Dance has been a way of life and an instrumental part of Tracy’s life from an early age. On and off the dance floor, she’s learned to balance successfully running her own dance studio, The Dance Academy of Bartlett, along with dancing for fun and enjoyment as a ballroom dancer at Ultimate Ballroom. Tracy’s dance skills, positive attitude, charisma, passion for dance, and her ability to entertain the crowd are simply infectious. And age is not a factor for Tracy as she is one of the best Rhythm dancers around… just come watch her perform at one of the Ballroom Dance Showcases here at the studio! With tons of ballroom dance awards to her name, she has been an incredible inspiration and a role model to all at Ultimate Ballroom Dance Studio.
Tracy has lived in the Memphis area most of her life. She is married to Dr. David Hannon, a veterinarian here in Memphis, for 24 years, who also enjoys taking dance lessons and attending dance parties with his wife at the studio. They have two children, Devyn, 18, and Jared, 22, as well as three brown dogs – small, medium and large!
Tell me about your dance experience. How long have you been dancing?
I’ve been dancing since I was 2 years old at my aunt’s studio, studying ballet, tap and jazz. I then studied dance in college and received a Bachelor of Fine Arts, studying modern dance, jazz and ballet. I opened my dance studio in 1998. At first, I would continue to perform with some of my students, but, eventually, I felt too old as there were never any other adults at the competitions, even though they offered adult categories, so I quit performing. I tried to take some adult ballet classes around town, but, although I enjoyed them, I couldn’t keep my head from thinking about how the teacher was teaching and taking new ideas back to my students, which made it turn into work and not purely enjoyment. Although I love my job, it is a job, and it has its stresses, and I needed something for me. About 10 years later, my office manager began ballroom lessons and wouldn’t stop talking about how much fun she was having. I gave it a try and stayed. I danced at that studio for 6.5 years before finding Ultimate Ballroom 4.5 years ago. I’ve been dancing ballroom for a little over 11 years now and competing most of that time.
What made you choose dance as your career?
When I was in high school, I was good at math and dance. I knew I didn’t want to go to college more than 4 years and I didn’t want to be a math teacher. I also couldn’t imagine not dancing.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your dance career?
Probably learning that I can’t please everyone and also that I don’t have to prove myself and my policies by arguing, but just listen to complaints and be compassionate without having to break my rules. It’s a tough balance sometimes.
What do you love about ballroom dancing?
Translating emotion and stories into movement. You don’t get to the part until the performance, but improving the technique frees the body to be able to accomplish passing on the message to the audience. I love the sharing of energy with an audience – the more I give, the more I get back. I love that I get to do that with my partner too – the emotions, the energy, and work as a team to make it all work.
What is your favorite dance style and why?
I am often asked this and I always struggle to answer it. It’s like asking what emotion do you like best. I like the fact that there is variety. I like them differently on different days and in different stages of my life. The choreography that I am working with in each dance makes a difference too. And then I learn something new about a dance that suddenly makes me like it more. Overall, I tend to like Rhythm best. As far as which dance… Mambo is the most fun for me as it is loose and free, and I also like the different time structure (as I’m a tap dancer and love rhythms, counting and playing with the structure of the music). I guess not ironically, Mambo is my best-scoring of all 14 dances I compete.
What’s the best part about going to ballroom dance competitions?
I love so much of it! I have met friends from all over the world. I love getting all dressed up and having my hair done. I like the nervous energy I feel getting ready and transitioning that into performance energy. I like the challenge of conquering my own nerves so that I can get to the point of playing with the audience and really having fun. I like the challenge of trusting my partner and allowing him to do his job of leading and making decisions as we go. I even like the weeks leading up to it when I practice and prepare as when I’m there, I know I’ve done all I can do. And once again, that energy transfer, being open and vulnerable with my partner and an audience. Making others feel something when they watch me is really a high that is indescribable.
What is your pre-performance ritual?
Well, after getting hair and makeup done and getting to the ballroom early… I take about 20-30 minutes to warm up with all sorts of stretches and strengthening exercises. Some of this is due to my injury of a torn meniscus that happened about a year ago, so I have to make sure I take care of myself. I like to do this by myself, breathe, and try to relax. I then usually go through my dances that I’ll compete that day by myself (typically, I have run them with my partner either the night before or earlier in the day). Then I head to the line-up area pretty early. I try not to watch the other dancers as it tends to get me nervous and competitive and not where my head needs to be. I dance around and wiggle with no actual dance steps and play a bit. I prefer to be able to connect to my partner by talking, just being around him, and then physically with a hug or holding hands just before we walk on the floor.
What do you love about Ultimate Ballroom Dance Studio?
The teachers at UB really listen to what each student wants and needs whether you can verbalize it or not. I love that they push just hard enough to challenge your comfort zone and help you reach new goals. They are knowledgeable in their art so much that they do not need to prove themselves as experts. They just are. They are humble enough to listen to my opinions but strong enough to tell me when I’m wrong. The other students were an unexpected perk when I first got there. I started at UB for Misha and his skills, but didn’t know I would end up meeting some of my best friends.
How has ballroom dancing enriched your life?
It makes me feel alive. It keeps me in shape. It challenges me in a huge variety of ways – physically, mentally and emotionally.
How do you juggle dancing for work and for play?
I have no idea! Well, I schedule… a lot! I am lucky that I have had my studio long enough to have learned to delegate and trust my employees so that I don’t have to be there every time the door is open. My studio and my ballroom home are different parts of my world. One is my job and my career and the other is my happy place where I can go to just be me and not responsible for others.
What’s your favorite non-dance activity?
Are there non-dance activities? I guess I’d say doing things with my family and friends. I don’t have other hobbies unless you count relaxing at my new backyard pool when it’s warm enough.
What advice would you give to someone who is nervous about taking dance lessons?
Everyone can get better than they are regardless of how good (or bad) they are. You don’t know if you like it until you try. I can almost guarantee you that you are not the worst dancer the teachers have seen. Don’t take yourself too seriously and just dive in!
Do you have another secret talent?
I know all the words to “We Go Together” from Grease!
What gives you inspiration?
Dancers who make me feel. I don’t care how technical you are – if you can’t make me feel, I will lose interest. I feel dance is the truest of arts. It is the only one that is pure in the fact that it happens in the moment and what you see is not filtered through any electronic device (like singing, for an instance). Any sort of live performance is inspiring. I love Broadway musicals and plays.
Watch some of Tracy’s Ballroom Dance Showcase performances:
by Irina McGuire