Jeremy Pilling is the owner of the Palomar Ballroom in scenic Santa Cruz, CA. Jeremy has won several Rising Star Rhythm and Open Professional Rhythm competitions during his professional dance career. Jeremy has been teaching and performing ballroom for 11 years. His teaching style is very technique-oriented while still achieving the goal of having fun.
Examiner: What events led to your decision to become a professional dancer?
JP: I started dancing at age 8 with tap & ballet, but only for two years. After that, I had no formal training until college where I took my first ballroom group classes. I didn’t become interested in professional dancing until after I completed my internship in corporate fitness, which I needed to do to complete my degree in sport science. I was working in the fitness industry and just dancing socially and a friend of mine who I used to go swing dancing with told me that a nearby studio was looking for male dance teachers. Of course, I didn’t know how to teach, but she said they would train me for free, so I said why not. Six months later, I was teaching beginners to dance.
Examiner: What sports did you compete in while growing up? Were you playing these sports and dancing at the same time?
JP: I competed in baseball and basketball in elementary school, soccer, track and basketball in junior high, and track, cross country, and basketball in high school. I wasn’t dancing during my junior high or high school years other than the school dances for fun.
Examiner: Who are some of the dancers you’ve admired through the years and why?
JP: My idol and one of my inspirations to dance was Jose DeCamps. He is the current National American Rhythm champion. His musicality, presence on the floor, and Rhythmic dance style is what made me want to dance ballroom. He is very masculine and confident on the dance floor. I used to watch videos of him and his partner.
Examiner: A large community of dancers come to the Palomar Ballroom for classes and dance parties. One group are competitive amateur dancers. What are some entry level skills that dancers need to acquire to have a positive experience competing? What basic information and training is useful for people to be aware of prior to participating in competitive dancing?
JP: I have several competitive pro-am students who compete with me. Most of the dance technique is learned over time, some just pick it up faster than others. Two things that help are confidence and personality on the floor. These are things that can be learned, but if a student already has these qualities, they will excel much faster. Things that help set a good foundation for ballroom are other forms of dance including ballet and jazz. Flexibility is also important, so Pilates and yoga can also be beneficial. I believe anyone can compete, but it takes time, practice and of course money to succeed in the long run. Believing in yourself is half the battle.
Examiner: Beyond learning the physical steps to dances, timing movement to the music, being in sync with your partner, what are the mental/emotional challenges to competing?
JP: The biggest mental block for most dancers is over thinking. When you step onto the floor to compete, you have to get rid of all the input in your head and focus on just the output, or dancing. As some would say, “putting emotions to motion”. The other thing is being able to “own the floor”. In other words, being confident in what you are doing. Every step or move should have intent, meaning and focus.
Examiner: As a professional dancer/teacher you dance competitively with your students. What are frequent tips you offer to students to help them manage their emotional energy during competition?
JP: The hardest part of competition is getting students to relax and enjoy it. Performing in front of people can be nerve-racking and stressful and I always tell my students that the more they perform or compete, the easier it will get. I always encourage them with positive reinforcement and reassuring words before they go on the floor. When students get tense, they tend to hold their breath at times. Breathing and grounding yourself is also important.
Examiner: What are common misperceptions people unfamiliar with ballroom dancing have regarding this sport?
JP: 1) “I can’t dance.” Most people think that because they don’t have natural ability that they can’t dance, when in fact hard work and dedication is all you need. Time and practice can make a great dancer, it just may take longer for some people. If you can walk you can dance….
2) “I want to learn to dance in a week/month.” There are many technical elements to learn in dancing and to be good it takes longer than most people think. It takes a long time to be good at any sport or instrument. You can learn a few things in a month but you need to use your muscle memory over time to learn posture, footwork, lead and follow techniques, music/timing, character and more.
3) “I just need group lessons.” Personal attention is crucial in the learning process which is why individual attention in private lessons is the best way to supplement your group classes. There are many things that you cannot learn in a group lesson such as technique, lead/follow skills, musicality, etc.
Examiner: Do you have a favorite quote, story or tip that has guided you on your professional path as a dancer and instructor?
JP: “Life is a journey, not a destination”…dancing is the same thing, there is always something more to work on, but enjoy each step of the journey.
Jeremy thank you for taking time out of your very busy schedule to participate in this interview.