When I was first asked to be a part of the Dancing with Our Stars event, benefitting the Southern Arizona Diaper Bank, I thought “NO WAY!!!” I mean, I can dance and all, but not ballroom dance!! I’m more of a, at the party while everyone else is too drunk to notice I’m dancing, type of dancer. But the thought that continued to tug at me was the cause!! For those that don’t know, the Diaper Banks that are now seen throughout the country were all originated and duplications of our Southern Arizona Diaper Bank. That’s right! WE started this great mission and movement! To know that type of innovation and dedication came from the community that I love so much was enough to inspire that same type of innovation and dedication in myself. Although, my innovation and dedication would take on a much more “rhythmic” face.
Once I finally agreed to participate, the first question asked of me was which dance I would like to attempt. My reply was very simple. “I have no idea!! Please just pick one for me that you think someone my size can pull off!” And this is how destiny decided to drop the foxtrot into my lap and my life.
After my first correspondence with my instructor, I felt pretty good about what was going to happen, that didn’t last long. It was only a couple days after that initial correspondence that I received another email from that instructor informing me that she would not be able to teach me and she would assign the dance to a substitute. First, I thought this was a sign for me to be very afraid and merely a indication of how things would turn out. Then I stated to reflect on my own life and how many great lessons and opportunities that were given to me because things didn’t work out the way they were planned. With that in mind, I became even more determined to make the best of this situation.
I’ve competed on basketball courts all over the world and never did I feel the type of anxiety that I felt the first time I stepped into the dance studio. The level of discomfort I experienced was enough for me to reconsider going through with the competition. My anxiety was compounded when I learned that my instructor/dance partner, Zhenya Kellar, measured in just under the 5 foot mark…heck, I could fit her in my pocket!! Being that I am 6”10, I am use to towering over people but this seemed a bit extreme. All I could picture was at weddings when the groom dances with the flower girl, it is cute but I did not see it translating into good scores from the judges. Thankfully, Zhenya was a pro and we instantly connected and shared many commonalities, especially our love for competition. So we created a practice schedule that we felt would prevent complete and total embarrassment.
The next few weeks seemed like a blur. I realized that those folks on the television show “Dancing With The Stars” had spent 8 hours a day working on their routines. We had only 1 hour, once or twice a week, depending on our schedules. Work never stops! Even when you’d rather dance the day away!
Just 3 weeks into the rehearsals I was feeling really good. In fact, we sat down and cancelled the bulk of my lessons! I have to admit that I feel like I was at the advantage when it came to this dance thing. You see, a choreographed routine in my mind is just like a basketball play or a workforce project. There is a rhythm to it and if someone is off a beat or out of step, everyone feels it. I took the mentality of it all being a play that I had to learn. I would have not have had the longevity in the sport of basketball I had without being able to adapt to new situations relatively quick. I have learned to take direction well, ask good questions, and put in the work. If I was going to break out of my comfort zone and try taking on a live ballroom dance competition in front of hundreds of people who will be judging me, I wanted to control as many of the variables as I could. What if I trip? What if I step on Zhenya? Or worse, what if I drop her? The only way I could block out those thoughts were through preparation and repetition.
Competition day came quick and the nerves hit me hard. I’m sure I seemed calm and cool on the outside but on the inside of was a mess! The one thing that calmed me down and gave me peace was the video that was shown before the competition portion began. The Southern Arizona Diaper Bank put together a wonderful video describing what they do in the community and the impact that this type of event makes in the lives of the people they serve. Seeing the passion behind those involved and the appreciation of those served became the light that lit my fire. With so many people stepping up to do so much, how could I not make my steps with pride and passion?
I finished the evening winning both the judges’ vote and the crowd’s vote for best foxtrot of the evening! I think that one of the other dancers described it best in the post dance interview. He said, “It’s kind of like military boot camp, you’re proud you did it, but you’re glad it’s over!!” Growth means change, and change involves risk, the circumstances will never be perfect. The road will be tough, so what? Get started now! I leaned that with each step I took, I grew stronger and more skilled and more confident. Find what makes you uncomfortable and take action!
Joseph Blair is the founder of Blair Charity Group, philanthropist, retired professional athlete, professional speaker, and consultant. His charismatic personality coupled with his giving heart allows him to inspire acts of kindness in others. Most people know him because of his athletic prowess, but they love him because of his passion for improving his community.