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Dancing for Grit, Part One

“I have no rhythm.” “I have two left feet.” Does either of these phrases sound familiar to you? To me, they are the knee-jerk responses uttered by those who have decided that dancing is not something they are capable of, or interested in. What most do not realize however, is that both capability and interest can increase significantly when a sufficient amount of effort is applied.

Last week, I talked about the invisible cage around us called our comfort zone. Anything that takes us out of our comfort zone causes fear, which in turn, creates a fight or flight response. We may find ourselves suddenly getting angry, or making excuses, or repeating a story we’ve told ourselves hundreds of times.

All of these responses have a common source – something has taken us outside of what we know, and we are unconsciously scrambling to get back. And with very few exceptions, all of them hold us back from growing as individuals.

Grit, to paraphrase psychology prof. Angela Duckworth in her book with the same title, is the ability to step outside of your comfort zone and keep going in pursuit of you dreams, through a combination of passion and perseverance. In this case, the fear response is still there, but is overwhelmed by our desire and determination to succeed.

Would you like to have the desire and determination to succeed at your goals, dance or otherwise? Thought so. Here’s Angela’s advice on how to grow grit from the inside out.



The phrases I led this article with are examples of a fixed mindset, which holds that we are born with a certain level of ability, or intelligence, and hard work will bring limited improvement at best. In other words, people succeed because of talent, not skill.

The growth mindset on the other hand, believes that hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard enough. There is a greater sense of control over one’s destiny, that on the other side of that hard work is the success you are looking for.

We could spent hours arguing about which mindset is ”right”, but here’s the reality: Growth mindset people are a lot more likely to succeed than fixed mindset people.

Why? Because when you don’t believe you are talented enough to succeed in an activity like dance, you are less likely to bother giving it your full effort. But if you have a growth mindset, you will likely keep trying until you have a breakthrough.

Oh, and by the way, you can change which mindset you believe in. Positive self-talk, mantras, and other mental reprogramming tricks help a lot with this. The real secret though, is a trial by fire. In other words, we develop the most faith in our ability to overcome adversity, by demonstrating that ability in the face of adversity!

Put differently, the more you push through those self-defeating voices to accomplish something, the less power those voices have over you.

Once you find yourself dancing in a situation where you previously felt too shy to try, you may start wondering what else you can do…



Nobody takes private dance lessons for their affordability, and no one teaches dance for the money. But dance carries many intangible benefits: Friendship, body awareness and health, spiritual fulfillment, personal expression, etc. It’s not impossible to build your grit with activities you DON’T enjoy, but it’s a whole lot easier if you do.

Most of us have heard the phrase “follow your passion” growing up. But passions are rarely discovered fully-formed. Instead, we find things that interest us, and grow them into a passion through years of development.

One of my first students (let’s call her Mrs. A) is a good example of this. Mrs. A came into class with a general interest in learning salsa. We had a fun class together, but when it came to talking about programs, she said the words instructors’ dread: “I’ll have to think about it”. I thanked her for coming in, said goodbye, and fully expected never to hear from her again.

I was surprised therefore, when she got back in touch a few weeks later. It seemed she had felt the lessons were too expensive at first, but a friend had encouraged her to give it an honest try. So she came back and signed up for a small program.

That smaller program turned into larger programs, and the lesson a week grew to two lessons, then three. The more she danced, the more she wanted to dance. In fact, she pushed herself so hard I eventually had to pass her off to a competitive level instructor so she could continue improving!

And now? She competes in high-level competitions – and frequently wins. All this from someone who wasn’t going to continue because of the cost of lessons.

I won’t tell you to follow your passions, but I will say, train your passions. It is excellence, not merely interest, that will turn your dancing habit into a lifelong journey.

Next week, we’ll look at the two remaining pillars you need to grow your grit – practice and purpose.



“Grit” by Angela Duckworth


About the Author

Ian Crewe has been dancing ballroom for over 18 years, and has a Licentiate in American smooth and rhythm. His passion for dance eventually led him to blogging and the World Wide Web. Ian currently teaches at the Joy of Dance Centre, Toronto, ON, Canada.

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