From the Rink to the Ballroom - Jessica Mancini

Ballroom Chat: Episode #44March 24, 2021

Jessica Mancini chats about growing up in the figure skating world, making the transition to ballroom dancing. Jessica and Samantha also discuss how to navigate the difficult balance between setting goals for your students and expectations while also encouraging them to remember the joy of the activity that they are doing.

Jessica Mancini is a five time US National Pro-Am champion in Rhythm, Smooth, and 9-Dance, as well as a Pro-Am Open Vice Champion in Rhythm and Smooth. She was also a former team USA figure skater, and current Professional competitor.

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Episode Transcript

Our transcripts are automatically generated from our audio podcast with only small modifications for readability. Since the transcripts are automatically generated from our podcast conversation, they will contain errors.

Samantha: Welcome back to another episode of Ballroom Chat, the podcast dedicated to sharing the dance journey. I'm your host, Samantha with Love Live Dance. Today, I'm joined by Jessica Mancini. She is a five time us national Pro-Am champion in rhythm, smooth, and nine dance, as well as a pro-am open vice champion in rhythm and smooth. She was also a former team USA figure skater. And I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with her about growing up in the figure skating world, making the transition to ballroom dancing, and how to navigate the difficult balance between setting goals for your students and expectations, and also encouraging them to remember the joy of the activity that they are doing. I found the conversation very insightful and helpful, and I hope you will as well. Please enjoy my conversation with Jessica Mancini.

Well, thank you, Jessica so much for being a guest today on the podcast.

Jessica: Of course, thank you for having me.

Samantha: so I am very excited to hear how you got into the ballroom dance world, but I feel like before we get to ballroom dancing, I want to talk about figure skating and how that kind of came into your life. Was figure skating first, and then dance second? Did they happen together? What was the whole process for finding those two sports?

Jessica: Well figure skating happened before I think I could really walk well, so I think that's why the issues of walking, but my parents put me in skates when I was two. And they were actually as adults, they started ice skating together and so they wanted to get me into it. And they would take me to the rink and I was all bundled up and my grandma and grandpa would watch me before I could walk.

So once I was able to stand on my own two feet, they said, cool. You can wear skates then. So they put ice skates on me. I don't really remember having a say in it. I just, I remember kind of it being part of my existence. I got a coach when I was four. And then I did my first figure skating competition when I was five. And from there it was just a normal part of my life and life without skating, I wasn't sure what that looked like. So all the way through elementary school, middle school almost all the way through high school. I was a, an elite athlete training. It was starting at seven in the morning and finishing at five at night and then going home and doing homework and passing out and doing it all over again.

So that rigorous training led us to competing at the novice and junior level in ice dance. So. My partner and I at the novice level ended up placing second at nationals, which essentially the medalist from the previous level have more of a chance of being on team USA for the following year on the junior circuit, which is the next level up.

So that next year we were on team USA and that was the coolest experience of my entire life. I was 15 and we got assigned to go to a junior grand Prix event, which is one of our international events in Poland. And so I'm 15 and I get to represent my country and travel the world and absolute surreal in a complete blessing. So I did that and that partnership ended up splitting and I got an opportunity to go to Detroit skating club, which was at the time it was a really big training facility for ice dancing. And I was on cloud nine. I was around these athletes that I had looked up to that were on like the junior world and world circuit. I'm just drooling during practices. So I went there for a new partnership and we had skated together for about it was six months and I was living there at the time. I was 15, almost 16. And I was living with a host family out there and it was, it was tough. Definitely emotionally for, I was still a kid, but I had to grow up.

And that partnership, the guy ended up quitting skating halfway through the season. Which in skating, if you don't have a partner defined by a certain date you can't compete the rest of the season. And so I was kind of out of it for the rest of the season and I moved back home got re-enrolled in high school and kind of decided to be normal, whatever that means for the remainder of that season.

And uh, you know, what, I've never had time. I've always had my whole day planned out for me. I've always had practices and workouts and dance classes and nutrition. Like I'm just going to do what I want to do. And that was actually when I told my mom that I wanted to try ballroom and I walked into Golden Parker's studio, Best of Ballroom, and just fell in love with the atmosphere and him as a teacher he's just absolutely phenomenal at what he does.

And I just thought it was going to be something I did. And, you know, in the waiting for a new ice dance partnership, And I had an offer from a guy in Vancouver which would have, he was phenomenal skater would have been what had been a really good option for me. But right after I hung up the phone, I just started crying. Cause I was thinking about the thought of having to lose dance, sing again, and having to lose my studio family. And I just knew that that was where God was calling me and that it was a new, it was a new chapter.

So that know skating, skaters have a unique way of moving. Always, you know, I've recognized it in myself and I recognize, recognized it in most skaters that come in and there are definitely some really beneficial aspects to that training that I had for my whole life. And definitely some bad habits I had to break too. But we all have those

Samantha: Yeah. Well, I'd love to hear more about that because I I've mentioned on the podcast before I was a ballet dancer for a number of years before coming to ballroom, and that's a whole rework, retool process when you switch from this very straight leg, straight core, very upright to then trying to do American rhythm with Cuban action. And what? I'm supposed to land on a knee? No. Gosh.

Jessica: What is this? It's wrong.

Samantha: So, so what was it, the retraining process that you found? What were the positives that you had in your muscle memory already that kind of gave you an advantage? And then what did you really have to overcome and kind of tell yourself it was okay to retrain,

Jessica: Positives for sure. Or performing aspect is something that's not really normal for people to have performed in front of an audience, or even to have to emote and express and, and take on whatever the role is of the dance that you're doing. That was something that was already very familiar to me and that expressiveness definitely came from skating, and from that training. As far as the actual movement smooth dancing feels a lot more like skating to me then obviously rhythm. I was dancing in little casts. And so now that I had to like, actually like work through a foot, I was like, my feet were just like flopping around for the first couple of months years.

So definitely the rhythm, a rhythm and Latin were a harder style because in skates you're same thing you were saying, like, you're holding yourself vertically. You can't be moving all of this because you're on a blade, that's a quarter inch thick. So the movement and expression in rhythm and Latin actually became the hardest thing for me. So that was with Golden, we really focused on rhythm. That was, most of our lessons were all rhythm. And then like two weeks before we went to an event, we would run through our smooth routines, because smooth, it just, it felt like home. It felt like what I had done for 15 years. He's like, we're fine. Let's focus on what you look weird doing, which is rhythm.

So we focused a lot more on like the technical aspect of rhythm and you know, really working on my feet and my legs and that awareness really developing flexibility through my center, which I'd never had before. But the hardest thing for me is still rhythm. You know, skaters are known for being like very pretty and pretty little line. And rhythm and Latin, like those girls, they walk in and, you know, they do rhythm and Latin. And I've, I've never felt like I've embodied that fierceness. So like expressing a waltz, expressing a tango or a Viennese waltz or Foxtrot, like that stuff feels that very natural, but the expression of rhythm and that just really, you know, it's sexy and it's raw and it's, it's in the body that has always been hard for me just because that is not skating at all.

So I've really had to work at embodying. That part of dancing. But the other side of it like pretty little waltz, like play a waltz and I'll, I can go all day. I like that.

Samantha: Yeah. Well, it makes sense, right? Because when we think about waltz, we think about gliding across the floor. We think about, you know, you're, you're continually rolling through your heel. You're, you're wanting to stay as smooth as possible through this rise and fall. It's very serene. It's very peaceful. Whereas to your point, you know, when we talk about Latin and rhythm, it's sexy. It's, it's like heavy. It's you have the facial expressions, you have the shoulder movement, you can get kind of feel it all through the rib cage.

So it just, it requires more awareness both internally and then projecting externally With figure skating you mentioned that, you know, that performance aspect had already been trained. You already had that kind of embodied. And that is definitely not something that comes naturally to non-performers. Right. Especially when we're talking about our Pro-Am students, like that's a foreign concept. So when you're teaching now do you rely on information that you got from coaches when you were a youth competing in, in figure skating, or are you finding your own way to navigate that information for your students?

Jessica: I'd say it's a combination of both. There are certain things that I don't remember being taught. So I in skating, I don't remember being taught how to express. I don't remember other than like, I had one coach, tell me to say my vowels to keep, skaters are weird. If they were, they used to be about like your mouth movements, like, "A", "E", "I", "O", like, hate that. That's all I remember. And I trashed it. I was like, I'm not going to do that, but I don't ever remember, remember really being taught how to express or how to feel. So in teaching I've gone about it more in a, you know, taking as much coaching as I can, and really looking up to Golden who's, you know, the studio owner and has mentored me through, you know, all of my pro am and now pro career.

So I've taken a lot of advice from people around me and listened to the way that they teach. But then there's also certain things where things that come naturally to my body, I've had to reverse engineer it and really think about, okay, how can I, how can I explain this? How could I break it down in a process that I can teach someone from step one all the way through to step 10 on how to get there.

And Toni Redpath actually has been pretty influential in, in me seeing things as a process. And she's brilliant as a dancer, but as a teacher, she is just so methodical with how she goes about teaching students. And it really helped me take that same approach to, okay. How can I explain the things that I know in my body? How can I explain it in a way that makes sense to them and how can I break it down? So it's definitely a combination. I know if I relied on myself for any of this, like I would, I would be unsuccessful and really continuing to draw in as much information as I can from the people around me that I look up to from the other teachers in our studio.

Even from students, sometimes students will say like, Oh you know, this explanation for something reminds me of this in baseball, like, okay, I don't do sports, but yeah, sure. That's, that's great. I'll try and use that for people that play baseball. So it's really just about being a sponge in your environment and adjusting yourself. You know, you have to fit into a different mold for each student because each student comes from different backgrounds. So trying to find that point where we can relate and understand, and then mesh all of the ideas together It's really been an adventure teaching is just, it's such a joy. And to like watch my students. I, I, my favorite is when I get goosies, that's what I tell them, that gave me goosies. Is when I see them really get it and I see them progress and it feels like I'm doing it with them. And that's what I know. You know, this is it. It's working. It's, it's an adventure. I love it.

Samantha: Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah. I love those sports metaphors where I'm like, okay, I never played football, but this should feel like the football ready position. Right? Right. Yeah. Okay. Okay. Cool.

Jessica: Yeah, what is a hike?,

Samantha: so, so when we were talking about kind of like setting goalposts or, or putting together a learning plan for students obviously every teacher has their own methodology. I'd be curious to hear from you. Do you, are you transparent with your students about the process? Like we're in step one, we're going to get to step 10, but it's going to take, you know, a year, two years, five years for you to get to this next benchmark? Or do you just kind of take it day at a time and say, okay, we're working on this now and then the next time, okay, remember what we worked on last time? Now we're going to add on this. So how, how much insight do you give your students into the length of the process and how in depth the process is actually going to be?

Jessica: Yeah. I would say it's a combination again, of, of taking it one day at a time, because it is easy to see the final product and for students to be like, I will never do that. And no, like you can do that, but here's the 50 steps and here's how many years it's going to take you to get to that place. And that's not, that's not to be mean to them. It's to say, if dancing was easy, like number one, I wouldn't have a job. Number two, you know, it's, it's meant to be a journey. And that's what I really try and emphasize with my students is that it's about embracing that journey.

And so trying to keep them focused on this is what we're doing today, but this is this step, and then next time when we're adding on this concept, when you understand this, then we can start talking about this. And everything is getting you closer and closer to whatever your final goal is. And then that's, that's different depending on what their goals are, because I have quite a few students that are not competitive dancers.

They don't have a desire to be, they come in with their husband or with their wife on Wednesday nights at 5:45 and that's their time together. So seeing why people value dancing and seeing, you know, okay, what is your goal in this? And helping them establish those goals, even if it is social dancing. You know, pre COVID what I would tell my students was, okay, let's pick something this month pick somewhere that you can go social dance pick, you know, you can go to the Tavern at the Broadmore. You can come to our studio's social dance. Let's have a goal set, and let's just see that improvement. So every month when you go social dancing, you're going to feel like you're becoming more comfortable dancing with your person.

So social dancing, even I've, I've had to get creative with how I set their goals, because it's easy just for social dancers to come in and they dance for 45 minutes and they leave. Ok, bye. See you next week. And really helping them understand, not just. Okay. It's not just about all the steps that you know, but let's also talk about the quality of your movement. I'm not going to cheat you on really learning how to move your body and understanding how to dance, not understanding how to do dance steps. So that's been huge in, in my couples progresses because then they start to actually feel more confident in themselves because they see it, they see themselves dancing or they see like how they finish an arm and they're like, Oh, like, I look good. Yeah, you do. It's about that belief in what they're doing.

So whether you're competitive or whether you're, you know, just want to do shows or you do social. My first thing is to establish where are you at? What is, why are you dancing? Then I can help them establish some goals and then I can give them, you know, the process to get there and making sure to remind them that it is always a journey. I've been having this conversation a lot with students this week because we're doing choreography for showcase. And Telling them it's, it's about building, it's about learning this chunk, learning this chunk. Now you can do both chunks or the next chunk and that patience in the process and learning to just enjoy the process because there's no, there's no fun in something coming easy. Okay. Well then you just want the next thing, like really enjoying that journey and enjoying the process of learning has been really helpful for my students to not get discouraged and to keep them progressing down the path.

Samantha: Yeah. And I feel like for some students that comes naturally, right? Like my very intellectual students are like, yes, I want to dive into this. I want to challenge myself. This is great. And they, they naturally kind of go towards that, I just want to, I want to learn. I want to be forever the student.

And then I definitely have other students that come in and that process is frustrating on day one. And it's like, okay, let's, let's figure out how we can work together. To make it so that you've, you can look at this journey as a positive process. I think all the time of like my wedding students that come in they're like, goal is low. We just want to not do the 13 year-old shuffle for three minutes. Like, that's all we want to do. We don't want to look like idiots. We want to do something interesting. Okay, great. And then the, the first half hour, the box basic is the most frustrating thing that they've ever done. And, Oh my gosh. They're, you know, the most uncoordinated person ever, I'm just like a flailing baby giraffe. I don't know how to move my legs. God. Why is this so hard? It's like, okay, okay, wait, wait, wait.

Let's, let's dial this back. And then five lessons later. They're like, like we should have done more than just the box and the rotating box. I feel like we could have done more. It's like, yeah. Yeah, you could have.

Jessica: Yes, yeah, that's sweet.

Samantha: When you are talking about your social students in a lot of ways, I feel like social dance in its, own in its own right, is more challenging some days than competition students. Because from a competitive perspective, we'll teach your routines. We'll work on the technique as far as that dance goes. But you, for a while lead and the follow aspect is not necessarily at the forefront. Whereas in social dance, if you want your students to be really good social dancers, like that is the thing that we need to get comfortable with. How do you navigate that and how do you kind of broach that subject with your students, especially the couples that come in and they're like, we just want to learn a couple new patterns for our cha-cha.

Jessica: Well, this is Michelle Hudson along with Toni Redpath, but I've gotten most of my information from about this from Michelle. They describe it as a partnership. So regardless of if I'm dancing with a competitive male student, if I'm dancing with, you know, this new bronze guy that, you know, doesn't know what he wants to do with dance, or whether it's a social couple, a guy that wants to learn how to social dance or a couple, the idea of it being a partnership is so valuable.

And learning how to establish you know, how am I responding to him and how am I delivering this information to her? And I talk about that from day one, because it's so, it's so difficult to just continue to teach them steps. And you can know the entire syllabus. And if you don't have the ability as a leader to understand how to deliver the information and as a follower to know like the sensation that you're going to feel to experience that, I'd be better off, you'd be better off doing two steps.

Whether it's with your partner or as the leader, you'd be better off doing two steps that you can really feel and experience and feel like you're dancing it together. It's about that communication. So navigating it is it is very difficult and it, it it's frustrating, but I try to once again, explain it as a process of, if we learn these fundamentals now, it doesn't matter if you're dancing a tango. It doesn't matter if you're dancing a West coast swing the fundamentals of understanding body weight and connection are all going to be the same. And they can start to feel it. And you can just see, like, when I tell the guy, you know, to support her and give her a place to be, the woman will start, she'll start doing this, Jim! Lift your hand up! And they'll start like flapping at their wing. So they, they like it cause they can feel each other. And that's, that's the point of dancing is it's this, it's a language, it's a language where we don't have to talk. It's a language where I can just be present with my partner and I can feel exactly what he wants me to do.

I can feel, you know, in the music, what he's going to be leading me into next. And he can feel it too. And it's that nonverbal communication that's why people enjoy dancing so much. And, you know, to be able to communicate with someone like that, I can see it in my couples. And it's, it's kind of like you were saying like five lessons in, 10 lessons in, I see one moment, it might just be a box step, and maybe, you know, they start turning their box, but they're talking to each other, like, they're not about dancing. They're just like having a conversation about and laughing. Like, do you realize you're dancing right now? You're not in your head. You're not thinking, you're actually dancing, you're leading and she's following. Everything that you're asking her to do. She's feeling it, you know, it's, it's beautiful to see that and they can feel it too.

It's not something that needs to be explained. They, they really get it and they can feel that, you know, when, when they're actually dancing with their person, as opposed to doing steps at the same time as their person.

Samantha: Yeah, absolutely. I think an area that always kind of makes me laugh or surprises me when student students ask it is you know, Oh, I'm never going to be as good as you or Oh, you know, whatever. And it's like, well, that's because I'm 10 years ahead of you on this process. So I always like looking kind of behind the curtain. Obviously I mentioned in the intro that you are a several times over a us national pro am champion and open pro am vice champion. How long did that process take from, from walking in the door walking away from figure skating to now having titles? Are we talking a year, two years, eight years.

Jessica: I wish that'd be awesome. No, it's in the ballroom world. I started in 2012, so I had my first formal ballroom lesson in 2012. Not like going in for a little group class with my ice dancing partner. Like I had a lesson with Golden at 2012. And I finished my Pro-Am career by the 2017 was my very last Pro-Am event which is not, it's.

It says five years, you know, if you can calculate the math and then students will be like, God, five years, why didn't I do it. Well. No, because 2017 was not my end and 2012 was not my beginning because I started skating in 1998. And any form of movement, any training that you do is additive. And so I look at it as it's kind of like when you're getting, you know, a PhD or a doctorate you're, you're learning throughout, and the years that you put into it, the more years that you put in the easier it is to actually feel like I I'm doing this naturally, or it came so easily, but it didn't. Because if you look back to where you started from, there has been so much that has led up to that point.

So I don't think that my journey started in 2012 and I don't think my, I know my journey didn't end in 2017. Like the amount of information that I have gained through my lifetime in skating and through all of that on and off ice training and then into the ballroom world. And now this intensified training of, you know, I'm diving into ballroom and I'm, I'm hearing these coaches and I can't even sleep for nights after I get coaching because my brain is just like on fire with all this new information.

And I'm, my heart is just excited to be learning more and more. So students say that a lot because it's easy to get discouraged on the journey. And it, it is frustrating at times a lot of times. So, and we, we, as their teachers, it's important that they understand that we've been there too. And we are still learning just like they're still learning and there's not a final destination.

If there's a final destination, then you're dead. Like the final destination is about learning throughout your lifetime or throughout however long you spend in these years dancing. And, and letting all of those skills build up to, you know, maybe you win a title, .maybe you don't. Maybe, maybe your title is getting to take your wife out dancing and all, everyone is like cheering for you from the sideline, because you just look like you're having such a good time. I see success like those little rewards along the way as, as just that extra little, that little, extra little boost that takes you to the next moment, but it's not about saying like, okay, I did it and nothing happened, but because it wasn't about that moment, your, your process wasn't about getting to a title. Your process was about getting to a showcase. It was about, what did I learn through that time leading up to it and what am I going to do in the time following it? How can I use this experience to learn something so that I continue to grow? Which is it's a difficult mindset to have naturally. And I think as teachers, we know that that's our responsibility.

Samantha: Absolutely. Along with that, you know, how often do we open up Facebook or Instagram or YouTube and watch some of the top dancers just practicing a very simple, basic, right? If, if that's not proof in the pudding that, you know, this is a lifelong process, I don't know what is. Do we, as instructors also have a responsibility to our students too, be more transparent about when, when and how we are getting coaching for ourselves so that they, so that we can mirror the fact that, you know, it is an ongoing process?

I feel like oftentimes instructors like go away for coaching or schedule their coaching hours when the students aren't going to be in the studio. So is, is there an argument to be made that we should be opening up that process, pulling the curtains back to be like, no, look we, we are human too? We, we are students as well.

Jessica: Absolutely. I just had this conversation with two of my students in particular. We had Diana McDonald and over the weekend and I was teaching the lesson that I got with David, with my pro partner. I was teaching it to this young youth student that we have. And I was telling her like, these are the things that I've been working on with you.

And I just paid someone else to teach it to me. So understand that I am, I am learning this too. And I am learning the process of not just how to do it in my own body, but how to explain it to you in a way that you'll understand better. And so we just like nerded out for her lesson. And we just talked about all the things that she learned and all the things that I learned and, you know, kind of like put each other into frame and practice those things.

And I told her, I was like, it doesn't matter. You know, right now she's going into the silver level, competing with Golden, and now I'm competing pro I that it doesn't matter where you're at because we're, we're both still learning and I'm still learning the same lesson that you're learning too, because that's, we can always become better. I told one of my other couples, who's going to start competing over the summer. I gave them, you know, some of the information that I passed on and I said, listen, I will always. When I take coaching for me as your teacher it is not just for me as a professional. It is for me to be able to relay that information on to you. It's not just an investment into my own dancing. It's an investment into your dancing and into his dancing and into their dancing. I can pass that information along. That's, that to me is the really unique thing about ballroom is there's not a book, there's not a manual. It's, it's all been passed down from these generations of extremely talented dancers, all for different reasons.

You know, they, they each have their thing and they've passed that down. I could see it in like the generational kind of step down of like Toni, you know, learning all of this information, developing this curriculum. She passes it onto Michelle and then Michelle, you know, passes it onto Golden and Golden passes it onto me. And it's just, you can just see this progression of the relaying of information. And coaching to them, you know, they see, they see like, well, that's, that's more expensive than my normal lesson. And so, yeah, because the information that you're getting is getting maybe information for the next five to 10 years of your journey in 45 minutes of a lesson, it's, they're not expecting you to master everything that they're saying.

They're expecting you to get this condensed information and draw it out and dissect it with your teacher throughout the next, you know, X number of years of your journey. So for sure, I mean, Golden has really been a huge advocate for always bringing in coaches to the studio and always having them accessible to students. But also encouraging his staff to take a one-on-one lesson with this person, just to be able to say, I have all these questions. I'm going to come with 15 questions and I'm going to ask you, and I'm going to get as much information as I can out of this, not just for my own dancing, but also for, you know, progression of my students and understanding of the material.

And, you know, he's, he has always been humble and has instilled in his staff in attitude of we're, we have more to learn too. Just like our students. And so I do believe that, you know, it should not be behind the scenes. It should not ever be a situation where, Oh, I know everything. This is my way I I've, I've become this way because I am just great.

You're not, you're only that great because of how much information people have given you and how much time other people have invested into you. And so I, I've never really experienced the other side of that or that, that arrogance of like, Oh, well only my way. And you only need me as your teacher. I've been in an environment where it's been nurtured, that you do admit your vulnerability to your students, and you say I'm learning too. And embracing that together is, it makes them feel like they're not alone in it either.

Samantha: Well, I think it. It makes you more trustworthy as an instructor in a lot of ways to, to show your vulnerabilities. You know, to say like, maybe I don't have all of the answers, but if I don't have the answer, I'm going to work my tushy off to make sure that I find the person with the right answer so that we can solve this together. Right.

I also think it's so important when studios or, or instructors are bringing in coaches that they have coaching lessons with that person, because we are, we're creating an environment where we're bringing someone in as an expert. If we've never trained with that expert, then we have no idea what's going to happen in the lesson with our students. Right.

So you may agree with the person you may disagree with the person, there's always something to learn from it. But if you're bringing someone in, you can couch the lesson to your student as, I'm bringing this person in because they are great at this thing. Maybe it's technique, maybe it's styling, maybe it's choreography, and that's the arena that I want you to focus on.

And, and maybe there's other information that's in conflict with what we're currently training on, but this is the thing that we want to take away from this lesson. It just, again, like you said, it has goals, it creates goal setting for that student.

Jessica: Absolutely. Absolutely. And that focused intention of this is what we're trying to get out of this coaching from this person. That's great. And that's partly why I think it's so important for us to be there with them is, you know, they say like, well, I just dance with you. Why can't I just take a lesson with this lady? Which that's always what they call them. Cause they don't know who they are. This lady is going to be giving you information that you're not supposed to understand yet. And as your teacher, I can hear that information. I can help us sort through it, together, you know, over the next few years.

But you know, for sure it's coaching is it's been something I've really missed, you know, during COVID and stuff with, you know, people not traveling. And this was our first weekend that we got to bring in a coach and it was, all of us were so excited. It wasn't just for the students, like all the teachers were like yay! Waiting at the door for her, to come it. Like, yay, new information. But it's, it's that hunger for just becoming better. You know, if we feel like we're improving in our own dancing, Golden says this to us all the time.

If you feel as an individual that you're improving as a dancer, you're going to be that much better of a teacher for your students. If you feel bored with the information, I mean, we teach two, three, Cha-cha one, two three, all day every day. If you're not building on that, if you're not really getting excited about anything new, you're going to burn out. And the hunger for that information is how we avoid the burnout.

Samantha: Definitely, definitely. I want to pivot just for a second to go back to something that you mentioned with your figure skating journey that I think is so crucial to talk about from a coaching perspective for young athletes across the spectrum, especially in ballroom dance, but obviously your experience was in, in the ice skating world. Letting children be children and over-scheduling, or putting too much pressure too early on.

So you mentioned that you, you had a break between your partnerships in high school and it was just this opportunity to be a normal everyday high school student, right? Without the pressure of training and, and competition. You are training some younger kids in the ballroom arena now. How do you navigate that line between looking at them as young athletes and looking at them as kids?

Jessica: It is a balancing act. And I think in order to understand where the balance is, you have to have been all the way on one side or the other. So there's those a, there's a, an adjustment. And I think it's different for each kid because you get kids that come in and they say, you know, I want to, I want to be a champion.

Okay, well, here's, it's going to take work, you know, it's not going to be like pat, pat, you're doing so well. It's got to take a lot of work and it's going to take a lot of really frustrating days. For my kids, what I, what I make sure of is that dance is something that enhances their life. Not my children, my students, I call them my kiddies, but I want to make sure that dance is always something that is adding to their life, where it's making them develop as human beings and trying to form those connections of, this is not just about, you know, working hard, and my mom's forcing me to be here and I don't want to have to run rounds cause I'm tired from school.

This is teaching you perseverance. This is teaching you how you have to get yourself up when you've had something that wasn't necessarily a success, and you have to have that mental strength to be able to get up and try again and again and again. So I always try and re refocus it on a life skill so that it's not, they don't just see it as like dancing and like my teacher's mean and my teacher makes me work hard. No, it's, this is preparing you for life. But the most important thing that I make sure to tell them is that their love for what they're doing is most important.

And my dance partner pro partner David has really helped me see how important that is. When I transitioned into the professional ranks, it is, it was like walking onto the floor was so intimidating and so scary. And I've looked up to these people since I started dancing and. I don't know who anyone is and I just feel like this baby. And, but with David, he just said, let's just, let's just dance. Let's just have fun. And it's, there is a balance of, okay, if you're just having fun, you're not going to necessarily progress. But if you keep the love of dancing at the core of whatever you're doing, you will have that success no matter what, even if you don't get the result that you wanted, you're going to have that love and that joy that you get from dancing come from all of those difficult days where you leave practice sweating, or you leave practice crying, cause you're just frustrated with the concept. But if it all is at this center point of, I love what I'm doing, then it's, it's a completely different experience. With skating I think the main, the main issue is that the heart is gone in a lot of these young athletes, because since they're little It's become a job, frankly. I mean, from seven to five, they're working, that's their job. That's what they're expected to do. And I'm speaking from personal experience. I'm sure this is not every skater's experience, but I do think when you're a kid getting involved in a sport at that intensity definitely requires having mentors around you that keep you grounded.

And maybe you have a weekend where you don't train and maybe you get to go to the, the amusement park with your family. Or maybe you take a week off, even if it's close to a competition. Well, who cares because you're a kid there's, you have to find that balance and that importance of, well, what do I value here is this, if it's continuing to add value to your life as a kid, if it's continuing to make them better and you know, I'm coming to practice on days, they might not want to, just to persevere.

Okay. But if it's something where you're, you're floating through the motions and you become numb to the reason why you actually love it or, or do you even love it anymore? That's what I think parents and coaches need to be really careful of is, is really exploring the heart of their child and, and understanding, you know, am I pushing them to do something that they don't want to do just because it's a little bit difficult and I need to help them understand how to work harder, or is this something that they're just pushing themselves to do when they don't have a love for it?

I wish I wish when I was skating that I didn't lose the heart for it. Cause I let external environmental factors affect my love for it. And that's why dance was so healing for me because I, everything that I remembered that I loved about skating, just the feeling of, of movement. And it's like, you're gliding and there's, for just a moment everything else disappears. But when you are training all day, every day, you know, it's, it's easy to get burnt out. And I wish I wish if I could go back and change anything, I just wish I could like talk to myself and shake myself a little bit and remind myself why I was doing it and that it wasn't about being perfect.

That it wasn't about, you know, getting this title and getting on team USA. But, you know, do you love what you're doing? Remember why you're doing this. And then you have that, that fire built up inside of you again, to get out and do another practice. But if your heart's not in it, get out, it's not worth it.

Samantha: Well, and I think something that I want to kind of bring back around was a conversation that we had in a previous episode with Natalie Crandall, which is this idea of, anything, it's all voluntary. Right? You need to make sure that you're doing this for your own reasons, for your own happiness, for your own progression. And I think, especially with kids, we have to be very careful and very aware of how much they are internalizing external pressure. Right.

As adults, I think we have blind sides that it tends to take a while for us to realize we have where we're, you know, continuing with a partnership because we don't let the one to let the partner down or we're coming in when we've had a really bad day, because we don't want to let our students down or instructors down or whomever we're in a relationship with, with we are pushing ourselves to do things, not for us, but for the expectations of others.

And as well, especially with kids, whether it's with school or with sport or with an activity. If we are creating a sense of this is your job, or we expect this to be your job, or we think you can be a champion, push a little bit harder, then suddenly we have, we have a, we're creating a sense where we might have them lose joy without even realizing that that's what's going on.

How do you combat that as, as a coach? How you mentioned, you know, encouraging folks to take days off and encouraging you to refocus and really check in and pay attention, but how do we as an industry, make sure we're, we're supporting kids for the fun of the dance. Not because parents want you to be the next Latin champion.

Jessica: Yeah, I don't know. I wish I, I wish I had a definitive answer. Speaking from just being a, being a kid in it, and then having students, I always just make sure to tell them like how proud I am of them. And to help them feel like someone that they look up to is, is encouraging them and supporting them and that they have that that closeness and the relationship and in the bond with their teacher that hopefully in that teacher, student bond.

There's openness in the communication of, you know, I feel pressure. Like I'm nervous, I'm scared. Like you have to develop, I think if, especially with kids, you have to develop a relationship of trust. It's built on trust and ask them about their day. Don't start in on their open level routine. Like ask them about how school is, ask them about how their boyfriend is. Ask them about whatever it is, how, how things are going at home, because that's really why we're there.

Job is, is to be the safe place for them to come to. That's not necessarily a parent or a friend where we're someone that they look up to, but we're in a very unique role. And our, our role is not just to teach them dance steps. Our role is not to teach them technique. Our role is not to, to make them a champion.

We have a much bigger impact, or we can, if we really take on that responsibility. And I believe that in that relationship if people were focused more on the relationships of, you know, the teacher and the student, as opposed to just it being, you know, I'm your coach, you can be more than that. And then you can have that open communication because kids, kids just want to make the people that they look up to really proud of them.

And they want to feel like they're. I had coaches where, when they were happy, I was happy. When they were disappointed. I was disappointed in myself. So they take on however, whatever we put out is what they're taking in. And it's magnified by like a hundred times. Every word that we say every little demeaning comment, I can, I can literally write a book of everything that coaches said to me that brought me down instead of brought me up.

And I'm not talking like constructive criticism. I'm talking about things that had nothing to do with my sport. Like we are our job, we are in such a special role where we can have an impact on these kids' lives if we really, really take on that opportunity to do it. So I don't, I don't know how to combat it. I just, I know more from a relational standpoint that if you can just make that kid feel like you're proud of them, that you're an advocate of them. That no matter what, whether they're dancing or not, you're there for them, whether they make the final or not. You're proud of them because they put in the work and that's what matters and really centering their focus more on what's important, which is a love of what you're doing.

The, the enjoyment of the journey that you're on. I think if we, we help shape their mentality, we will avoid more kids losing that joy. But it's, again, as teachers, it's our responsibility. We, whatever we put out is what they're going to take in is their experience. And maybe it's as simple as that, but, you know, it's, it's definitely something that I've seen growing up.

I've seen, you know, friends burnout. I burned out at, you know, I quit when I was 17. And I, I don't like seeing, we never want to see a talented kid quit, you know? Cause you said like they have so much talent. This kid wants to go to high school football games and, and this kid wants to, you know, be able to go to college and, you know, get to meet friends and, and network and see new places.

And that's okay. Because sometimes dancing, dancing is meant just for a chapter for the majority of people. For some of us who are in it from when we were able to walk all the way until, you know, our last dying breath. That that is what we eat, breathe and sleep is dance. That's not most people's experience and really making sure that you put yourself in their shoes and make sure that dance is always adding to their life.

Make sure that dance is serving its purpose, even if it is just for that season. It's not about us. It's not about our pride in their success. It's about if this is making them better as people and making them happier and more well-rounded human beings. Like we just get, we get excited. It can be from a good place. You know, we get excited to see the success and to see the potential.

I had a, a student just like that. He was so talented. I mean, this kid just picks stuff up. He was a former figure, skater, amazing amazingly talented kid, Aiden Bell. Just amazing. I, I enjoyed teaching him. He was hungry for the information. He picks stuff up so quickly. Like this kid, this kid could have done whatever he wanted. But I, I started telling my kids that, you know, if this is what you decide to do, you could be exceptional at it, but it has to be your choice. You know, and he ended up deciding he wanted to, you know, try different dancing and you know, like he went to different modern, contemporary type studio.

He wanted to, you know, be a high school kid and do drama and, as coaches, you know, Golden and I, we were like the team members that were helping him. We just said, okay, you know, like we're proud of you and know that, you know, if, if that for this chapter right now, you need to do that, awesome. If you never come back to your ballroom chapter, that's okay.

Like we're so honored that we got to be a part of it. But we have to humble ourselves a little bit more because dancing is not everything to everyone. Ballroom dancing is not an all end and end all be all for everyone. It has to be, it has to be something we see as benefiting them, not benefiting ourselves.

Samantha: Absolutely. Well, and I mean, even thinking about it, you know, I, I enjoy teaching dance. I am passionate about ballroom dance. I'm like you, I get goosebumps when my students have that aha moment. But I also separate myself from ballroom dance. I have a life outside of ballroom dance. I have friends or I watch Netflix, or I read a book or, you know, there, there are other things in my life that I find fulfilling that enhance my experience of ballroom dance and allow me to continue to come back and find the joy in it. And, you know, if we, if we look at how so school systems are set up plus extracurriculars, especially if you're taking sport at a high level or any of your extracurriculars at a high level, we want to make sure that they're still balanced because that's the reality of life outside of, you know, whatever your sport is. There. There has to be more out there. If nothing else, just to be able to separate and breathe for a few moments.

I want to talk very briefly about the next chapter for you. So you mentioned the fact that you are a competing professional now with David Moon. Are you still competing smooth and rhythm? Are you doing 9 dance specifically? What is kind of, what is the goal moving forward for that?

Jessica: Yeah, it actually came out of COVID, thanks COVID. I sat back and everything was closed and I think a lot of us did a lot of self evaluation and said, you know what, David, David is my, my soulmate in dance. And so we had danced previously together. He was my very first pro partner. And you know, situations changed, locations changed.

And we had to take a break for a little bit, but I decided to call him and, you know, we started this thing back up and our, our decision together was we're going to start completely over. We are going to get brand new routines. We are going to start from scratch and we're going to build, we're going to take this time, this gift of time that we've been given of no competitions, really minimal coaching based on, you know, being able to travel to and from places and have people travel to us. You know, we're going to take this to really build a strong foundation together and get routines that are just ours, that aren't, you know, this was my old routine from this person and this person, we can kind of marry them together and try and make them fit. So our goal really was just to have a stronger foundation built and to use the time to do that.

So right now we have right now we're just competing smooth for now and we're planning on going to our next competition will be Michigan Dance Classic. And Beach Bash are next two on the schedule. So we're really just taking every opportunity we can to actually compete, to get these routines on the floor. They are new. We're trying to just embrace more of the technique embrace more of the quality of movement together. Embrace more of the storyline of this is two of us dancing, as opposed to I have my part and you have your part and we're just going to flail around a little bit and hope we make finals. You know, it actually feels like we're building a partnership.

So, goals moving forward, we haven't, you know, it's really difficult right now. As far as competitions go to say, you know, this is our goal at this competition. Our goal right now is just to continue to improve. And eventually we'll add in rhythm. That's the plan anyway, but right now we wanted to start biting off a smaller chunk to really improve on that chunk. And feel confident and improve the quality of just our smooth which that focused attention has definitely benefited us. I feel like from a dancing standpoint, we are dancing better together even though we spent that year and a half apart, we're dancing better together than we ever have, because we took the time to just breathe for a second and work on these little details.

So, goals moving forward. I mean, with him, our goal was always just to continue to learn, to continue to improve and to have a dang good time doing it, which we always do. So, it's been amazing, you know, we just did a Nashville Stars. And it was just incredible to get to dance with him and to actually travel to a competition and, and have people in the ballroom. It's amazing that things that we just took for granted that, you know, there's competitions every weekend before, and now it's just such this gift. And that valuing of what we do, and especially as professionals, when we pass that down to, to the people that are watching us in the crowd and to our students.

And I just feel this reignited, passion and fierceness for what we're doing. And I think, especially with David him and I have always had a friendship first and I'm just very blessed to get to dance with my best friend again.

Samantha: David's awesome. He's, he's one of the good guys out there. Coming out, coming out the other side of, of the last year. Oh my gosh. It's been a year. Do you think that we are going to be more, in general, we're going to be more intentional about what styles our routines, where we're going for competition? Just more intention about the whole process? Because I think to your point, we took a lot for granted before where it was, well, you know, let's do 10 dance, let's do nine dance. Let's compete every weekend, cause there is a competition every weekend. So again, we're kind of putting on those external pressures of what our expected. Do you think having this time away from it for so long is going to give us kind of that clarity of mind to say you know, what, no, I'm going to be a little bit more choosy about how and where I invest my time?

Jessica: I would hope so. I would hope that all of us through this year can, can take something positive from it. Even though there was a lot of pain and struggle for a lot of people. I really hope that we all got a chance to refocus inward and ask ourselves why we do things. I'm, I'm kind of taking it the opposite extreme of, I never felt like I got burnt out.

I felt like I just, I felt like I just was being, I was just existing. I was, you know, going to competitions and I always enjoyed them. I always, we always made sure that, you know, we did fun things in these cities and that we made it about experience, not just about the dancing. But I'd say it now it's just exaggerated. Like I, every opportunity when there's a competition, I text David I'm like this competition is running, can we go? I I'm more excited about it because I'm just, I'm just excited to dance and my intentionality, I, I never, I never felt that burnout that, you know, a lot of people talk about at least in my professional career so far, that's not a, something I've had to experience.

I missed it like a crazy person, and I just wanted to get back to doing what I love. So I would hope that, you know, for, I can't speak on, you know, people that felt burnt out and maybe this break for them was just exactly what they needed to take that breath. Kind of like when I stopped skating just to separate and realize what they love in life, and that is amazing, you know, for them and for crazy people like me, I'm I just feel like I'm on like dance steroids.

I just want to dance. I want to learn and I do need to balance it. I know, cause that's an easy way to get burnt out is when you're just going, going, going. But I just, I love what we do and this just reminded me of how much it adds to my life because when it was taken away, life is just kind of, you know, it's, you, you wake up and you might go to the gym and, you know, you fold your laundry.

Like we all have something in our life or we all should, that just makes us feel more alive. And that's what dance does. So I'm really hoping that in competing this year, that people are more intentional if they need to take a breather. But that they're also more appreciative more so than intentional of just the opportunity that we have to get to be together again and just get to dance and do what you love.

Samantha: Awesome. Awesome. Well, before we wrap up today anything that you would like to make our listeners aware of anything that you want to leave our listeners with?

Jessica: Ooh don't lose the heart of it. Don't lose the love. Make sure that the dancing is always about the heart and the soul firs. You can always train your mind more. You can always train your body more, but your soul is really what's going to give you success. And however you define that success is up to you, but you will always feel fulfilled if you keep the soul aspect first.

Samantha: Yeah. Love that. Love that. Well, thank you, Jessica so much for being a guest today.

Jessica: Thank you so much for having me.

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

As always I'm Samantha, I'm your host with Love Live Dance. You can find all the podcast versions of these episodes at ballroomchat.com and you can follow us across social media at Ballroom Chat. You have not already done so, please do make sure that you hit the subscribe button and give us a thumbs up as well to show us that you enjoy these types of conversations.

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