How do you best express your passion when you dance? Is the secret all of the blood, sweat, and tears that go into your practice and technique? Is it your love for the dancing that is embodied through your performance? Or could it simply be, knowing exactly who you are and what you want to accomplish?
Hope Jackson is a power house. The multiple time champion who has also appeared on TV on shows such as Dancing with the Stars, is a force to be reckoned with. Hope’s technique, styling and gorgeous feet are all what make her a great dancer, but what makes Hope’s dancing unique is that she knows herself and this allows her to give 200% to her performance. Here’s her story.
Hope began her dancing journey as a student in Utah, “I started dancing in school actually. I grew up in Utah. I had moved to Utah from Washington State when I was eleven years old. I moved in with my sister who was studying at BYU at the time. She had a friend who was taking a social dance class at BYU and part of their grade was to perfor m at BYU Nationals, the NDCA Nationals that’s hosted in Provo. Since I was living with her, she was like ‘let’s go watch,’ and it just so happens that his event was on the same night as amateur latin. I had been taking cheer and had been a gymnast, so I was familiar with what it was but had never seen it before. I just remember sitting in the audience and watching, all of the dancers, but Eugene (Katsevman) and Maria (Manusova) were there that year, like they were every year as amateurs. I was so moved, I just felt this fire light inside of me. It was all I could think about and so the next semester of school, I was probably in seventh or eighth grade at the time, they have social dancing that you can take as a credit instead of PE. This is how a lot of kids start dancing in Utah anyways. So I took a social dance class where I learned American Swing and part of our grade was to do it at Nationals. So that was kind of the beginning for me, and I’ve never been able to get it out of my system since that first time. I’ve tried but I can’t kick it, so since then it’s been an interesting journey.”
The first stop on Hope’s journey was her involvement with formation teams. Hope explains, “I kind of stayed in the school program for a while without any real competitive training. I never did any junior or youth open competitions. I never did any particular style as a competitive dancer, I was on teams. In Utah, when you’re on a team you learn choreography, like showdances. So I was familiar with all of the styles roughly.”
Hope then was able to leap into the competitive world of ballroom dancing through her husband. She details “It wasn’t until I met my husband, who was an amateur dancer at the time with all the background and knowledge. He had just moved home from New Jersey, I was probably 17, and we had a mutual friend. We wound up having a try-out and I got all the information as an open competitor as a 17 year-old. That was great, but it was kind of a roundabout way of going about it because I learned everything after the fact.”
Hope says that when it comes to career highlights, “It’s interesting when people ask about my career highlights, because I honestly think of what would be interesting to them, like what do people think of as a highlight. Then I have to ask myself ‘What have been my highlights.’ So I have 3 that are equally as exciting to me. Not in any particular order, but I was able to work on a Hallmark movie as a dancer. I was doing a lot of commercial work at the time. I had signed with an agency in Salt Lake and they got me some modeling for this or that. I had worked on 2 projects during my time with them and one of them was a Hallmark movie. I just remember having this realization while I was on set that I loved this, but I knew that while I was on set I was studio dancer. I was very aware that although it was really fun and very cool and cameras rolling and catered lunch and make-up artists, that I liked being sweaty in the studio. So the movie was a highlight, but the realization was kind of a piggy-back on to that highlight. I realized my purpose was a little more simple and I found some peace in that. Another highlight for me was when UVU (Utah Valley University) got invited to perform and compete during a collegiate competition on Dancing with the Stars. I like being on teams and I grew up being on teams. I was a scholarship dancer with them throughout my undergrad years. So we were able to go and do that and that was really cool. It was a highlight for me because it was the first time I had been on TV on that scale. My favorite highlight for me, so maybe THE highlight, but I had been doing pro-am with one of my students for 2 years and he wanted to go to Blackpool. They had just announced that they were doing their first pro-am competition so we went and we competed. He won his event. They had the live band play for that and as a teacher it was really special because he was only 17 at the time. It was cool to be apart of that for him, because it was something that he had really wanted, but selfishly I also couldn’t help but look back and say to myself ‘How did you get here? How are you teaching at this level and helping your students now do the things that you really love to do.’ Hearing the live band play, I had never been able to dance at Blackpool with a live band. The one time that I competed at Blackpool as an amateur, my best result was the 48 with my husband, Trey, so that was years ago. So that was a highlight for me. Being able to bow in front of the same judges who would be judging all of the other events in front of the same band on the same floor was really beautiful. I’ll hold those memories close forever.”
Not only is Hope a competitive dancer, but her other role in life is being a Mom to her 4 year old son. Hope states, “When it comes to balance, I learned something that was very essential, but even before I learned that, it was interesting to look back and realize that having a child for me never meant that I was going to not dance anymore. It was interesting when I got pregnant and started sharing it with people, they were like ‘Oh, so you retired.’ and I was like no, that never even crossed my mind. I just knew that I wanted to have a child young, so I would be young while he was young. When he’s an adult, I still want to be young. So I always planned on going back after, I just wanted him so badly and I still do obviously. As far as balance goes, I like the concept of always being slightly off-balance, which is essentially what balance is. It’s kind of tipping to one side to find the other side, at least for me that’s what it’s been. I never thought of it as perfect harmony. My history so far as a Mom has been a lot of traveling and a lot of things I wasn’t there for. I remember having a conversation with one of my coaches and she told me at one point she wasn’t there for her son for three months, he was with her mom and her and her partner won a big title that year. I just remember thinking ‘Is that what I want? Is that my goal/?’ and having that interesting conversation with always within myself of what is balance and what does it mean for me. I honestly don’t know what that looks like quite yet. Throughout the past couple months being at home a lot that I need to be home more and not travel as much. However, I know that as a Mom I am a much better Mom and person overall, when I am looking out for myself first. Part of that is making sure that my art and what I do with ballroom is fully satisfied. Otherwise, nobody in my house is happy if I’m not happy. So as far as balance goes, I don’t think I’ve really found it yet. Sometimes, I think I’m in it for a while and I start to feel really good, so I add more things to my schedule, and then I fall out. So it’s a constant teeter totter.”
Of course, being a Mom as well as competitive dancer and running a business is a challenge, “The main one, obviously as a woman, is that everyone expects you to look the way you did before you had a child. It’s interesting because when I was growing-up, I was always very muscular. I was a gymnast so I had just this body that was very muscular. I longed for curves. I never wanted to be a skinny, swan-like girl. I always gravitated towards a fuller body type, so when I got pregnant, I was like praying for hips and curves. I mean I gained 60 lbs in my pregnancy. I knew from my past, because I had done some fitness competing, like physique competitions, I knew how to diet, I knew how to get in shape so I wasn’t really worried about the weight I was gaining, but I was all of a sudden more conscious of ‘how will my body perform?’ after it’s gone through essentially the trauma of giving birth. I’m happy to say that as a woman, it has given me so much more faith in my boody because it’s designed perfectly to do that and be able to do anything it wants to after. I have actually found that I was a lot stronger after I had my son because that mental strength that you gain after going through a process like that, gives you so much. My hips are bigger now and my waist is never going to look the same, but I’m kind of loving it. I have moments of doubt and insecurity, which I think all people do, but learning to embrace that and evolve has been a nice journey. My son grew-up in the studio. I think I went to a workshop with him when he was 4 weeks old. Riccardo (Cocchi) was in town and I was still really overweight, but I just strapped him on my chest and took a samba workshop. I remember people kind of looking at me but I was just happy to be there, because to me it wasn’t really about what anybody else thought. I just knew ‘I’m a dancer,’ and it wasn’t like ‘Now that I’m a mom, I can’t be one thing or the other.’ I’ve faced some challenges like that. Taking my son to the studio and working 6 lessons in a row and he’s just playing. My students helped kind of raise him. When I traveled for camps and stuff, just not being with him knowing that he misses me and he’s young. It makes me question how this will affect him. I’ve learned that I can’t decide and I don’t think any parent can decide what their child remembers and experiences. You can expose them to different things and you can keep them away from certain things but the things that we remember as children are very individual. So I always hope that he remembers the fun stuff, the goofy stuff, and my spirit, my inner child when I am with him. He can always look at the things that I did for myself with pride, knowing that I did them for myself, not necessarily for him, because I want to teach him that too. Regardless of what people need from you or want from you, it’s ok to carve out a piece of the world that’s just for you, for your dreams and your passions. That’s 100% what life is about.”
Recently, Hope and her family have moved from Utah to California after her husband received a job offer that brought them there. Hope details, “Utah is GORGEOUS! We loved the mountains. I moved to Utah when I was little and my sister was there already, so she has driven me back home after Christmas. So I remember waking up, kind of evening time, and the sun was setting behind the snow cap mountains in December. Just thinking about the sheer size of them, I was just in awe.I had never seen anything so beautiful, and we loved the beauty that was there. It was a hard decision for us to move, because all of our family was there. I had a business that was there. Our whole career, myself and my husband’s, was built there, and we knew that we were going to miss a lot of aspects of it, but moving to California was a risk that we always wanted to take, not only for my husband’s career, but also giving me the space and grace to step back into my own need as a dancer personally. I’d been coaching a lot and doing a lot of teaching, and I knew that coming to California would mean that I would have to completely start over, and I could start over with myself. Also, raising our son in a more diverse culture,being more in the city, and just the change. We were ready. It’s been a beautiful thing because I never moved away as an adult. As a kid I did and that was really hard. I dealt with a lot of homesickness. As an adult, it’s fascinating to find that I had the same kind of thing. I had to rely on my family even though they were far away. There’s a lot of adjusting, and then to have a young child, I had to learn how to not only make friends for myself, but also help him make friends. It was challenging for sure, but now that we’ve worked through some of that, it’s created such a good, strong sense of family because we’re out on our own and we rely on each other. We’ve grown a lot. I say we because I mean the boys too. It was a huge growth point for me because I was like ‘Buckle-up buttercup! You got to do it on your own, no one is going to do it for you.’ That was a blessing. It’s gorgeous here. I live 5 minutes from the beach. I work out outside, the weather is always beautiful, and I have found a sense of community here too.”
For Hope, there is only one choice of shoe and it’s AIDA. She explains, “I have a really strong belief that as a ballroom dancer and especially a latin dancer, that my feet are essential to what I do. Everything in latin and ballroom is about steps. It originates with steps. It’s not like other styles of dance where it’s about movement and leg lines. We partner people and we wear dance shoes that help us perform steps. That’s like the rudimentary bottom line. When I first started dancing, I noticed really quickly, because I am a visual learner, that a lot of people don’t articulate through their feet. As a gymnast, I had a different set of training where it was like a full-body commitment to movement. So for me, I need to articulate my feet. I wanted pretty feet. I wanted those kind of feet that really brushed the floor and had turn out, basically articulation, because it was more satisfying for me to watch. I started out as an audience member so whatever drew my eye, I was taking notes on like ‘I like how that’s done’ or ‘I like the way that looks,’ men and women alike, when I watch dancers. So I’ve been training my feet to have a particular look and astethic. I like my feet to be strong and flexible and my feet are also kind of wide, they’re really athletic. Other shoes, I wear through quickly and I’ve tried them all. When I started choosing Aida consistently, it’s because they had stamina. They could take a beating and I could rub them raw and they still wouldn’t break and fall apart, so that’s the main reason. Plus, I love the way they make my feet look. The style of the shoe to me really accentuates what my feet can do.”
Looking back on her career, Hope has some advice for the young Hope who is just starting out dancing, “I would say first to myself, that inside of everyone, myself in particular, the little girl that you were is still inside. The one that likes to laugh and play and be silly and dance in front of people and show off. That person is still inside of you. It’s your job to take care of her, help her reach her goals. Be there for her, because a lot of times as dancers, we tear ourselves down. It’s hard for us to watch our films. For me, it was hard to watch my films. It was hard for me to get bad results. It was hard for me to even get good results, because I always questioned ‘Was it politics?’ or ‘Did I get a good result because so and so didn’t show up’ or whatever. So that would be the first thing I would say. Take care of myself, be there for yourself and learn to love yourself because now that I’ve come to that point, I have so much more freedom as an artist. There is nothing wrong or right. It’s just ‘Is this working or is this not working?’ When I look at it that way, I am really able to express myself to the fullest because I can fully back every decision I make. Also as a professional, I have been able to judge and now that I’ve been in those shoes, I’ve realized that the judges have such a hard job and my results are not a direct reflection of how they feel about me or even how they feel about my dancing. They have a really hard job of trying to compare this apple to this apple. So now with that information, I would say post more videos, post more pictures, do more of the things that you really love and stay on your stuff. Stay focused on the things that you really just like to do because you can never really go wrong when you’re doing that.”
To see Hope in action, check her out here:
Nice story Hope! I am an “mature” pro-am dancer as I started late in life. I got into it ‘sideways", but have had a passion for it for the past 15 years. Although your story was a bit difficult to follow, context wise, I appreciate the message of finding your own way and what feels right for you. One thing i will say, missing events in a child’s life are difficult as you wont get that back, but I am certain it was something you reconciled within yourself.
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