Living in the Moment - Natalie Crandall

Samantha StoutFebruary 10, 2021Ballroom Chat: Episode #39
natalie crandall ballroom chat

Natalie Crandall discusses the importance of positive reinforcement and grounding techniques for dancers at all levels, but especially in the competitive arena. Natalie and Samantha chat about the transition from Pro-Am to Professional dancer, and how she brings lessons learned from yoga and cycling into the ballroom.

Natalie Crandall was the first ever Blackpool British open Pro-Am Smooth Champion. After turning professional, she became an Ohio Star Ball Rising Star Smooth Champion, US Open Professional 9-dance Champion, and a US National Professional Rising Star Rhythm and Smooth Champion.

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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'm joined by Natalie Crandall. She was the first ever Blackpool British open Pro-Am smooth champion, and after turning professional, she picked up the Ohio star ball rising smooth championship, US open pro 9-dance championship, and the US national professional rising star rhythm and smooth championships.

I had the opportunity to sit down with her and chat about mental preparedness, how to train, to become a champion and tips and tricks about open communication for all of the different relationships that you have while you are dancing. Please enjoy my conversation with Natalie Crandall.

Thank you Natalie for being a guest on today's podcast.

Natalie: You're welcome. Thank you for having me.

Samantha: So, for those that are maybe not familiar with your journey. I like to ask all of my guests the same, you know, starting question, which is how did you get into ballroom dance?

Natalie: Oh, a long time ago now, but I would say my parents. I was always a little mover when I was young. Dancing around and, you know, with music and everything. And so, when I was about four years old my parents put me in ballet and tap and jazz, like your typical studio kid. But then actually when I was six years old, my parents had taken a dance lesson, ballroom dance lesson just because they wanted to dance, and they wanted to learn how to social dance and just do something fun.

And one Saturday I went to the studio and I grew up in Wisconsin. So, the studio was in Milwaukee. And when I went into the studio, that studio had two different rooms. So, they had a room where it was kind of like more social dancing. And then one that was a bit more competitive. So, it actually was separated.

And my parents were in more of the social dance room and they saw that I just ventured my way over to the other side. And because it was a Saturday there just so happened to be this huge group of kids, which was called the WYDE foundation. It was called Wisconsin Youth Dancesport Education. And it was started by John Abrams who was a professional rhythm dancer and finalist.

And I went in there and there was just like tons of kids from like six years old, all the way up to 18. And they were all together doing formation classes and technique classes. And, you know, I was just really drawn into what that was. And I guess as we were leaving, I told my parents like, I want to do that.

And so, they just made sure that they're lessons were on Saturdays. So, they would bring me to the studio and they would take their lesson. And I would be in the Saturday group and it was a cool foundation that he had created. There were kids coming from Chicago and Minneapolis and like lots of different kids.

And we had different instructors coming. And we would do technique classes and formations. We would travel and do shows together. So, I really grew up in a really community environment actually as a, as a kid in ballroom and I was six years old. And from that moment on, I put on, I remember we did our first group formation, and it was to a chorus line and I had like a gold Swarovski vest and little gold shorts and a top hat.

And I was sold. I was like, this is what I'm meant to do. And so, we did bunch of stuff like that and then I actually started taking private lessons with John Abrams, who was the creator of it all. And so, we started doing private lessons and just really fell in love with it. And yeah, so that's how I got started. And I was with him from age six until 18, and I danced with him. We did competitions, I did rhythm and smooth and I did a little bit of Latin in competition. I trained and everything, but really standard wasn't my thing on the floor I needed to express myself. So yeah, so then when I was 18, I decided I was either going to stay and either turn pro and just work at that studio.

But I also wanted to have the college experience and felt like I needed to kind of expand and move. And so I applied to ASU and I got into the journalism school there. So I still wanted to dance though. And so I was researching and I found Decho Kraev and Bree Watson. And they were really in like the competitive circuit at the time. They, I think they had just won their first rhythm title. So I reached out to them via email and I explained my situation. So when I had my orientation for ASU, I actually had my first lessons with them and I just felt really good. They were really, you know, in alignment with where I was wanting to go.

And he didn't have any other ladies A students. So it was kind of everything just lined up. So I moved out here to Arizona and started working with Decho for about five years. And then after that turned pro, so the little quick version of my story. So yeah.

Samantha: No, that's, that's exciting because so often when I've been talking with guests that are now very successful professional dancers, and they talk about their early career as youth competitors, it's always from the amateur side of things.

So I think that's something that's really refreshing is that you have that Pro-Am history and that you have that Pro-Am competitive experience. What was the biggest change when you went from being an amateur in a Pro-Am partnership to then competing as a professional?

Natalie: There was, I agree with you. I think a lot of people actually don't come from Pro-Am into the pro world and I think it's actually changing a lot now, which is cool because I think the teachers are really excited to like, Oh, I'm going to make my student really good.

And then they can become pro. So, it is really cool to have that experience, and I do feel I can relate to pro-am and pro, which is a cool thing cause I've been in both shoes. But I would say that the hardest thing turning pro was definitely the imposter syndrome. It was more mental than anything else truly.

Working as a Pro-Am student. I think it's really unique in a sense. Especially growing up because you do have the experience of dancing with a professional dancer. So, the expectation is there, and their level of dancing is so high that you're just constantly trying to meet that. So, I would say on a physical level, stamina training wise, like my mentality going into like training and all that was, was very much there.

I was prepared in that sense, but it was more up in my head and feeling like when I first stepped on the floor as a pro, I was looking around like, I have taken lessons and coachings with all of these people. And now here I am on the dance floor with them. And so, I think I remember the first time we did rhythm with my partner, Alex, Oleksiy and I saw the Paramonovs.

And I just had a flashback to when I was like 12 years old and they were in Wisconsin and I was working with them and it was just a very full circle moment, but also, you know, intimidating at the time and a little overwhelming. And just feeling that sense of like, do I really belong here? Do I really fit in here?

I, I like moving from that label. I even gave myself it's like a Pro-Am student in a pro world, you know, like a small fish in a big pond kind of feeling. So, I would definitely say that that was something that internally I struggled with a lot, even though, maybe on the outside, it didn't seem that way. And I just kind of turned it on and started performing or competing.

But yeah, physically I felt good. And obviously as a pro you just, you, when you're practicing, you learn a lot more when you grow, even within that, you know, period of time. But yeah, it was definitely the mental aspect and just really feeling like I do, I do belong here. I have worked hard to be here, you know, but I think because there wasn't a lot of other Pro-Am girls that had stepped into that pro world, as I have, I think it was also like, who do I talk to?

Who do I want model myself after, you know? So, I didn't really have that resource either. So, it was just kind of on my own that way, but eventually I got, you know, got into that place of feeling comfortable on the floor with all the pros.

Samantha: Yeah. It's definitely a weird experience. When you go from the amateur side to then the professional side, it's like, I've been competing against your students and now I'm competing against you and it's like, Oh, this feels weird.

Natalie: Totally.

Samantha: Did you ever have an instance where a judge talked to you about that transition or, or made a comment about the fact, like I was judging you a year ago as a student, and now I'm looking at you as a professional?

Natalie: I would say a lot of the feedback I did get when I was deciding to, I had had offers before I did, I was 22, I think when I turned pro. So, it was a little bit actually older than most people. And I just really wanted to feel like grounded in myself too. And not feel like I was jumping the gun too early, but I did get some feedback. Like you are ready, you're ready to go. You don't need to be in this Pro-Am division anymore, or like, we're good.

But I did definitely have a lot of coaching where the judges and coaches were really asking me to step into that role and saying like, I can feel and tell that you're like timid or like not really wanting to go there, you know? And so, it was actually, and Paul Holmes was one of our first coaches together, and he was the one who was like, I need you to be a woman on the floor. Like you're a girl, like start to act like a woman and own it. So, I actually had a lot of coaches notice that I was timid and like more mentally in my head that really tried to pull it out. So, it was actually a lot of support in that way and people are like, you're ready, just go for it.

And so, I didn't really feel any like pushback from that. It was actually a lot of support going into it. So that was a nice experience.

Samantha: Definitely. That's very reassuring and that kind of helps bolster that, that self-esteem and that strength to be like, okay, this is, this is the time. This is the right decision. Talk.

Natalie: Yeah, for sure.

Samantha: Yeah. Talk me through the Blackpool British Open Experience. What was it like being the first group of Pro-Am students to hit the floor in smooth? What was it like being at Blackpool? And then what was it like coming away with that title at the end of the day?

Natalie: Blackpool was an amazing experience. I definitely feel like just growing up in the industry as a kid and being from the US you know, it's a very different, we have our own kind of competitive world. So just really being, having the opportunity to go to like the origin of everything. And where so many people who come from Europe, come here with that, like tie to that, really just like historical feeling was a really cool experience just to be in the atmosphere. Because you know, some places here, we have some historical buildings, but nothing like that's really there. And so, Blackpool was really, it was great. It was definitely a different experience with pro-am because it was their very first-time doing program.

And here in the US, we, not, we, we take care of our Pro-Am students. We make sure that they feel really safe and secure. They feel like you, you know, what's going on. And, you know, with the experience in Blackpool, it was a much more of that amateur professional, like, you know, when you're supposed to be there. So just show up and, you know, have everything ready, find your number, get some pins. If I remember asking for pins and someone's like, yeah, was like, you're a dancer. Don't you have pins with you. And I was like, okay. Yep. Okay. You're right. You know, like, so it was, it was good though in a sense, because I was like, Oh yeah.

Everyone's like really just owns it. And like is very responsible there and taking care of their own experience. And so, yeah, it was just cool. We went and practiced in one of the towers and then it was a long day. So, I think they've extended it now. It's like a couple of days, but I remember we were doing rhythm and smooth in the same day.

So that was quite the experience of like changing from one to the other, but just being on the floor, you know, I think too, I had a lot less pressure on myself because I knew it was more of an experience than expecting to win anything or expecting something to come out of it. I just was really trying to embrace the experience. And we actually got to a dance to the orchestra in the evening for our smooth round, which was amazing. And I remember doing something, whereas like, you know, layout or something and looking up and just seeing this like ceiling and the orchestra on the music. And I was like, wow, this is so insane. Like just to be here. And I think because of that reason, and I was dancing with Decho at the time, we were just so happy to be dancing that I think that that's probably maybe what the judges saw. And were like, they look really happy and they're just doing great.

And so, it was funny when they, they call the awards too here in the U S we start with sixth, fifth, fourth, third, second, first. There they start with first. And so, I didn't actually expect that. And so, they're, they're saying the results of everything. And they actually said my name, like Natallee, not Natalie. And they said they Decho's name as Deco.

So, we didn't even know it was us. We were like waiting. And so, it was like, Go! Go! it's you guys. But it was, so that was fun because it was just like, Oh, oh my God, we won. Like, what? We were just like, not expecting it at all. And so they played the orchestra and it was just like a really cool experience to have as a Pro-Am because it has been professional and amateur for so long that it really was something I never thought I was going to be able to do and to be there for the first one, it just felt like I was really a part of history, you know, and in the moment, and my dad actually grew up part of his childhood in England. So, we actually ended up making that whole trip, like going back to where he was from. And so just the whole trip in general was a really, it was a really cool experience and just, yeah, just soak it all in. It's a beautiful place for sure.

Samantha: I want to talk a little bit more about that moment that you mentioned when you know, you're, you're in the moment, you're on the floor, the orchestra is playing around you and. We know that dancing to live music is so such a different, just feel as dancers than dancing to recorded music, but you've got live music. You're in this historical space, you look up, it's just, you know, the balcony is filled with people and you're lost in that moment. We just spoke with Luca Baricchi about the idea of being present and being complete in your dancing. So outside of that experience in Blackpool, have there been moments in your dancing career where it wasn't about the practice.

It wasn't about the precision. It wasn't about the choreography. It was just embodying and living in the moment as you're dancing?

Natalie: Mhmm. I have, and there are just a few moments in my mind where I think what happens too, is like I'd mentioned before, it's like that mental aspect you can really, you know, even top professionals can get in their head and just be thinking about, I have to do this. I have this coach told me this, or we've been practicing this.

And really just like taking away from the experience of just physically embodying the dance and. You know, as dancers, we're not like artists where we're like, Oh, I'm a painter and this is my painting. Or I'm a musician and this is my music. It's like, I am a dancer, and this is my dance, you know, you really have to embody it completely.

And I think it's, it's a mix of all different things. It's a mix of, you know, you being in just a good head space and really being in your body. Having a good relationship with whoever you're dancing with and feeling like they are also on that same wavelength, because I've had that experience where I feel really like I am in it.

Like I am in the pocket. I just feel good. But my partner's a little, you know, like thinking about some are maybe trying to redirect, you know, traffic or something. So, you can't really share that experience. I think when you can share it with your partner too, it just boosts the experience. But yeah, there's been times where, you know, when we first started dancing with Oleksiy.

There was, you know, we weren't expecting to make finals really in the beginning and we're just like, let's just have fun and dance. And I think those moments are actually some of my favorite ones, because I just didn't put the pressure on myself. And I just was like, okay, this is a semi. And maybe we won't make the finals. So, let's just enjoy and enjoy dancing together. And especially at USDC, because that's also a really big environment and a big stage and the light, that's a really cool moment to just have all the space on the floor, first of all. So, you know, more than likely you're not going to run into people, especially being smooth when you have that big floor.

So, there are moments, and I think it's really just surrendering to your body in that moment and knowing that your body you've trained it enough, it knows what to do and just really letting the music start to talk to you and let the music start to move through you in that way. And I think if you can surrender to the experience, you'll have those moments of like, wow, I was just so present and I was there and this, and there's been moments too, where I I've been very much in my head and like not felt good in my body trying to force something or, you know, so I think the music is a really big part for me.

At least the music is just, I don't really try to start anything until I hear the music, you know. Because I can start to do something and make it look interesting. But if the song is a heavier beat, then all this, like we gooey stuff. I did, it doesn't make sense, you know. So, I really try to just ground myself down and listen and let the music also kind of guide you in that way.

And sometimes it's, when a song you've been practicing to that's really fun because you know the song really well too. So that's been a cool experience. It's like, Oh, we practice with this all the time. Like we know this song. So, there's been, you know, like kind of mixture of things to create that like really present moment of like experiencing everything.

Samantha: Yeah. Something that I found interesting. There was an interview that you did with, I believe it was Backstage Ballroom, a couple of seasons ago. And you mentioned the fact that you and your partner tend to practice very late at night and how actually practicing late at night really prepares you with your mindset and with your body in that training to go into those nine o'clock 10 o'clock, 11 o'clock, midnight rounds. How important do you find training for competition, like it's a competition is in order to be successful on the dance floor?

Natalie: I feel, I mean, the reason we started practicing late first off was because of his schedule. Was really just, it didn't allow for any other time, but I feel like it actually worked in our favor because I'm naturally an early bird.

That's definitely how I operate. So, kind of putting myself in that, like stressful, I would say situation of having to be awake, later at night and just really like, you know, I think it is a training because it's not normal. If I were to listen to my normal clock, I would, I would compete at 6:00 AM because that's just when I feel most awake.

So, I think the essence of training is that, like, how do you get your body into a different rhythm? How do you get your body to feel prepared and like ready to go? So, I definitely felt like it was an advantage in that way, because we were practicing all week long at 9:00 PM. So, my body, when we'd get to a competition was like, okay, yeah, this is the time, I'm ready.

I'm awake now. And it just becomes part of your schedule. So, I think if you do practice like in the mornings all the time, and then all of a sudden you get to a competition you're flying, you might have a little jet lag. It's a new environment. You're having different food. It's not your food at home. That all of a sudden, you're going to put your body through more stress than it needs as if you were to prepare with that beforehand, you know, and be ready for that.

I think it just puts a little less stress on yourself. Then what already comes with being there and being a competitor. So, I think that's a good way, you know, to, to utilize training is like, how can I minimize as much stress as possible on myself? Because there's, I don't know how the floor is going to feel.

I don't know what the, you know, sometimes the air is really dry or cold and you're like, Oh, I can't breathe. Or it's really humid, like in Florida or San Diego, and maybe your dress is uncomfortable, or the hair is not working, you know, like there's so many factors that go into it on the day that if I can somehow, control quote, unquote, you know, my own experience beforehand. I think that also just helps you to just be more mentally present and prepared. So, yeah,

Samantha: Yeah, absolutely.

Talking about kind of the mental aspect of it and being. as, as much in control of the experience as you possibly can one of the things that you do, and I assume are very passionate about outside of the ballroom world is you are also a yoga instructor and a cycling or a spin instructor.

How do you find that those two more athletic experiences feed into your ballroom experience? Is it purely physical? Is it the exercise aspect or is there a mindset experience and a total wellness experience with the yoga and with the spin that you feel goes hand in hand with your ballroom training?

Natalie: Well, I'll start with spin first. Cause that was the first thing that I started to do. I actually started taking it just for fun with one of my other friends who was a dancer and competing at the same time. And we're like, let's just try it. It might be good cross training for us and I, the place where I teach is just a really fun environment.

So, it's lights everywhere and the coaches are, you know, really fun people, but at the same time, it's really difficult and it was. Way harder than I thought it was going to be the first time. It really pushes your stamina and the coaches though, or the instructors that are there, they're just really, you know, they're playful and fun, but they're also really, really push you to that place where you think I cannot keep my legs moving anymore.

And they're like, yes, you can, you can do this. Like, they'll get off the bike. They'll get in your face. You know, it's like very, Soul Cycle vibe, like people kind of joke around with it. But I remember specifically the moment I realized that like, Oh, this is more than just a physical thing was I was actually in practice with Decho and we were doing rounds and I had that feeling of like, oh my God, it was before Mambo or something, last one. I was like, I am so tired. I don't know if it was just like, I didn't sleep well or what, and the instructor that I've been taking, literally her voice came in my head and was like, you can do this. You've worked for this. You're almost to the end. Like all of that, like over the top, you know, like animated coaching came in my head and I was like, Whoa, that was a cool experience to have that.

So, for me, that was the moment where I was like, okay, this is definitely more than just physical. And I actually, now as a teacher of spin, I try to use that as like, yes, we're moving our bodies and it's fun. But while we're in this environment where it's, you know, your adrenaline is pumping your heart, your cortisol, your heart's racing, like how can we train our mind in that moment to really push past our limits? Because I truly believe we can be a slave to our ego sometimes. And if our egos tired, they're going to be like, you're done. We're tired, enough, go sit down. But if you can overcome that. And you can kind of like overdrive, you know, your, your programming. It's a really amazing experience actually, to, to have that mental preparation too.

So, I think with spin, it was. It was something that was physical, that became mental for me. And then with the yoga, the yoga obviously is a, is a re recovery, you know, stretching and everything. And I also use that in the beginning as more physical and like just stretch my body. It feels good. And kind of get a workout that's not so intense. But then as I started to just dive deeper into it and really got into meditation and just the aspects of like grounding yourself down and being really present with your own breath and working with breath work, it really helped me as, you know, moving into competitions where I was just really feeling nervous or, you know, like, I, not knowing what to do with myself to just have those tools of like sitting down, knowing how to breathe deep into my belly, into my chest, into my throat and calming myself down and just really diving deep into, you know, if you do a forward fold, it's actually triggering your parasympathetic, parasympathetic nervous system to calm down.

So even just by doing a forward fold, it's like triggering different things in your body. So, it was just became like this little secret tool that I felt I had. That was really just for me, you know, to not feel so overwhelmed by the experience. And I had these tools like, like breath work, or you know, obviously stretching and warming up your body, but also just really knowing and starting to get to know my body more.

And knowing like, in those moments, when I started to feel anxiety, like, okay, I'm feeling it in my chest. Okay. How do I ground myself down? And I would just like breathe into my feet and like send my energy down and it would just get me really out of that head space. So, the yoga became just more of this aspect of controlling and containing my energy and my emotions. So that when I did get on the floor, I did have that, like I was ready to go. I was very present, also. It helps you just to be present. And I think it just also helps you as a performer connect with people because you just feel so sure of yourself and connected with yourself that you're like, I'm enjoying this experience.

I want to enjoy it with you. So, you just become very open on the floor with people like. You know, I think it's underrated how much we can feel each other's energies, you know? And we also see a couple, sometimes you can see that they're off, but you're like, I don't know. It's kind of weird. And then this couple that's just very open and fun, you know, it it's, we can feel that, and we can read that.

So that just became something that was an interest of mine. Like how can I play with it? Manipulate this? And like have fun with this experience of really getting to know myself off of the floor so that I felt more prepared. And, and I think too after competing the yoga, also helps cause there's a lot of pranayama, which is considered breath work and when we're competing and we're on the floor, you know, our, our adrenaline and our dopamine and everything, that receptor is just like, flood open.

And we're just like, Oh, everything is amazing. And you know, there's like high energy and music and people cheering. And it's just this very overstimulating experience that when we get off the floor and we go back to our room and it's quiet and there's no noise, there's no people, our receptors are so open that oftentimes those levels of like dopamine, it won't just go to normal.

They drop. And that's why I've, I've noticed this too. And other friends they're like, I feel so bad. And then you look at your results and you're not happy. And you just like go into this spiral, you know, just like, why did I just feel so good on the floor? And now I feel so terrible or so low. So, with the breath work, it just helps because it helps you to just balance out your energies, which.

Is really just balancing up the brain chemicals, you know, by doing different breath work techniques. And again, meditating, just grounding yourself back down and bringing yourself back to that neutral place. So that the next day you don't feel super exhausted or like having a headache or you don't feel super down. And even if you do really good and you feel really, really hyper and super excited. That's also a fleeting feeling it's going to go away. So how do we just kind of come back to that like neutral place where even if we have a bad day or a really good day, we're still good and we can find that middle ground.

So for me, that's really when the yoga started to kick in for me, and it was, you know, like the second year, I would say of us competing pro that I really try to make it a habit like meditating before and just doing breath work after stretching my body, opening it up, you know, so yeah, it was cool. It's very interesting to utilize different techniques in that way.

And I think I'm someone who likes to put my hands in a lot of things, and I like variety in my life. So it was, you know, it's a cool thing for me to just get my mind off of dancing for a little bit. But then I started to like, Oh, I can use that. And I can use this. I can use that. So, it just enhanced the overall experience too.

Samantha: Yeah, definitely. I want to circle back to something that you said at about about your spin instructor and the moment where like suddenly their voice was in your head, and it was like, okay, this is the motivation that I need to get past it. I have not experienced the cycle class or the spin class environment, but from the outside, looking in, it feels like the successful instructors create a very safe environment for their students that are taking the class. So, it opens you up to be more receptive to hearing that information.

I am an anxious type personality. I don't want to make any assumptions, but I'm guessing maybe that you lean that way as well. I have caught myself when I have been getting coaching or instruction for dance, filtering out the positive reinforcement that my instructor has been giving me. In a way, I'm like, yeah, I get that. But you're just saying that because I'm a student. I was actually called out on it once. It was like, if I was your student or if you were your student and I was giving you this information, as an instructor, you would be meaning it for your student. Like you would be saying it authentically. So why not now that the roles are reversed, are you not willing to accept that?

Have you, you had a similar experience as a student where you're like, I appreciate all of this motivation that you're giving me, but I'm not in a space where I'm willing to welcome it? And what about the spin cycle experience that you've had has created a way for you to be like, okay, yeah, no, I can, I can push past this, I can keep going?

Natalie: That's a really a great question. And it's a really, you put it so, so eloquently when you talk about the safe environment. And I do think that that is something that I've experienced more of in spin than I would say in ballroom, per se because it is a competitive environment. We're all trying to improve and be really good and be better than the next, or, you know, it's a, it's a different mindset already going into it, especially if you're having competitive coaching.

The purpose is to get coached on the things that, you know, you need improvement on. And I think what I experienced through spin was that team feeling and that like we are in this together. None of us are perfect. We're showing up as we are. And we're just going to go on this journey together.

And I think., you know, it's funny because I can totally relate to what you were saying. Like as a student, I was like, don't give me the good stuff. Just like, tell me what I need to improve on and I'm going to do it. And so, I was that, I was a perfectionist. I was like, you know, and people were, and because I was asking for that, whether it was conscious or subconscious, I was getting that, you know, people were like, this is what you need to improve on.

You need to do this. You need to look this way. This dress isn't good. That one's, that, you know, and. Deep down, you know, that it's coming from a place of wanting to help you. So, it's funny because now as an instructor, I kind of give back what I didn't receive, you know, so I didn't always get a ton of positive reinforcement.

In fact, it was 70%, probably critiquing and not, I wouldn't say negative, but definitely, you know, like focus pointing out the things that need to be improved. So, looking back, you know, I just did a lot more work on myself of like really building up that self-esteem that, I know when I'm teaching, spin now or even in dance, I do make it a point to really let my students know, like, this is not easy.

What you're doing is hard and that you should really revel in the experience that you're just, you're here and you're doing this, and you showed up here today. You know, like that was the first step. I always say that in the beginning of classes, like, especially in spin, I'll say turn to your neighbor, give them a round of applause for just showing up because that's the first step, you know?

So, it's just. I think too, our brains just react better when we're in a positive space, you know, like you said, like it's a very safe and vulnerable or you can be vulnerable because it is a safe space. And I think our we're just more receptive and we're just more willing to go there versus when it's an intimidating or negative experience, we just really automatically start to shut off and like, okay, I have to just do it right, because then, then they'll be happy. And then, then I'll feel that positivity, you know? And so I think. What I try to do now in my coaching, is that really nice gentle approach. And within that, yes, we can work on things. We're going to push ourselves, whether it's in dancing and you're learning a new technique or in spin and, you know, adding resistance it's really heavy. But then at the end, I always wrap it up with all of my students. No matter what I'm teaching, yoga or spin or dance, of like a reflection of looking back, like, okay, let's look back on your lesson or you know, the class and just be really proud of yourself for breaking through some things for doing things that you already are good at and you got even better at doing them.

So I think it's definitely something that I think just in the Western world in athletics and competitive atmospheres in general, it's something that's not taken in the way that it should, but I think positive reinforcement is very, very, very important and it helps to build up your self esteem. It helps you to just be more receptive and open.

And so I think that's definitely something that I would like to see change a little bit in just. All competitive sport industries is that, you know, it's not always about beating yourself down to the point where you're like, I must rise from the ashes. Like I'm so beaten down. It's like, how do we just keep building each other up?

You know, I I'm a firm believer in that, you know, lighting a candle, light lighting, another candle. It's not losing any flame. It's not losing any lights. Like we can just spread this everywhere and build each other up. So that as a, as a group, we can become better and we can be more gentle with our words and how we approach things.

And, and I've had some experiences with coaches in ballroom too, that have given me that, then I'm like, Oh, that was really great. You know, like I really enjoyed their presence and just how they were approaching things. So I try to come from that place because I just feel too, it gives people, like you said, a level of trust, you know, if I'm being positive and open with you and asking you genuinely, how are you doing?

How are you feeling about your dancing? You know, I'm hoping that you'll open up and trust. So then when I do start to point out the things that you can work on. You're like, okay. Yeah, they're coming from a genuine place. I do feel that they really want to help me, you know? So, so yeah, that makes sense. Kind of going back and forth between those two.

Samantha: Definitely. Well, and, and you, you don't know what you don't know. Right? So if, if you have only ever had instructors that have been, critiquey shall we say. Told you what not to do rather than reinforce what you should be doing, then you don't know that that's not constructive or, or, or could be more constructive if put in a positive light.

So more conversations about how do we steer the industry, how do we steer our instruction? How do we steer our day-to-day conversations with people in a more positive reinforcing, helpful, boosting way, rather than continuing this, this idea of you're only as good as your improvements that you're making right?

I wonder too thinking about you know, painting with broad brush strokes, thinking about the way that cycling and yoga are normally presented, the spaces that they inhabit, the, the window dressing or the set dressing that is normally created along with it. If there's something to how we set up the space that we're in and the space that we're inhabiting, that can bring more positive energy, more understanding, or caring, into the space and create a studio environment where we're more open to listening and trusting and, and being in that positive atmosphere.

I'm just thinking, and I, and I want your opinion on this. You know, the traditional ballroom studio is very like wood floor, dark walls or light walls. Wall full of mirrors so that you can see yourself in every angle. We tend to wear all black or black and white. It's very, you know, hair's pulled back. It's very stern, formalized approach. I wonder if just how we're setting up our space is leading us to have more of a strict approach to teaching and experiencing dance.

Natalie: That's a really great point that you're making. And I think the thing with ballroom that I, I do love so much and I kind of fell in love with, is that like very traditional feel to it. It's very elegant and it's very, you know, it came from, like we talked about from Blackpool and from, you know, just like this orchestra and it ha it has this very like sense of regalness to it.

And the sense of like structure and everything, which I think where it comes from is a very beautiful place. I think now though, we are in 2021 and we're not in 1945. So the world itself has really changed and our way of approaching things and our mental, you know, mind that, you know, is observing everything is it's evolved a lot.

And I think, you know, a lot of these studios and fitness companies are kind of rolling with those changes and they're really like, yeah, let's be inclusive. Let's include everybody. Like everyone can move like this, you know, we're in this together. And I think that, you know, ballroom is kind of on this, like scale. And like, sometimes it goes there and then it's like, Oh, we got to go back to this tradition. And then like, sometimes, you know, the costumes get a little wild and then we come back. Yeah. So I think it's, you know, it's interesting because I, I do feel that, you know, the way that a space is set up is a huge factor, you know? And I think that I've done a lot more like work on my own self of doing different styles and going to different workshops. And you know, a lot of places I go, there is no mirrors and they're like, we just want to see you feel the music. You just need to get into your body and experience it. And I think that ballroom it's such an aesthetic like experience because you have your hair and your dress and your, down to your shoes and how you look with your partner and then how the lines you're creating. You know, it's very balletic in that way. It's performance, which is beautiful. But I think, you know, it's not, we're kind of boxing these people in to really like really letting themselves express who they are and like, using ballroom as a tool to express yourself through dance, rather than using ballroom as like, these are the rules we have set, and this is how you are supposed to move, you know.

With everything in life, we're, you know, we're humans, we're curious. We want to evolve. We want to innovate. We want to create, that's why we are in the world we are now we have. We're talking over zoom, you know, like this wasn't around before. So I think ballroom, there is, there is a lot of room to grow in that aspect. And I think, you know, I, what I do like is when I walk into a studios that are having like a social dance party or those like social classes, like that's the cut. You can sense the energy is just a little bit different in that area. Right. Cause it's like, we're just having a good time and we're having fun.

And. There's no pressure. And so I think it's also, you know, like obviously when you're competitive, like that's, that's a different avenue that you're choosing, you're choosing to literally compete and you're choosing to be judged by people. So I think we'll, you have to realize is that it is a choice that we're making too. And we can get caught in if like my coach told me this, or my person said I couldn't do that, but it's like the end of the day, you are your own human. You have your own choices and you can choose and just recognize like. You know, for me, it's like, I started to recognize, like, I am voluntarily putting myself on the floor to be judged and I'm voluntarily, you know, being compared to these other people.

So how do I take that? Like mentally, can I leave it in the ballroom and then walk outside these doors and feel really good and confident in myself? And like, yeah, that's dancing, but I'm Natalie. And I have, you know, I'm, I feel good about myself or do I literally take that? Or like in the studio, like, do I walk in? And I'm like, Oh no, so-and-so's here. They're so good. And, Oh, I'm going to have that, my lesson next to them. And you know, but it's like, You wa it's like so automatic, it feels like it's like an automatic judgment and competitive feel in the studio rather than, you know, letting like choosing, like, I know the kind of environment I'm about to walk into.

So how am I like preparing myself before that? And I think the teachers and the setup can really be conducive to that kind of mental preparation, you know. And I've had some experiences that were like that in New York, we went to a camp with Eugene Katsevman and Rude Vermes, and Rude is just so wonderful at that.

He's just so great at like, just putting you in an uncomfortable situation. But then in the end you're like, Oh, I like this. I never moved this way. I've just like, you know, I remember we walked in and he turned like the lights low and he put music on. He was like, okay, dance, but not ballroom. And everyone was like uh, like.

Around like robots, like you didn't know what to do with our bodies, you know? And so I think there's even that, like, just having some like free movement before you really get into like structure and technique and just really getting in a relationship with your body and knowing that you're doing this, because it's something you love, it's not something you're being pressured into.

It's not something, you know, it's going to define who you are at your core. It's just, you're voluntarily putting yourself in that environment. And so, you know, I think it's just a big, like I said, the world is shifting and changing. So we kind of have to change our mental approach to these things too. And how can we include everybody?

How can we make feel, make everyone feel like they can dance, you know, and not make them feel excluded because at least for me, that's something I value is inclusiveness, you know? And having people, everyone feel like they can do it. And maybe some people would just have, you know, a better skill set or they just have a body type that works better. They did it since they were five or, you know, like we're all in different journeys, but why can't we just enjoy being together in this atmosphere

Samantha: Definitely. Well, and I love it. I love the fact that you mentioned that, you know, it is a choice. It is a voluntary experience. I think one thing that I'd love to get your opinion on is how to separate what is good for you and your mental health and your mindset versus the external pressures that we all feel. Whether it's, we don't want to let a coach down, or if you are an instructor, I don't want to let a student down. The expectation is that we compete seven times, you know, seven times in a row, all seven weekends, but by week four, I'm just drained and I don't have anything left in the tank or my partner expects X, Y, or Z, and I don't want to let them down.

How, how do you separate, what's good for you and be selfish in that moment versus, you know, letting other people's expectations, impact your choice and your volition?

Natalie: I definitely think that it's, it's, that's a hard one because it's something that we all deal with, whether we're dancers or not, you know where to get messaging everywhere from TV or online of just like how to be, and you should have this, or you should have that. So I think just pressure in general and like societal pressure is something that we all deal with.

Obviously ballroom is like a microcosm of the, you know, Macrocosm of the world of all these pressures. And so I think the biggest thing is, you know, at least what helped me, I can really only speak from my experience, but was really tuning into, you know, that meditation and really getting grounded in myself and realizing in the moments where I was like, I don't feel physically very good in this situation.

Like someone is critiquing me and I'm not like, you know, maybe I'm holding back tears or like, you know, just really feeling uncomfortable and just like not suppressing that and feeling like I I'm just, I'm just weak or I'm just, I can't handle this person, but like, that's your body telling you something that maybe this is too much for you and maybe you're just in a sensitive space and you, you know, you need to realize that like your body in those moments is like explaining to you and talking to you that maybe this isn't very good, or this is crossing a boundary that you're not comfortable with. And I think the next thing after that realization is communication. And I think communicating is one of the least valued things, but the most important thing, and we communicate right.

You're talking and chatting and all these things, but it's like, choosing, how am I going to, am I going to talk about somebody or talk like, they're making me feel bad and they're doing this, but really communicating how I feel. And just like, you know, I appreciate that. You're giving me this information, but I'm, I'm, you're approach is just really intense for me, you know, like, can we explain this in a different way?

Can we take a break? You know? And I think the communication, it's, it's like a two-step process, right? It's like learning what you really feel and like, You know, I use journaling a lot. I journal a lot and it helps me just kind of get out what I'm feeling and yeah, and just really starting to get clear on what feels good for you and like what boundaries you need to really set.

And then having the courage to really express those. I think the communication is the biggest thing. And I think that, you know, especially in dancing and you do have relationships like your coach is a relationship, your mentors or relationships, your dressmakers a relationship. Your partner is the biggest relationship of them all.

And so I think we have to start treating these things, not as like a hierarchy, in a sense of like, my coach is here and I'm here. It's like, no, we are on the same. We're both humans and we're both participating and co-creating this experience. So we need to communicate as if we are on the same level. And I think it runs both ways.

I think we put ourselves low and coaches can put themselves up, you know, or vice versa. Sometimes we talk to our coaches, like you don't know what you're talking about and why didn't you mark me? Or, you know, all these things. And so I think it's really just realizing that, you know, we're in relationships constantly and we're communicating in that sense of a relationship rather than, you know, like I don't even know, like martyr kind of feeling like, Oh, I'm just a victim and this is that, you know, it's like, no, you can stand up and communicate, but it is hard to filter through that to get to that point. So that's why I say, you know, really sitting with yourself and like really getting honest about things. Like, am I doing this because I really want to, or am I doing this? Like you said, like, do I really want to do seven competitions?

Or do I just feel like they want that because maybe they have their own reasoning for pushing you because maybe like I had that a lot, you know, it was like, my coach is like, you can do it. You're like right there, like, you know, like do these competitions. But I was also exhausted and I was like, you know, where, where do I draw the line for myself?

You know, because people that we all want, they're our own motives. We're all living in our own brains. We all have our own realities and perceptions. And so it's just really getting clear on your own. So like taking a break from it, stepping back and just writing, like. You know what, yeah. I don't want to do seven competitions.

And then if you're afraid to communicate that you can say, I am, I'm afraid to say this to you right now, but I, for myself, like seven competitions, it's just not going to work for me. And so let's, can we figure out a new plan and, and just being like that real, I think is, is something that can help, but it's, it takes a lot of work, you know, you got to dig deep within your own self, but I think that would help a lot of people who feel that, like I have to do this because, and that just goes into, you know, relationships and pressures. Like my parents want me to do this, or, you know, like my boyfriend or whatever, you know, like it's, it goes in all areas of our life, not just dancing, but you know, for this area, we can bring it down to that.

Samantha: Well, and knowing too, that whatever that relationship may be. If it's a positive one, the other person will be receptive to hearing that information and probably already knows that that is a piece of information that you want to share. I I'm just thinking I've had the situation several times as an instructor where I'm working with a student where there's just something off in the lesson. And you can feel it, right? It's something about the energy that they have in that space. And the energy that you're receiving from them is just like, either you're frustrated with me or you're frustrated with work, or you have a question that's at the surface that you just don't want to ask.

And it's hard for me then as an instructor to be like, Hey, what's really bothering you today? But the moment that the student volunteers, that information, it's like, you know, I could tell let's work through this. Like, okay, you had a terrible day at work. You don't want to work on technique for 45 minutes. Great. Let me just switch the playlist and let's just dance and release stress and let's just move. And it changes the entire energy of the room. Have you experienced something similar and how have you kind of worked through that communication?

Natalie: Yeah, I agree that, you know, I think there's two things that came to my mind that. The first one is like you just said, like, I think as an instructor, well three things, there's as an instructor, you have to really know how to pivot. Fast, you know, you got to, you got to realize the situation and then take responsibility for the situation and be like, okay, yeah, this is not working. And I don't want them to leave feeling discouraged. I want them to leave feeling good about themselves so that they keep coming back and we can maintain this relationship.

So I think one is like knowing how to pivot and reading the room. Yeah. And reading the student, you know, and I think, you know, like body language is a big thing and you know, like you said, you can just you can feel it, like our energy doesn't lie. and the second thing is along those lines is like taking ownership for the type of energy you're bringing in to the space as well.

Like if I had a really terrible morning and I had to like pay my bills and then I was just like stuck in traffic and I'm just going to teach my student and like, okay, do this. You know, it's like, that's not really fair to my student for me to bring in all that extra stuff. So. I think just really taking a moment, you know, I love the phrase and it's like, leave it at the door. But also, you know, like doing something that maybe listening to a song before you get in there that just like uplifts you, you know, or reading something positive or calling someone on the way there, that always makes you feel good.

And I think, you know, we can really take response, start taking responsibility for the energy that we're bringing in the space and the kind of like. You know, energy, that's behind what I'm saying, you know, to my students. And I think the third thing is that, you know, I believe that our bodies talk and they want to be expressed and they want to move and they want to, you know, and it's, it's a tricky thing with ballroom because we're trying to like, master our movement, let's say, I like to think of it in that I'm just mastering my body. Like how can I manipulate it and move it in all these ways, but also how can I just let it go and just like, let my body talk and let my body move. And I think when, you know, we put so much pressure on doing something perfectly and the technique and all these things, but like, there's something in me that like I'm having a bad day.

And like you just said, like, I just need to let my body get that energy out of me before I go in and like really fine tune everything. So I think, you know, a lot more of this, like, allowing our bodies to talk and to move and to realize that, you know, like you're not going to be the same every day. Like you might not sleep really good that night before, or, you know, like, like I said, you might have things that happen in your morning and just really be, you know, when you step into a space and I think instructors, especially we hold this like sense of responsibility because we, we are asking them to be in the space that we are creating and holding for them. And we're really responsible for what we're exchanging, you know, even you and I are exchanging this like energy and this communication and, you know, beforehand getting prepared. And so I think it's, it's kind of a combination of those three things.

It's like being responsible for the energy that you're bringing in and then realizing that you have to pivot and it's okay to pivot. It's okay. Like you said, to just dance it out and have some stress relief because more than likely when they release that they're going to be in a positive mood and then you can really get down and into the technique and like really work on things.

And then also, you know, just letting your body do that sometimes. And just, you know, it goes back to what we said, like, Oh, this doesn't feel right. Like. Let me just take a break for a second. Let me walk outside, let me like, shake it off, you know, like, okay, now I'm back and now I know what to do, you know? So I think it's just allowing each other, some grace too.

And just knowing that we're all human. And even though I might be this coach and I have a lot of information and experience doesn't mean that I don't have a bad day or I don't, you know, like have things that I'm working on too. And so, you know, it's just, everything comes down to that, like communication and relationship and like having grace for each other that, you know, we are all human and we're choosing to do something that's really fun, but we also don't need to be so serious about it.

You know, every day, at least, you know. It's something serious, of course, you know, like you're competing and you got to, you got to be prepared. It's not easy, but you know, those days where it's like, yeah, let's just groove. Let's just have fun. You know, I think that's just as important, the play is just as important as the work.

Samantha: Absolutely. Absolutely. I want to pivot real quick cause we're quickly running out of time, but I do want to talk about competing in nine dance specifically. I love the American style. I've mentioned before on the podcast that in college I was a nine dancer and now I guess I mostly focus on smooth, although I teach everything like everyone else does.

What about specifically nine dance excites you? What are you looking at the future for rhythm and smooth being? And how do you, how does your personal style fit in with the rhythm and the smooth categories?

Natalie: I have always loved nine dance. It was something I started right away. I think I was partial to it because my coach was a professional rhythm dancer and it's like, Oh yes, I could teach someone rhythm.

So, I think just. You know, just my circumstances kind of put me in that situation, but I personally, I love both styles and it was going to be really hard for me to choose one, first of all. So, I was like, I don't think I can, they're so different, but they're so like they complement each other so well at the same time, I think for nine dance, what was really nice is that it wasn't just one style that I like put everything. It was like, I could work on one and then the other one was like, not only something new and exciting, but it was like a break from the other style too. So just both of them kind of held my interest at this, like it wasn't too much of one thing let's say. Obviously when you're competing and getting ready, it can feel like too, like, why did we do nine dances?

This is so much work. And now we like, Foxtrot is not prepared, but now we have this thing in Chacha and oh my god, like and sometimes it is really overwhelming. But for me, I think I like, I like playing characters too. I like the, that part of dancing is just, I like. You know, with smooth, you can be, so you can be more like classic or you can be very out there, you know?

And, and I think the costuming for smooth was something that was exciting for me. Cause it's like I could create this character that went along with what we were doing and what we were trying to say with our dancing. With rhythm, it's still finding its way there. I think people are kind of, when they do like a more costuming it's more Cuban style, which is correct, because that's kind of where it came from, you know, as this like Cuban action and very in the body.

And I think for me, I'm just, I am. I really feel from the inside out. It's just like, I hear the music and it just, it feels like my body takes over a lot. And so, I'm just a very, like, I like to move my body. I don't like as much structure. I like structured to build muscle tone and like control, but I like to really let myself be loose and expressive.

And I think that smooth really allows for that. And it's really exciting to see that style grow and grow and grow because I think what people are feeling finally is freedom of movement. And you're taking something that is so beautiful and structured, like standard. You have all this technique and movement underneath you. And one of my favorite quotes is I can't remember who it's from, but it talks about how discipline on the bottom allows for freedom up top. So, if I'm super disciplined in how I'm carrying myself and I'm moving from foot to foot and it's just so ingrained in my body, I get to have fun up here and I get to express how I want to feel. So, I think that is something that I really liked.

Even for rhythm too, because I worked with Decho and Bree who worked with Sam and Billy and, you know, the big famous hip lift technique, which is really just, you know, people interpret it in many different ways. But I really liked it because it gave me structure with rhythm that again, allowed for some more freedom up top, but I was effectively transferring my weight.

I was from a bent knee to it, you know. It felt good in what they offered me. And so, I just really took it and ran with it. But I think for me, it's like I do. And like in between I like structure, but I like a lot of freedom and creativity on top of it. So those two twos, those two styles together. Gave me all of that in, in one.

And I think they complement each other a lot too. You know, like you get to use, like in Bolero, you get to use a lot of the same movements. And I noticed that when I was dancing with Oleksiy, that our Bolero was really strong because it was like we were using all these connections that we learned in smooth, you know. But then in Foxtrot it was like, let's just throw some stuff from her swing in here and like more jazzy.

And it was just cool to see how yeah. And, you know, you've danced it. It's just cool to feel how things kind of intertwine and nothing is really separate. We just separated by a category, you know. Like ballroom is not its own set, like Latin isn't separate from rhythm, which is separate, you know, they're all interchangeable and they all, you could use techniques from all different things.

So, it's just a cool, like mesh of styles and, and, you know, especially somebody that brings in jazz and contemporary and like all these cool things that, you know, I think that's why I liked it so much was because it was really like creatively free.

Samantha: Awesome. Awesome. Well, before we wrap up for today, anything that you want to make sure our listeners are aware of? Anything that you want to talk about before we call the podcast for the day?

Natalie: Let me think. Yeah, I think it's just, you know, like I think one thing that I really, you know, I've gone through this whole experience of just growing up dancing and Pro-Am into this pro world from rising star to pro and, you know, I've just, now that I've taken a break of competing, at least, you know, I'm still teaching and coaching everywhere.

And, you know, just being off the competitive floor has been a really revealing thing for me. And just a lot of the things we've talked about, you know, like about, you know, being aware of like that this is a choice that you're competing and that's your, you know, you're choosing to put yourself out there and, you know, learning how to communicate with people and that these are things that it's easy to realize when you're you step out of the, the pressure and the, the cycle of was competing and going and moving and traveling. And like, it's, it's hard to look at it from the outside. So, I really encourage people, especially during this time when everything is kind of like quiet and where's not competing as much, or if we are it's little, a little bit here, a little bit there.

And just sitting with themselves and like really reflecting on the experience, not only on, you know, like what they've all accomplished and being really proud of those things and like giving yourself some kudos and like pat on the back for all of the work, you have done. Making goals that are really achievable and you know, they're, they are in your grasp, nothing that's too far out.

You know, and if it is, make small goals to get there. Learning, you know, about, about yourself and just sitting and realizing, like, do I really want to do this? Do I want to do this style? Do I want to be with this partner? You know, like, do I want to, and just really getting honest and then communicating those things and really starting to treat everything, you know, like a relationship with everybody and realizing that, you know, if you really want to have a good, successful, whatever success means for you, you know, is like your own determination. Being a champion doesn't mean that you're not, or not being a champion doesn't mean you're not successful either. And so just really taking ownership, you know, I think that's the biggest thing I can give to people is like, just start to take ownership over your own journey and what you value in the world and what you want to achieve, not what other people are pushing on you and, and owning it, you know? And just knowing that it's, it's your journey at the end of the day. And you're the one with the memories. So, you got to do what you, you truly want to do with it. So, so yeah. Thank you so much for having me. This was so, so great.

Samantha: Thank you for being a guest. Thank you once again to Natalie for being a guest on today's podcast. If you want to follow her journey, you can do so using the links in the description box below.

Once again, I'm Samantha, I've been your host with Love Live Dance. You can follow us across social media at Ballroom Chat, and if you have not already done so please do make sure that you have given us a five-star review on your podcast platform of choice.

As always stay safe, stay positive, and we hope to see you dancing very soon.