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Shirley Ballas Emphasizes Balance When Teaching Ballroom

Ballas, with dancers Matthew Bezzant and Abigail Werner. Photo by and courtesy of Deanna Werner

Shirley Ballas is known in the ballroom world as the Queen of Latin. In competition, she was a standout dancer, winning numerous titles with her partners, including British Open to the World Latin American champion (three times), United States Latin American champion (10 times) and British National champion (multiple times). In 1996, she stopped competing and focused her career on coaching couples and judging competitions internationally. In 2017 she became the head judge on the hit BBC show "Strictly Come Dancing."

"As a woman, I'm particularly grateful for the success I've had in this industry," she says. "The most powerful people in ballroom are predominantly men. So for a woman to get to where I have gotten to is huge." She admits it has taken a great deal of determination, an attitude she recommends all women adopt. "You have to go out there and take it," she says. "That has been the story of my life. Be an extremely focused person, and don't take no for an answer. Be a team player, a team leader and a positive presence. Surround yourself with people who want the same things for you."


Ballas has coached many dancers around the world, including her son, two-time "Dancing with the Stars" Mirrorball Trophy winner Mark Ballas. The most important element of technique she emphasizes in her teaching is balance. "Stand on your feet," she says. "You can't deliver anything without balance. Once you have that, you can focus on the quality of movement as you change from foot to foot, the coordination and synchronization of your arms, and, finally, the energy you use to deliver your message."

Because she spends half the year filming and half the year traveling as teacher and adjudicator, Ballas doesn't stay in one place for long. She approaches her master teaching as a sort of trickle-down group project. "I train dancers, who then become teachers who pass my lessons down to their students. I come in and work with each of them a couple times per year. They don't need to work with me every day because I've trained the next generation of teachers well. I just come in to oversee everything. It's a team effort. When I see my students next, they will be prepared to pick up right where we need to."

GO-TO TEACHING ATTIRE "I'm sponsored by Supadance, the international dance shoe company. They are comfortable and durable, and a good value for the money."

FAVORITE NONDANCE ACTIVITY "I like yoga and working out. I'm also just now finding a social life, which is something I've never had before, because I've always worked so much. We'll see where that goes in the next year or so."

ARTISTIC INSPIRATIONS "I'm inspired by the theater. I like to learn from other people's work within the arts. Lately, I've liked watching Kinky Boots and Jersey Boys. I think they both have great messages."

HER SECRET TO STAYING IN SHAPE "I don't believe in dieting. Eating healthy is a way of life. If it's green and it grows from the ground, it's good for me. I don't eat after 6 pm, and I try to keep everything in moderation. I want young girls to know that taking care of your body is really just about common sense."

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