Blog | Torie O'Neil 05.19.16

Exceptional People

“When a dancer comes onstage, he is not just a blank slate that the choreographer has written on. Behind him he has all the decisions he has made in life. Each time, he has chosen, and in what he is onstage, you see the result of those choices. You are looking at the person he is, and the person who, at this point, he cannot help but be. Exceptional dancers, in my experience, are also exceptional people, people with an attitude toward life, a kind of quest, and an internal quality. They know who they are, and they show this to you, willingly.” – Mikhail Baryshnikov

I’ve been dancing for almost 20 years now, admittedly having stepped into my first class only because my two older sisters had paved a similar path. I’ve hit many different milestones over the years—first time on stage, first time nailing a triple pirouette, first time watching my choreography come to life. And of course, last performance ever. Or so I thought. Multiple times.

Because as you get older, dance class becomes harder to prioritize, practice becomes more and more strenuous, and opportunities to dance become fewer and farther between. Yet here I am, college graduate, advertising professional, about to step on the stage again in June.

Turns out some things are harder to let go than you originally thought.

So what is it about dance that keeps me coming back, again and again and again? Well there are a lot of reasons we dancers are so obsessed with our art. It’s a great way to stay active; it’s a creative outlet. But at the end of the day, it’s really the relationships I’ve forged through dance that, despite the injuries, missed social events, and sleepless nights, keep me wanting more.

The other day, the director of my current dance company, DanceWorks Boston, sent this video around.

What makes that video so captivating is not that these two 12 year-olds are exceptional dancers. It’s that they’re exceptional people. And in my 20 years of dancing, I’ve found Mikhail Baryshnikov’s observation to be true time and time again. My dance friends are without a doubt some of the best friends I’ve made over the years, and I would be nowhere near the woman I am today without them.


It started with the group of girls I grew up dancing with. The ones who gave me the advice and support to help me navigate the awkward teenage years (somewhat) gracefully. The ones who encouraged me to start teaching at age 14 (and volunteered to be my first students—sorry, guys). The ones who agreed that going to school across the country was definitely scary and uncertain, but that I was crazy not to do it.


Then there were the people on my hip-hop dance team in Miami. The dream chasers, as I like to call them. They taught me that you really can achieve just about anything you put your mind to. That you can learn how to dance by watching YouTube videos at your house and later go on to dance in a feature film. That you can go to school, participate in countless extracurricular activities, and also be seen dancing on the Miami Heat court multiple times a week. That the possibilities are endless, and that accepting any other truth is unacceptable.

And finally, the 200 men and women in DanceWorks Boston. Some of the most welcoming, hilarious, unique, and enthralling people I have ever met. They span just about every profession and/or graduate program, personality, and dance style that you can think of, and they make up this exceptional community that awaits every new graduate and transplant dancer with open arms. Because sometimes you need someone to take your mind off that upcoming deadline with a 90’s themed warm-up. Or someone to bring freshly baked croissants to rehearsal after a long day (yes, this happens).

So I think the only thing left to say here is thank you. Thank you to each and every person I’ve ever danced with over the last 20 years. My success as a dancer, friend, coworker, and person is due in large part to all of you.

And to my (also fantastic) coworkers… no, I still won’t put on a show at the next office meeting. You can stop asking.


Discover more incredible stories of counter-intuitive moves that paid off big.


Never miss an episode.

Subscribe on iTunes now.


Brand for change

Life is too short to build an ordinary brand. Get ongoing perspectives on marketing that creates your highest value opportunities.