The Girl With the Tree Tattoo - Katie Flashner

Samantha StoutOctober 14, 2020Ballroom Chat: Episode #26
katie flashner ballroom chat

Katie Flashner discusses her experiences as a Pro-Am Smooth competitor and her blog, The Girl with the Tree Tattoo. Katie and Samantha discuss the difficulties in navigating the teacher-student relationship, the perception of dancing tattooed, the benefits of solo practice, and how to find motivation at the finish line.

Katie Flashner is the author behind The Girl with the Tree Tattoo blog, as well at the Dance Diaries and The Solo Practice Guide for Ballroom Dancing. She also has won numerous awards as a Pro-Am competitor in American Smooth.

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Show Notes

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Episode Transcript

Samantha: Welcome back to another episode of Ballroom Chat. I'm your host, Samantha with Love Live Dance. Today. I am joined by Katie Flashner. She is better known by her online name, the Girl with the Tree Tattoo. She writes a blog by that name, the Girl with the Tree Tattoo, which details her journey as a Pro-Am dance student.

So, I got to talk with her about a bunch of topics and, life lessons that she has learned along the way, she's also a published author. And for that reason, she has chosen to partner with us to help to support the podcast. So, I will talk a little bit more about that later at the very end of the episode.

So, for right now, let's just jump right into our conversation with the Girl with the Tree Tattoo. Well, thank you, Katie so much for being a guest on today's podcast. Katie: Thank you for having me. I'm excited to be here.

Samantha: So, I mentioned that you are also known or more well known, I guess, by the moniker, the Girl with the Tree Tattoo. So, tell me, I want to get into the blog, but first let's start off with, how you came across that name and how you got into ballroom dancing.

Katie: Sure. they're kind of intertwined stories, so I'll just go chronologically. I started ballroom dancing regularly in 2012. So, I'm going on eight years now. A, friend that I worked with had one of her friends had introduced her to, to the dance studio and my friend came back to me and "Oh, you have to check this out. This is right up your alley." Cause she knew I loved to go out to you know, nightclubs and bars, just, you know, and just dance to whatever music was playing. So, I went to a couple practice parties and then some group classes. And then finally, toward the end of the year, I got my first private lesson package.

And just really, I was all in, you know, like so many other people, you know, they get, you get bit by the ballroom bug. And I was just, I was all in. I was going to like all the group classes and all the practice parties. I loved it. It felt like I finally found the place where, where I belonged, you know, like, "ah, this is what I was meant to do", you know?

So, a side effect of really diving into ballroom dancing was my creative side like woke up with a vengeance. And ever since I was a little kid, I was always, I was, I love to write. I was big into creative writing. I love making up stories, but you know, as I went through school and young adulthood and after graduating college, I really got stuck in that daily grind.

You know, you go to work and you pay your bills and, you know, go do something on the weekend and that repeat rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat. And so, I hadn't, hadn't done any creative writing in years and I had, I actually have two Celtic knot tattoos on, on my wrist that I've gotten. I had gotten in college and I always had this idea of a tree tattoo.

I had this tree of life necklace, and when I first got it, I was like, Oh, like, I want that on my body. I wanted; I knew I wanted it on my body. And I always went back and forth as far as, you know, the size and the placement and colors and design, you know, all those details. And eventually it just got put on the back burner in my mind until ballroom dancing. Cause my creative side just was like, let's, you know, like let's create. So, I started, I started blogging. I hadn't created the Girl with the Tree Tattoo yet, but I started another blog, and I was writing again, and this tree tattoo idea was like demanding attention. And so finally I had a different friend at work, was also a visual artist.

And so, I told her, I gave her a bunch of images and the different aspects of the tattoo that I wanted to include and had her sketch out the whole, the whole thing. And, and her sketch is what I brought to the tattoo artists that ultimately ended up doing the tree, you know, covering my entire back. so, once I did get the tattoo, then it was, I think it was within a couple years of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" series was, was really popular.

And so, a couple of people at the studio were like, "Oh, you're like the girl at the tree tattoo instead of the dragon tattoo". And I'm like, "I like this sound of that. I like that! We're going with that". I like it. I'm owning it. So, I switched, switched my blog over to The Girl with the Tree Tattoo and just really embraced that, you know, that whole identity.

Samantha: That's awesome. So at the point that you go from social dancing to group classes, then to private lessons and you have your first private package, how long before you decide, you know what, let's go ahead and give this competition thing a try?

Katie: Sure. it was, let's see. So, end of 2012 is when I started the private lessons, I had had this, you know, like childhood dream of dancing on stage. I actually done a couple of years when I was six, seven, maybe eight years old. I was in a dance school and we did ballet, jazz, tap, all basic stuff, but I had done a couple of dance recitals and then my family moved across country. And I remember my mom asking me, I was like eight years old, but I remember my mom asking me if I wanted to keep dancing, but I was super shy as a kid, and I was so scared of like, I was terrified to start at a new dance studio and have to like meet all these new kids.

And so, I told her, no, I didn't want to dance anymore. That's probably like my only regret in life is that I let my fear keep me from doing what I really loved. so, so once I got into ballroom the first performance aspect that I was introduced to was the showcase, you know, the studio showcases and I had seen, they did a winter showcase in January and I went to watch it and I'm like, "wow. Can anybody do that? Can I do that? Am I good enough?" You know, I'm thinking I have to like audition and like, prove my skill. Like, no, you just have to pay the money and pick a song.

Samantha: You just have to tell your instructor. You want to do it.

Katie: Just tell your teacher, you want to do it.

So that was the first thing that I did and I did a showcase and performed it and it was like, you know, it just, it felt like I had broken through into a new level of who I was. and then I think it was, gosh, was it that, because that was 2013. I think it was that same year. Shortly after that showcase my instructor at the time was taking a few of his students to a local competition and they're like, "Oh, so like, you know, come and watch, you know, come check this out."

So, so again, it was similar to the showcase where I saw it and I'm like, I want to do that. It was the same thing. I went to the competition and I sat on the sidelines. I'm like, okay, this is where I belong. This is my niche right here, the con the competition. I'm like, that's where I want to be. but I kind of went, I went through, I had all this, this self-doubt and like major self-confidence issues.

And so, I was watching, and I mean, you know, it was, it was bronze level, but I was still, it was watching these women on the floor and I just immediately. I started telling myself. I'm not, I'm not good enough. I'm not pretty enough. I don't have enough money. Like I keep telling myself all the reasons I'm never going to be able to do this.

And I shared those feelings with my instructor. You know, we were back in the studio with my next lesson. He's like, you know, and he kind of like shrugged and like, kind of like, "Oh, well, well, let's get back to what we're working on." And it wasn't until I switched to. The instructor that I'm still with today. we just had this month, September marks, our seven-year anniversary actually.

Cause I started working with him in 2013. he, he was very much all about setting the goals. And so, he's like, if you want to compete, then that's what we're going to do. And he's like, we're just going to pick a competition and we're going to work toward it. You are absolutely good enough, pretty enough, like don't like, like forget those things, the money, like we just, we set a goal and if you don't have the finances and then we just, there's always another competition.

And so, he really kind of opened the door is like, yes, like you're allowed to walk through this door. Absolutely. so that's how I kind of transitioned, where I went, you know, social dancing, and then tried the, the studio showcases to get that taste of performance, and then was exposed to the competitive world where it was like, this is like all stakes, you know, go full out.

And I'm like, yes, this is me. Let's do this.

Samantha: Yeah. So, I was going through your blog. And I noticed that one of the earliest, entries or one of the earliest posts that you had was talking about the Pro-Am relationship. and you alluded to a little bit about the difference that you had with your first instructor versus the instructor that you've been with now for seven years.

I want to talk a little bit more about that from the student perspective. because now on the instructor side of things, I, I understood a lot of what you talked about in that post, from your teacher's mindset. You just mentioned that your first instructor, you kind of brought up these concerns about, I want to do competitions, but I, but these are all of the hurdles and the response was "all right. Well, we'll just ignore that, and we'll keep doing what we're doing." And then the teacher that you ultimately found your place with said, "okay, let's break down those hurdles. And let's. Let's set some goals." So, what has your experience been from a student perspective with those differing relationships with your instructors and how have you navigated to find the successful relationship now that's lasted so long?

Katie: Yeah. gosh, where to start? I feel like the, the relationship between a ballroom student and their teacher has to be like, it can be the greatest relationship, like the most amazing partnership that you could ever experience, or it could be a complete disaster that leaves you heartbroken and distraught.

Cause it really. It's weird, right? Because you have this professional relationship, you know, the teacher is providing a service that the student is paying for. It's a business relationship, but it's also extremely intimate because simply because of the physical contact. You know, you don't, you don't, you know, like if you're smooth or standard, you don't press your chest up against somebody else unless they're family or a spouse, or, you know, like there's no other place, you know, in life that you have that, that level of that close contact and that level of intimacy, and it requires a tremendous amount of trust.

And, you know, and then you, you could, Oh, I could go on forever, but you know, you could get into the, the age differences where you have, you know, students who are old enough to be the gram, you know, the grandparent of the teacher, but they're learning from the teacher. The teacher is the authority of that relationship, but, you know, and then it's like, you're doing Latin you're, you know, the teachers trying to tell you to do a sexy Rumba.

It's like, how do I like dance sexy with this little boy, that could be my grandchild? There's all of these, all of these other issues, the like emotional and mental factors that play into the relationship that goes so far beyond just learning to dance and it's, it can get really messy and complicated to navigate.

If you don't. If you don't have any kind of guide or if your teacher isn't as aware of those potential complications. You know, I don't want to speak bad, you know, like speak poorly of anybody, but I, you know, I can definitely see, I think of look at my first teacher versus the teacher I'm with now, the level of to be Frank, the level of emotional maturity is much higher in my, you know, the teacher I'm with now, and then there's also the difference in the level of commitment. You know, my first instructor, he was also going through schooling to follow a different career path. Dance was kind of a right now career, you know, more of a job than a career for him, whereas my teacher now is, you know, in it, I mean he just, just this year, he and his wife opened their own, Fred Astaire franchise. They're studio owners now. and he's also, my second teacher also competed professionally. So, he did, you know, the student competitions and then he also competed with his professional partner and his wife, now wife.

So, I think that there is that level of commitment level of maturity that really makes a difference in the experience that me as a student has. because especially in the beginning, I mean nobody explains this to you, you know, you walk into, you walk into a studio and you just think you're going to learn to dance.

And, you know, you buy, you know, you buy your lessons and you go to your lessons and, and you're completely unprepared for the number of like deep set fears and insecurities that you have to face, especially if you're pushing yourself to perform or to compete. You know, that's where the nuances and the quality become, there's more of a demand for it, you know? And so, so you can't just, have like a safe, you know, safe space between where you're just kind of like, you know, doing simple boxes around, you know, around the studio. You know, you really have to get to that point where the two people are becoming one couple, so you can move as one on the floor.

So. Yeah, I just, there was definitely, you know, there was, there was a lot of hurt feelings and tears on my part because you know, our partnership with my first teacher, it didn't end well. And because I was all new to it, I didn't understand why. You know, I didn't understand what was, you know, what was, what was going on because I had no idea what.

Where I was like, let alone how to navigate it. You know, I was dropped in the middle of this ocean and I couldn't tell you if it was the Atlantic or the Pacific let alone, where's the nearest shore was.

Samantha: Right, right.

Katie: So, that's why I wrote that post as like one of the first posts on the blog, because as I talked to other people about their experiences with their instructors, just trying to understand like, I like, I thought I was just learning to dance.

What is going on here? You know, it really became clear that a lot of people have gone through similar breakups. Cause this is what they are. And when they feel like, you know, they feel like, you know, like it's because of that, there's like that intimate aspect. It feels like a breakup. Like you had a relationship with somebody.

So, I just, I didn't want, whoever I could reach to give them a little guidance, a little heads up that this isn't, you know, this isn't a bad thing. This is just part, this is part of the experience, but you know, if you're aware ahead of time, then you're a little better prepared and then you can move through when conflicts arise, you know, or confusion, misunderstandings arise, then you can, you can move through them without being, you know, just completely blindsided by something.

Samantha: No, absolutely. I, I would echo that in saying that once you're inside the ballroom dance world. Once you, once you've kind of figured out how to paddle and navigate the current, then suddenly there are infinite resources and infinite community sharing that happens where we're all like, "Oh, did you experience this?" "Yes. I also experienced this." "Okay. How did you solve X, Y, and Z?" I do think you're correct in saying that there is a, there is a gap between folks that are wanting to come into ballroom dance and then the reality of ballroom dancing. And, and how do we as a community bridge that gap and be very clear and clear and upfront with folks that are interested in it, what it, what it really is and what the different avenues and venues are.

Katie: It’s a challenge, right? Because you know, part of it I'm like people just, why are people talking about this stuff? And I think part of it is that the balance of it's a business, and so the typical business model for a dance studio is just to like provide this fantasy world for people to come into and escape, you know, cause that's what brings a lot of people into ballroom is that escape from the, you know, your real life, but there are humans managing this fantasy world, so that means things are going to get rough. You know, things are going to go wrong. And then the bubbles burst, the rose colored glasses come off and you end up, you know, I've heard stories from a lot of students that they ended up very hurt and you know, if the studio had been not so concerned about maintaining that fantasy world, but just been a little more you know, honest, you know, you know, just a little more open, you know? Cause it feels like they try to like to keep that curtain, you know, the wizard behind the curtain, like keep him hidden. It's like, like, no, just like, you know, be a little more open and honest, transparent about like, this is, you know, this is how things work.

I feel like a lot of them, you know, those stories that I've been told could have been a lot less impactful. It wouldn't have been such a big deal if there had just been more of that open communication. but I think at least from what I've stories, I've heard, it's a lot of just trying to maintain that fantasy.

And, you know, there's like, you know, there's the behind the scenes and behind the curtain that like students are not allowed to see and don't show them that, but it's like, why? Like we know our teachers are human. Like. Like it's okay if they like are eating lunch, you know, whatever, whatever the case may be. but so, I think, you know, and it's a delicate balance to strike, but there could definitely, you know, there could definitely be some improvements in that area.

Samantha: Absolutely, absolutely. Well, and I feel like, at least from my perspective, making the transition from student to instructor, I felt like they were three of those curtains that studios hide behind. The first is just the cost associated with what it really means to ballroom dance.

And then the second is your instructors are not all powerful, all knowing, all correct instructors. We're, we are students too. We're learning and growing, and we make mistakes, and it, we are just as much on this process and journey as our students are. and then the third is, it is at the end of the day, a business. It's a business of passion.

It's a business of love. It's I don't think you're successful as an instructor or as a student, if you aren't motivated intrinsically to be a part of the industry, but it is at the end of the day in industry. and I think the struggle that I know I have had on both sides of it is, when do you pull that curtain back?

And how much of the curtain do you pull back? what, what is your take on that? I know, over the years you have written about budgeting for ballroom, you've written about your competition experience. You've written about your, your own, struggles with finding motivation and retailoring motivation. So how have you navigated that?

And how's. How early, or how often do you want those curtains to be pulled back for students?

Katie: It's, navigating the whole experience is definitely a lot of trial and error. Just like with dance, right? You figure out 50 ways to do it wrong and then you figure out the correct way or the way that feels right for you.

I have, as far as. You know, the curtains I learned, I, trying to think about how I want to say it. It's, it's almost a matter of learning to manage my expectations within a reasonable frame. because you know, with like with my first teacher, I thought we were becoming great friends. Cause we got along so well, we laughed together, and we liked the same kind of jokes and you know, like, you know, "Oh, you like Lord of the Rings?

I like Lord of the Rings!". We both had tattoos. There was, you know, in a normal scenario. Oh, like I found a new friend who likes the same things I like. We both like to dance, you know? So, I'm thinking, you know, this is, this is start of great friendship. This is so cool. Like I'm making student friends and I'm making teacher friends and, you know, and then when the whole thing fell apart in the end, it was very much like, no, you're, you're just a student and, you know. So, but that's, it's part of the fantasy, right?

Because a new student comes in and the teachers of course want to give them the best experience possible so that they enjoy themselves. But also, that they'll come back and continue buying more lessons. I mean, that's, that's the business part, right? There's no, you know, no shame there. but the methods can get, you know, really play with the students' emotions and the students' expectations. Because if you're fawning over somebody for 45 minutes straight, and then, you know, as soon as the clock hits time, you like completely ignore them.

You know, or if you happen to, you know, you happen to see your teacher on a break and they, they don't even acknowledge you, but then five minutes later, when it's your lesson time, you know, like all attention's on you, it's it messes with your head and, you know, cause you don't, cause you don't have a consistent behavior to build it, you know, to the establish the expectations. so through the trial and error of my own experiences, you know, I, I learned, you know, I've learned to, to, to ma you know, just maintain and manage my, my own expectations. And, and I do even today, I have to have to kind of, you know, remind myself because, I mean, my current teacher he's been there for, you know, he's been there for me as I was going through my divorce, you know, I've gone. It, you know, went through a period of depression as my marriage was falling apart. He's been there for me as I literally had panic attacks over an upcoming competition.

I mean, we, you know, we've had conversations, you know, and he's been there with me as I've gone through really like deep emotional shit. And so, but at the same time, you know, he's not my best friend that I hang out with all the time. He's my, he's my instructor and he's my dance partner. I treasure that partnership.

I truly do, but, but it's different from someone else, you know, like the best friend that I pour my heart out to, you know, over a glass of wine or, you know, or a family that supports me through, you know, a significant life change. there's still a tremendous level of support, but there are also limitations because there is that business partner, you know, there is that business relationship aspect, you know. And if I, something happened, and I couldn't afford to do lessons anymore. I'm sure we keep in touch, but I'm not going to call him up if something terrible happens and I just need to talk to somebody, you know, you won't be in, and I wouldn't expect him to be available to me, you know, in that situation, if I was no longer his student, if you know, if that makes sense.

Samantha: Yeah.

Katie: So. And I know that there are students and teachers who, who are friends outside of the studio, they hang out, you know, and it's not just hanging out at a competition because the teacher's being paid to do it. You know, they honestly have a relationship, you know, friend relationship or they build a closer relationship outside of the dance partnership, but I think more often people, the students can fall into expecting that when that's not the reality. And that doesn't mean reality is bad, then you know, it just, it's just different.

Samantha: Yes. And, and I would say the relationship between students and instructors obviously differs from person to person, from instructor to instructor, from studio to studio, and where that boundary line is changes and develops over the years.

Talking a little bit about kind of the fantasy element of it. I think you've been pretty open and honest that you were taught or, or were, were cautioned about a harsh reality of the ballroom world, and luckily kind of showed that it was a complete fallacy and nothing to be concerned about, which is the tattoo on your back. I want, I want to talk a little bit about the initial conversation that you had with your instructor or with the people, in your studio sphere about the decision to go ahead and compete and to wear an open back dress. And then how much in your experience appearance is weighed against performance when it comes to competitive dance.

Katie: Sure. so, my tattoo, I'd started getting the tattoo done a few months, not a few months, just a month or two before my very first competition. And it wasn't going to be finished for that first competition. So, I'd already decided I would, you know, we had figured out a rental dress that would work for me.

It had a little bit of an open back, but I was like, I'll cover my tattoo with makeup. But then after that, you know, all bets are off, I'm showing off my tattoo once it's completed. It was actually another student of, of my teacher's that came to him. And was like, you "need to talk to her about this. You know, they're not going to like it, you know, if she goes out there with the tattoo." And so, I come into this studio for my lesson and they're both there. They're like, you know, sit me down. And I really respect my, my teacher for how he handled it, because he still left it up. You left it as my choice, you know, he laid out the reality. He said, you know, some of the judges are very traditional.

They're not going to like seeing a tattoo on your back. And. Not, you know, not that anybody would necessarily admit this directly, but they could mark you down for it. And he said, I just want you to be aware because I don't want you to get hurt if you feel like you dance really well and your results don't, don't reflect that.

And, my response was, you know, I'm showing off my tattoo, like I'm doing it, because it was very much, I've always maintained that I'm going to go out on the dance floor and perform. I'm going to go out there as, as all of me. It's not, it's not going to be just half of me, you know, I'm not going to hide any part of who I am because when I'm on the dance floor and performing that's when I feel most like myself, I feel more connected to my true self when I'm, when I'm out there dancing.

So, it doesn't make sense to then hide part of who I am while I'm out there. And at the same time, I did acknowledge, recognize that the ballroom world does have that traditional aspect. There is a certain idea of what a ballroom dancer looks like. And so, my, my goal, and it's still to this day, my goal was always to be the best representation of a ballroom dancer that I could be as myself.

So that is kind of, you know, I kind of like picture it in my head of me sitting across from the table, you know, sitting across the table from the ballroom dance industry as a whole and saying look, I know I'm a little bit different, maybe a lot different than what you normally see and welcome into your world.

But if you welcome me into your world, if you let me be me. I will be the absolute best representation of you that I can. And so for me, it felt like, you know, there's a mutual exchange or mutual request of respect, you know, I'm not going to go out and rock the boat for the sake of rocking the boat. You know, there's purpose.

There's meaning behind what I do. I'm not, you know, I don't go out with my tattoos showing to just shake things up or to bother people, you know, or to, you know, make a mockery of anything because I care about ballroom too much to do that. so, and actually for the most part of it, as I've gone through, you know, these years of competing.

I mean most, almost all of my competitions I've landed in the top three. Like if we look at, you know, like mainly the scholarship rounds, but even, you know, the single dances, you know, I was always in the top three and usually hitting second or first. So, I was like, I guess it doesn't matter that much.

Everyone's probably every other competition. If I looked at the judges scores. You would see everybody would be like, first, second, second, first, third, first, first, sixth, you know, you'd have that one judge that would, you know, everybody else was marking me top. You'd have that one judge that would mark me on the bottom.

And it was always kind of a, you know, a question in my head. Did they just happen to look at me during that one bad mistake? Or did they just write me off as soon as I walked on the floor because they saw my back and I'm, I'm never going to know. I'm never going to know. And honestly it doesn't at this point, it doesn't matter.

I mean, you know, we flash forward to 2018, 2018. Yeah. I took home the world title in American smooth at the silver level at Embassy Ball. So, I'm like, I'm now a world champion tattooed ballroom dancer. Like if that's not a nod from the ballroom dance world saying, yes, we accept you tattoo and all, then I don't know is.

Samantha: Definitely. Well, and I, I think hopefully that gives people, reassurance that at the end of the day, it should, and it more often than not does come down to who was the best dancer on the floor? Not necessarily do they fit the mold of what the expected ballroom dancer should appear to be.

Katie: I will say that I do feel like I'm, I walk out on the floor with a bit of a disadvantage because of my tattoo. and I don't know if this is just in my head or if it's. You know what reality is reflected to me, but I do go out on the floor and I feel like I absolutely have to dance my best every time to prove myself beyond the level that everybody else is trying to prove themselves. Because, because there is that subjective aspect, and ballroom dancing is an art, you know, it's a sport, but it's also an art.

So some people will like something and others won't and, and you do, you do see the dancers who do fit the mold a little better will place higher even if their skills don't necessarily reflect that placement. Aside from, you know, tattoo, I, you know, I seen beautiful, beautiful dancers who were a little heavier and they would struggle to get higher up in the ranks, even, you know, even if they look like a queen among young little princesses on the floor, they still place lower. You know, or they place lower than, you know, people are like, just showed up and that's part. I think that's part of the reality because ballroom is a subjective sport and through my writing and my blogging and just sharing my whole experience, I hope to provide some comfort for those dancers because I, cause I, you know, they've they tell me the stories and they express their frustrations to me because they, they know, I understand.

You know, and they worked so hard train so hard and they have the solo practice guide and they're taking notes on every single one of their solo practice sessions between their lessons and they're, you know, they're great, great dancers. And they still can't, you know, make their way up the ranks because there's other people that are just appear to be favored. Whether they are or not, you know, there was no way to really tell, but I kind of, I try very hard to, and I've gotten better. It's always practice more practice, you know, just consistent practice where. Like, no matter what, whether my tattoo is showing or not, I would want to show up as the best dancer that I could show up as on the floor. And there's that knowledge in the back of my head that yes, I could create a little ruckus with my tattoo showing and there's going to be some, you know, potentially some judges who are like, "who do you think you are coming out here with your ink?"

You know, like you better prove that you belong here. Cause the rest have already gotten their pass. You haven't earned your pass yet to be on the floor because of how you're showing up. There's all that. But I work and I practice to not let it affect my dancing because ultimately that's what I want. I want it to be about the dancing.

It doesn't matter how skinny, tall, short, fat, tattooed, or not tattooed, it doesn't matter what color my skin is. It doesn't matter how expensive my dress is. It matters how well I dance, you know, that's what I want. And so, I try to go out on the floor and embody that and perform as if that's all that matters.

Samantha: I think that is honestly probably the healthiest mindset to have genuinely, genuinely. And I, I. I so want to get to a place where we can be having this conversation and say, it is just about the dancing, it is just about the skillset. It's just about show me the best performance you possibly can and that is what will be rewarded.

I hope, I hope that there is a future out there.

Katie: I think there is, I think we'll get there. Being the more that people embody that, you know, and really just embrace that and say, you know, it doesn't, I'm going to be an amazing dancer in a hundred dollar dress versus a $10,000 dress, you know, or I don't care if I weighed 50 pounds more than the other dancers or.

If I'm so short or if I'm so tall or, you know, someone's taller it, I think it starts with the mindset of the dancers on the floor. And then I think it'll start to seep into the, the people watching.

Samantha: Definitely. I want to dive more into things you wish you knew earlier, things that you wish you didn't know earlier, but I want to pivot just for a second, because you brought up the solo practice guide and you brought up the fact that people are journaling their solo practicing. A big thing that we have not yet talked about is the fact that you are in fact a published author. several, several works under your belt. you have your two, eBooks, which are your dance diaries, the solo practice guide, and then two companion journals, the whole dance journey journal, and then the choreography journal.

So, talk to me about, the inspiration for each of those, how they link with your own journey, the blog, and just dancers in general.

Katie: Sure. Well starting with the dance diaries quickly. The first one was literally titled Learning Ballroom Dance; what I wish I had known. And that was a compilation of my experiences probably about over the first year or so, ballroom dancing, you know, taking the lessons regularly and doing the showcases and, you know, having all these experiences and it covered things from just basic things of what to expect in a group class, what to expect in a private lesson.

Cause then as you go, and you have no idea what to expect still then. You don't, you can't necessarily get the most value, but if you have an idea of what could happen or what, cause you might not know what you're allowed to ask or, you know, do you have to come and just do whatever the teacher has planned or you, can you come with your own ideas, things like that.

Just to help people get the most value out of the experience. And then of course, they also cover the Pro-Am relationship and the more emotional mental aspects that come into play as you kind of go along the beginning of your ballroom journey. And the second dance diaries book was ballroom budgeting and it really, the books really follow my own journey.

Because after I kind of got oriented to how the ballroom world works and started to figure out how to make the most of my own experience. Then the next question is, okay, how I'm going? How am I going to pay for this? Cause this stuffs expensive, especially if they're going to compete.

Samantha: Especially, if you're competing Pro-Am yeah. It's, it's not cheap.

Katie: Oh man. So, I've always been kind of a budgeting wizard, you know, at least with my own personal budget. And I realized that, you know, I had been living paycheck to paycheck before I started ballroom. And somehow, I'm still being, I'm paying all my bills. I was paying down credit card debt, and I'm still somehow able to pay for my lessons and you know, all these things.

So, I knew other people had similar struggles. So, I'm like, put out a little tips and tricks and strategies that I came up with and it works for me and I'll put it into a little eBook for people. And, and then it was several years before I wrote this book, this one came after Embassy Ball 2017.

The year before I won the world title. I went out there and I felt like I had danced my absolute best, like in my career. And I placed my worst. I had never placed below third place before that competition. And I placed fifth out of seven. So instead of being in the top three, I was in the bottom three for the scholarship and I threw a little tantrum.

I was very good. Cause I always, you know, once you enter the ballroom, you know, you maintain composure, you know, you keep a certain, you know, you behave a certain way in the ballroom and just out of respect for the space and the people. So, I maintain my composure in a ballroom, but once I got home, you know, my teacher texted like, say, Hey, great job.

I kind of like went off and then at my lesson, my next lesson, I threw a little tantrum and one of the other teachers, was, you know, in the studio then same time, you know, and I known him from doing workshops and stuff. You know, he kind of like leaned over into our little space and he's like, do you mind if I, you know, make a comment?

I'm like, yeah, sure. You know, I'll take any feedback. And he said, do you know all of your choreography, a hundred percent? It's like, well, no, not completely. Like on my own, I, no, not a hundred percent. And he's like, well, maybe if you did, you would have placed higher. And I was like, Oh okay. burn man.

But, and it really. That was it. That was the turning point for me. Cause, and it was funny because I had to give credit to my own teacher too. Cause he was trying to tell me the same thing, but I wasn't, I wasn't hearing it, but to have someone else coming in, then I was like, Oh, okay. so, it really, it was a turning point for me in a really kind of lit a fire under my butt.

Because I'm like. Oh, never again. Never again am I going to be caught not knowing my routines on my own. Cause that's a big, you know, that's a big thing. It's one thing to be able to dance your routines with your teacher. And you think, you know them, but really there's always sections that you're just following. So, I, I really, I got a little obsessed with solo practice and at the same time I work a full-time job. I have two large German shepherd huskies at home who need attention, you know, I had the rest of my life that needed to be taken care of. So, I couldn't just live at the studio. You know, I couldn't, I didn't have the time or the energy, frankly, after working nine hours, you know, eight, nine hours in the office, I didn't have the energy to go and dance practice at the studio for three, four hours at night, every night.

Samantha: Right.

Katie: That wasn't going to happen. So, so I you know, I had. Before this happened, I had kind of done bits of solo practice here and there, you know, a little warmup before the lesson, a little review after the lesson, I'm walking my dogs and I'm practicing my arms styling, you know, or just, you know, or just like you like go to the bathroom at work.

And I do like a quick little section of my routine, but it was nothing. not for like any length of time, like an hour more and it wasn't structured. And so, after Embassy Ball 2017 and this turning point with, you know, you don't know your routines by yourself, I'm like, Oh shoot. No, I don't. I really got started breaking down how do I practice so that it's effective? And, you know, make a difference in my dancing without requiring hours, hours in the studio every single day. So, I started with one an hour on a Sunday morning and within a couple of weeks, two or three weeks, I knew my routines. All four, all four smooth dances.

And my teacher was like "wow" he was, he was honestly impressed. And so, okay, this is working. Well, can I apply this kind of, you know, get as much quality in as short of time kind of structure? Can I apply this to the other aspects with the styling, the different techniques? And eventually, I ended up coming up with a framework and that ended up being the basis for the solo practice worksheet.

And I knew I wanted to do more than just this worksheet. And so, I just, I put it up on the blog. I created a mailing list. And just gave it away for free. I'm like just, you know, sign up on the mailing list and you get the solo practice worksheet for free. And it basically just outlined the structure, the framework that I used for every single one of my solo practices, whether it was just, you know, quick 15, 30 minutes or two hours, you know, in the studio.

Because, you know, I saw the results so quickly. I'm like, this is something this is working for me. And I know other students are in the same position where they're have full time jobs and families and homes to take care of. So, after the solo practice worksheet was released and I was getting a lot of good feedback, I ended up forming a beta group.

I had, you know, I, I formed a beta group of, of 10 people and I basically wrote the book with them. So, I'd write a chapter and I would send it to them, and they'd give me feedback and then I'd write another chapter and send it to them. And so that's how I ended up writing the full, the full solo practice guide for ballroom dancing.

And, it feels like a Cinderella story, but I just, it feels so perfect that I was able to return after all this hard work on developing a structured solo practice that worked for me and my life to be able to return to Embassy Ball in 2018 and win. And against a larger field, I think it was, there was 11 couples in 2018 where there was only seven in 2017.

So, to be able to return and go from, you know, bottom three to, to first place in a year against more people. It just, it was like, it was, I felt like Cinderella, like it was, it was so perfect. It was such like a perfect completion. You know, it was like a, such a perfect loop for that year.

Samantha: Well, and I feel like the request that students should spend time solo, practicing, and, and the idea of, yeah, if you're competing Pro-Am and you, and you want to see results, you need to know your own routine, and be able to dance it consistently on your own is something that, I think every instructor has said until they're blue in the face.

So, the fact that you have, you created a system for yourself, tested it with others and are now publishing essentially the, the golden ticket to this is all you need to do. This is what you need to follow. And you'll, you'll be successful, I think is fantastic and wonderful. And I hope that all of my personal students that are listening to this right now, take your advice.

I know for me personally; I have used the pandemic as a great excuse to really hammer that concept home. Because it, instead of saying, you should be practicing on your own at home and you should be learning your routine on your own. It now became a; I'm not going to physically touch you for the next 50 minutes and we're going to run your waltz routine.

Let's see how well you really remember it.

Katie: Yeah. My teacher would do that. My teacher, especially when we would have a competition coming up, you would make me do a solo round. It would be the first thing, you know, once our lesson started, he'd go over to the music thing, cue up Waltz Tango, Foxtrot, Viennese. He's like, okay, go.

And that was my warmup was dancing my, you know, a round of my routines by myself, you know, and it was sometimes I hated it because there was some, you know, sometimes there'd be a lot of other people at the studio, and I'm like, I don't want them to watch me. But it was so effective. It just, it gives you that knowledge gives you such confidence in yourself. Because sometimes, you know, if you're out and you're already nervous when you're competing, but to be able to, you know, to be able to know, know that, you know, your routines.

It just it, yeah. It really, it gives you that confidence and that confidence helps you dance better.

Samantha: Absolutely. Absolutely. I know we are fast running out of time, but

Katie: Oh gosh, that flew by!

Samantha: It goes, goes by so quickly. I have, I have one last question for this episode and then. We'll talk afterwards about potentially future conversations that we can have.

Cause I feel I want to pick your brain as a student, just to, to get your experience on it. And I think, I think it's so valuable for folks that listen to this podcast to get both the instructor coach professional side, as well as the student living it side. One of your most recent blog posts. I think it was two or three ago.

You asked the question, where do you go from here? And it was, it was, a fantastically written, discussion about where do you find your motivation as a pro-am student now that you've reached the finish line, which is competing in open?

We could probably talk for hours about this, but, but where, where are you right now? What, what is that internal struggle currently battling itself on?

Katie: Yeah, so it's, it's struck me as things are starting to open up slowly, I'm in Southern California, and so there's still a lot of restrictions in place. but as things start to open up and more, you know, competitions are like, yes, we're going forward.

There are people that are, you know, some people are very eager to get back to competing, but this pause for me, really, it left me a lot of time to reflect. Maybe too much time, like so many of, you know, so many of us there's like, there's too much time for me to sit here by myself thinking. but it really, I don't know there was it the time away from competing, because you get into a groove, right? Where it's just like competition, competition, competition, prepare for the next one. Next one. Next one. And then as I got out of that groove, it really struck me, like why, why go back to that groove? What, what's my goal now? What's my ultimate purpose for competing? And now that I have reached the open level, I mean, I'd still like to, you know, I'm at the bottom of the open level, you know, like I'd like to, you know, compete a few more times and, you know, try to, you know, win or place higher.

But, but beyond that, there's nowhere else to go as a Pro-Am student. You can branch out, you know, which I think I talked about in the blog post. You can branch out to other styles. you can turn pro, you can, or you can compete amateur-amateur compete with an amateur partner, but as a pro-am student, that's it, you know, you get up to open, that's it.

And, it was a weird realization because I always thought of the dance journey as a lifelong journey. You know, as dancers, we're always striving for perfection, but perfection isn't real. So, you're never going to reach it. So that makes the journey endless, you know, as long as you want to continue to journey continue, but it was like, I'm, am I going to, I have to start thinking about redefining who I am on that journey because there is a stop. There is a hard stop for the dance journey as a Pro-Am student in American Smooth. You know, there's a point where you don't go up anymore. You just, you plateau. so, for me, it's still, it's still like working its way through. So, it's hard to put it in succinct words. I am striving to find a greater purpose, you know, when I, I do want to compete again, it's not going to be until next year, but when I do compete again, just even if it's just internally. I want to go out there with the greater purpose, you know, before maybe it was the purpose was to go out and dance as my best self, always, you know, stay, you know, be who I was as true as I could be.

And now, you know, I, I think I need to add on to that or expand that idea that maybe. I go out and I'm dancing for other people. I'm dancing. My purpose is to connect with people in the audience to give them a moment of magic, maybe, you know, maybe it's, you know, maybe I'm dancing for a cause. Maybe I am, you know, Dancing to dig even deeper to find an even deeper layer of myself that I haven't uncovered yet, but it can't be just to go out and compete and try to win. That just, that feels, I forget which blog posts are put in, but I, I wrote that just feels so 2019.

Yeah. Like that was normal. That was, you know, I did have those goals and I, you know, I was very committed to like, I wanted to excel, you know, and the excel was, you know, going to come in the form of placements and hopefully, you know, placing higher each competition. but. Yeah, the pandemic, just, it really like with everybody, you know, it just completely turned my life upside down and gave me the opportunity to, to step back, step out of that, that groove of like, let's just, you know, win, win, win, and get a fresh perspective on it. And also, just, the pandemic, just, you know, like we're talking about the ballroom fantasy, like there's this bubble that like separates us from the real life. No, there's no bubble anymore. You know, because cause even now when I compete, I have to consider that extra risk associated with this new Coronavirus.

And that's very real world. That's like harsh reality. I can't escape that by going into a ballroom and putting on a ton of makeup and fake eyelashes and right. You know, dress covered with rhinestones, that comes with this, you know, that's, that's going to come with us anywhere, anywhere we go, including the ballroom.

So, I really, I'm integrating. Dance life and life. It's just all, it's all. When, when life now, which means dance life, can't be just to win the next competition or, I mean, there's no extra, there's no new level for me to go up to, but it can't be like, Oh, I just want to compete in a new style now. I know it has to have a greater purpose because I always.

I'm always striving to find that greater purpose in my life overall. And so now dance is becoming more integrated into that life, greater life search.

Samantha: I love that. And I, I, I feel your pain. I don't envy the P I don't envy the, the questions that you're asking right now, but you will find it and your readers, and I will be so excited to see where that, that takes your journey from here. So awesome.

Katie: I will say I'm feeling of a peace with the unknown, which is very unusual for me because I am an anxious person. And so not knowing really triggers my anxiety, but, but yeah, in this, in this time, as I reflected, I'm, I'm finding a peace in just. You know, like journey, the journey, like I'm just going to, you know, keep dancing and keep the, the intentions in the forefront of my mind, you know, that I want to find that greater purpose.

And then without being clear on what the greater purpose is, I feel like as long as I keep moving forward with the intention, that purpose will meet me at the right time on the journey ahead. So, yeah, it's weird. Cause it's like, I don't know where I'm going, but I, but I feel okay moving forward without that clear plan, which is very unusual for me.

So, I'm like, this is like new pandemic. Katie doesn't have to have every single thing planned.

Samantha: Well, yeah. Dance is life. Life as dance. The metaphors abound, a. Just very quickly for me personally, also being that very "Type A", anxious personality, dance has always been the one moment where I can feel comfortable in letting go. And not having control and, enjoying the fall, knowing that something eventually will be there to catch me. So, yeah.

Katie: Yeah.

Samantha: Yeah. well, thank you, Katie so much for being a guest today.

Katie: I love this conversation and it was great to dive deep into some of these issues. Because they don't, we need to talk about them more like it's nothing to shy away from or hide from. I think it'll only enrich students' experiences to discuss the, the messier stuff that comes up for them.

Samantha: Absolutely. Absolutely. Well, hopefully I will get the opportunity to dive into some more of these conversations with you at a future date. Thank you again to Katie for being a guest on today's episode.

Like I mentioned, at the beginning of the podcast, we have partnered together to help provide resources to you, our wonderful listeners, and also help support the podcast. So, for right now, until the end of November 2020, if you use the code BallroomChat at checkout, when you go to purchase. Any of her published works at You save 10% and part of the proceeds go to help supporting the podcast. That includes her Dance Diaries, both on ballroom budgeting and to learning ballroom dance, as well as the Solo Practice Guide and her two journals. One of which I am the proud owner of the journal for the whole dance journey. So if you want to help support for the podcast and you want to help support Katie, as well as giving yourself the tips and tricks that she has learned over the years when it comes to solo practicing, or just want to be a part of her dance journey you can do so at and make sure that you use the code BallroomChat at checkout to save 10% and to support the podcast.

I've been your host, Samantha with Love Live Dance. You can find this and all of our podcast episodes at and you can find us across social media at Ballroom Chat on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. If you've not already done so, please do consider subscribing or following this podcast and even giving us a review on your favorite podcast platform of choice. As always stay safe, stay positive, and we hope to see you dancing.