Dancing is Life – Things I Learned from Tap

I first took up tap dancing to add a new skill to my musical theater arsenal. I figured that someday my theater group would put on a production of Mel Brook’s Young Frankenstein and I wanted to play the monster who, naturally, has a big tap dance number. Ergo I needed to learn to tap.

We never did put on the play, so far at least, but I enjoyed tap dancing so much that I kept up with it. In fact, I’ve been at it so long that it really is surprising that I’m not better at it – especially since I have an excellent, award winning instructor who has an unending supply of patience! But there’s only so much you can teach a moose. In case you are confused I’m the moose.

There are a lot of benefits to tap: improved cardiovascular health, improved coordination, it sounds cool, no one yells at you for making too much noise, and it’s just plain fun. However, over the years I have discovered that a lot of the lessons we learn in tap class also apply to life. Here, in no particular order, are some of them:

  • Keep looking forward: if you keep looking back you are going to fall. What’s behind you isn’t what counts, it’s what’s ahead of you.
  • Working together is easier than working separately: if you can’t figure something out, get help. Supportive classmates (or team mates or work mates) can encourage you and the group to greater things.
  • It takes time to learn a new step: no one puts on a pair of tap shoes and dances like Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. As with any new skill you start slowly, build on what you’ve learned earlier until it all comes together.
  • Ignoring the rhythm leads to disaster: if you don’t pay attention to the music and listen to the beat you end up with a cacophony of taps. But together in tempo you end up complimenting the music to create something greater than either sound alone could.
  • Paying attention to the expert makes learning new things easier: there’s no sense in seeking out the best help if you are only going to ignore it and go your own way.
  • Not everyone can be the star: sometimes you get to be the center of the dance number. Sometimes you are supporting someone else. As long as the end result is pleasing to the audience the goal has been achieved.
  • Smile, smile, smile: attitude makes a difference. Sure you can be upset during rehearsal but when it’s time for the show, smile and don’t let them see you sweat.
  • It’s all about balance: if you don’t find your center and keep it over your feet you will fall down. When everything is balanced life is good.
  • Stay focused – especially when everything seems to be spinning out of control: when you are moving in a circle, keep your focus on one point and you won’t get dizzy. Focus keeps you standing and will get you through even the toughest routine.

There you have it. A few lessons from tap that will also support you through life. Oddly enough, they are similar to things I’ve learned doing theater which will probably be a future blog post (go figure).

Now, go learn something new and have fun doing it!

My tap shoes.
My trusty tap shoes.

PS – if you live in or near Monroe County, Michigan and want to take up dance I highly recommend Destination Dance at Monroe County Community College with Director Kellie Lajiness. If she can teach me how to dance she can teach anyone!

All photos by David P. Wahr unless otherwise noted.
Photos and words @copyright David P. Wahr

Management Lessons from the Stage: When Your Best Isn’t Good Enough

As I did two years ago, I participated with my local community theatre group, the Monroe Community Players, in the Michigan State AACTFest competition again this year (see Management Lesson from the Stage: Competition for details). For those of you unfamiliar with the competitive side of theatre, every two years the American Association of Community Theatre (aka AACT) hosts a competitive play cycle (AACTFest). This cycle begins at the state level, moves to regional, and finally on to national competition where the 10 “best” community theatre productions will go head to head. This year the festival in Michigan was hosted by Owosso Community Players on behalf of the Community Theatre Association of Michigan (CTAM).

Me and the three Arials who made me look good. Left to Right, Martina Petit, Dillon Sickles, and Besty Brockman.

For the record, the talent pool at this year’s festival was very deep and all the participating groups brought their A game to the competition. Sets were imaginative, costumes on point, the acting was well prepared and rehearsed. It was a weekend of high quality theatre. But, only two groups would be selected to move on to the regional competition by the adjudicators. I did not envy their task this weekend.

For my part, I felt that our production was top notch. In particular, to toot my own horn as they say, I thought that my personal performance was on point. During my big soliloquy the audience was dead quiet (always a good sign) and I could feel them all watching me and sensed that they were right were I wanted them emotionally and intellectually (anyone who’s been on stage knows what I’m talking about).

When the show was over the applause was generous. Afterwards good comments came from the adjudicators and audience members who approached many of us afterwards through the weekend. All signs indicated that we might have a winner on our hands.

But, (and you knew this was coming right?) when the awards were handed out the big prizes went to other groups. We were recognized for several good points of our production – including choreography which is rare for a production of The Tempest, but our director was unique in his vision of this play, and ensemble work for the three actors who jointly played the character of Ariel (pictured above with me). None for me…alas, but not a bad haul as they say. But, our competition journey ended that weekend. Our best, my best, just wasn’t good enough.

So, what do you do when your best just isn’t good enough? How do you react when you know that you’ve given it your all, that you were well prepared, that your ideas were solid and still someone else walks away with the prize? This is something that has happened to most of us, either in a competitive setting or in business. I can tell you what not to do:

Don’t dwell on the defeat.

Don’t blame anyone else.

Don’t complain about bad luck.

Don’t complain about bad decisions or judges.

Do pick yourself up and move on.

Yes, you can take time for introspection. Ask what might have been done better? Maybe you didn’t have the skill set necessary to complete the task (or win the bid), maybe you didn’t have the vision, maybe you were just outclassed, maybe the stars were out of alignment. But, sometimes, surprisingly, the answer is nothing could have. Too bad. It happens. Athletes know this. On any given day even the most talented team with the best leadership can fall to opponents who are less gifted.

And guess what? It has nothing to do with the other team or person having more “heart” or “drive” or just “wanting it more.” Sometimes it was just the other team’s day. Whether on stage, on the field, or in the C Suite, sometimes your best just isn’t going to cut it.

All you can do is to accept defeat gracefully, try not to take it personally (something I often fail at) and prepare yourself to give your best again next time.

Because one thing is certain, if you don’t keep giving it your best you will never find yourself on the winner’s podium!

Prospero's staff lays in wait on the stage.
Prospero’s magic staff lays in wait during rehearsal at the Michigan AACTFest Host Theatre – the Lebowsky Center in Owosso, Michigan. Home of the Owosso Community Players.