looked stupid? Wouldn’t everyone constantly be comparing me to everyone else? Every other dancer, every other instructor? The answer was yes. I probably would look stupid occasionally, in my case maybe more like semi-daily lol and people would probably compare me to everyone else constantly- but, so what? Is that worse than giving up and not ever going after something you feel in your gut is part of your purpose on this earth? Trust me the agony of regret is worse than anything else.

About 5 years ago Millennium asked me to hop in last minute and sub a class. I remember thinking, “are they crazy?“ There is NO WAY I am ready for that. I went to talk to someone I trusted and got a confirmation of my self-deprecating belief. Basically, they also felt I was way out of my league. So, I declined to accept the opportunity to teach that day at Millennium. It would be several years before I ever had the opportunity to teach there again.

A few years later I accepted, I should say reluctantly accepted, but accepted nonetheless, an offer to teach at a different studio in LA, one with a bit lower profile. I still caught flack about not being ready and there not really being any point to me teaching my own class from this trusted opinion in my life… and I almost let that opinion stop me from going to teach my first day.

However, I had been a dance teacher since I was 7 years old. I started by teaching all my barbies the hottest moves and when that got old and I needed bodies I moved on to my uncooperative friends and sometimes my incredibly unamused cat. By 12 I started assisting with the baby class at my dance studio and then my love and passion for teaching started to grow into an obsession. I have never claimed to be the best dancer in the world, but I have a genuine love and passion for teaching, one that I know gives me a voice that can help to guide others toward their highest, truest selves as artists and hopefully also as humans.

I genuinely care about every soul that stands in the room to train with me, whether it’s a class of one person or one hundred people. I watch my students, I learn from them, I check their facial expressions to see how they’re feeling and what they need. I LOVE to see people succeed and have break-throughs and to be full of love and happiness within this art that we all feel so connected to. If I can contribute to that joy and passion in any small way, I am all about it. I take pride in being consistently prepared, knowledgable about my choreography and treating every single person in my classroom with respect. It is an honor to me that people are spending their hard earned money and valuable time to train with me, it has been since the first class that I ever taught and it will continue to be until the last one I teach.

When I stepped into the room to teach my first official class in Los Angeles, something clicked. I felt the universe shift and everything inside me that I had been stifling for so long bubbled up to the surface and I couldn’t continue to make myself small after that. My voice started to become louder and louder and I made a promise to myself that the next time Millennium called, I wouldn’t count myself out. It has been two years since I said “yes” to subbing my first class at Millennium, since I said “yes” to myself and said “yes” to the universe as it led me towards the role I know I was born to fill. Now I finally can say I have a permanent place on the faculty in this place that I once ran from, once felt unworthy of. I did a lot of work to shift my understanding of my worth and to earn the ability to accept this position. I will never take it for granted.

Nowadays my classes are full, wall to wall with students who are bursting with such positive energy. They yell and support each other, the make friends, they laugh, they go through the rough class days and the struggles but always come back guns blazing ready to tackle it again next time. I can’t explain how honored, humbled and fulfilled I am to be able to do something I love every day and to hopefully create a classroom where people feel inspired, motivated and most importantly, loved.

The universe has a funny way of betting on you when you won’t bet on yourself. When you’re clinging to a security blanket (be it a person, addiction, bad habit, etc.) and hiding from your purpose the universe will find a way to set that security blanket on fire to try to redirect you toward your path. This is why we need to trust that oftentimes a relationship ending, being let go from a job, falling ill – all things that seem like losses- can be important steps toward your greatest win. The process doesn’t always look pretty but sometimes it is necessary to strip away the comfort of a toxic connection or something that is hindering you from truly reaching your highest path in order to create room for new blessings to blossom.

Let us not get caught up comparing ourselves to others. Let us not get caught up in the negative or limiting things people may say about or to us or in worry about being labeled a “failure.” Instead, let us flourish in the opinions of those who appreciate us and who see the unyielding power within us. May we be lucky enough to find someone that sees us the way my mom sees me and if not, may we ALWAYS be that person for ourselves. My promise to you, is if you ever step inside my classroom, I will be that person for you. The one who sees your potential and never lets you count yourself out. ❤

The Youtube Dance Debate| and why I am Pro YouTube for Dancers

Lately, whether or not Youtube is a valuable or legitimate way to showcase your work as a dancer or choreographer has become a point of contention in the dance industry. Everyone has an opinion on it and there seems to be a lot of hostility towards it. Some people feel that Youtube is something like a “get-rich quick” scheme for dancers or a way to achieve some type of fame that your talent or hustle doesn’t back up. While others love Youtube and think its a vital tool in our changing industry.

My personal Youtube is not a big deal and I occasionally post videos on it here and there. However, I constantly appear in videos for other choreographers and here is my stance on why I am pro-Youtube and don’t think its something to be hated in the dance world.

First of all, I have seen FIRSTHAND that becoming a “Youtube sensation” doesn’t happen overnight. It takes years of working hours a day, editing, being knowledgable about marketing and monetization. Its not something to squawk at for someone to build a following on social media. It really takes a lot of hard work- and guts! Posting something on youtube with the comment section open means that anyone is open to comment anything they’d like. You may have spent two days choreographing a routine, 3 days training it and 30 hours editing the video so Dave from Kentucky can say, “you look a hot a mess,” or “this sucks.”

Youtube offers dancers and choreographers something they have never had before- their own DIRECT platform to the AUDIENCE. The fact is, the people watching Youtube are the reason we dance! We dance to entertain the general public- These are the people watching the Target commercials, buying the tickets to the Beyonce concert, watching the new J.Lo video on Vevo. Its important for other dancers/artists to respect your work- yes. But its also important that your work is relatable, inspirational and entertaining to the masses. Youtube is a great way for non-dancers to access your work, weigh in with their opinion and for you to market test your product. In our industry we work our asses off and then go into an audition for an old man in a suit that works for a high power company that doesn’t dance. Even when you do audition for a choreographer, everyone knows the choreographer has A say, but not the final say. Mostly we are judged and hired by people who know very little about dance and are casting directors or executives at big corporations. Thats what makes Youtube Phenomenal.

You can put YOUR work and your vision out there- unaltered – and have it viewed by people who love dance and who are dancers themselves. I’ve worked on countless projects where the choreographer and dancers have to compromise their original ideas for what works better with the artists quality of movement, what the creative director wants, what the budget allows, what the network wants and a million other reasons. All that is fine of course- but isn’t it nice to dance however you want without having to answer to ANYONE?

As a dancer and teacher I LOVE the fact that our videos can reach and inspire young dancers in small towns in the US or other countries that may not have access to a regular dance education. They can see what we are up to, decide if they might like to come visit LA, or pursue dance professionally themselves. Sometimes people say our videos made them enroll in local hip hop classes and we love to hear that! We support the arts! If we can inspire people to get up and dance in any way, shape or form that is success and for me thats the point. When we put up tutorials, we allow people from anywhere in the world to have access to dance training. A lot of people are hindered by finances and can’t afford to take classes or train as much as they like and we have found a way to circumvent that problem and help dancers with a desire to learn! I came from a family with a moderate income and I know it would have helped me immensely to have choreographers teaching me to dance for free on my computer screen.

For me, putting our dance videos out on YouTube is a way to give back to dancers everywhere and to engage them. To say, “hey, here’s what we are doing, what do you think?” To make people think, “you know what, maybe I can do that too…”. Lastly, seeing yourself on video from dance class and allowing that video to be open to criticism, to me, makes sense and furthers my training. It makes me not take class casually or lightly. I take class to train for the real world, where in auditions you have one hour to learn a piece and perform it and get feedback. YouTube class videos are much the same. Class youtube videos are optional, no one has to be put up that doesn’t want to and I personally think they offer such a great tool. I can see myself dance next to my peers and get a real idea of what I look like, what I am doing right and what I am doing wrong. Sometimes people comment things on the video I didn’t even think of or realize I was doing.

In short, I think YouTube is fabulous and I think its high time dancers had their own platform to dance as they’d like to- unhindered. I think its our job to reach out to other dancers not just in our local community, but all over the world and share our art- and with YouTube we can finally do that. YouTube is a step forward for artists. As dancers, what we need to stop doing, is attacking each other for our choices and differences. Love, support, accept and inspire ❤

Lights, Camera, Awkward…

Matt and I had a photo shoot this morning and we were going for “dance-shots”… whatever that means. More often than I care to admit I have had people ask for photos where you can tell I am a dancer… and short of doing a kick or a jump- communicating dance through a still pose is more difficult than you might think.

We met with a photographer that we found on craigslist and she was very nice… but working with someone new is always challenging. She doesn’t know my movement quality and I don’t know her shooting style so we “danced around” (for lack of a better term) awkwardly for the first thirty minutes like two teenagers trying to figure out their first kiss.. “should I tilt my head like this?”  “put your hand here…” ” like this?” “yes, now stick out your chin and arch your back…” ay yi yi.

After about 40 minutes we got into the swing of things and we were jumpin and krumpin for our lives. Hopefully, we got some great shots in there. The best way to communicate dance in a photograph is to stick with basic moves from your style and then “step into them”… have your photographer time it so as to capture the image at the biggest moment of your movement and then try again until you capture a winner. Don’t be shy to ask the photographer to preview some of the shots on the camera screen; not after every shot but every once in a while check in on what your body looks like and how you should adjust your angle or facial expression!

Should you take a chance with a photographer or anyone offering a service on craigslist? My short answer, based solely on my first experience with it today, is if its free- YES… If you have to pay for it- not so much. Of course make sure its daylight, in public and you’ve got a buddy and some mace 😉

About the blog

My name is Dana and I am a professional dancer and choreographer chasing my dreams in Hollywood. I am originally from Brooklyn NY (hence the hoodtohollywood) and though my physical address has changed a lot of my personality is still very East coast and thus out of place in this hyper-west coast atmosphere. I am engaged to the love of my life and in the process planning our wedding.

The purpose of this blog is to share my interesting stories and observations about being an entertainer in this cut-throat, and as I see it, often comical, industry; To tell you how I hold on to my temper, my sanity and my patience in a place that tests all three on a daily basis; and to share advice and anecdotes with you about how I choose clothes, prepare for photo shoots, what its like to travel the world, how I stay healthy and fit, how I train; what I am cooking and how I do it all on a budget. I want to show you the world through my very personal lens and explain how I can put a positive spin on just about anything.

I am a free spirit and I take calculated risks. I live life as it comes at me and never let a day go wasted or unlived. I believe in beauty and the enormous power we all have within us. I believe positivity is the answer. I believe in love and in dreams and in the dedication, focus and hard work it takes to make those dreams your reality. There is no such thing as impossible and I am living proof.