Noticing Neighbors Tara Jackson
Through leading joyful fitness classes, there is one dance instructor who is asking you to “live your best life.” Tara Jackson is an instructor and choreographer of WERQ Dance Fitness, the wildly addictive cardio dance workout based on trending pop and hip hop music. Throughout her career, which includes being a former NFL Chiefs Cheerleader and long spanning choreographer, Tara has performed and inspired fellow dancers to success.
For this conversation, Tara sits down to share how she’s found a uniquely empowering teaching style.
Hayley: I need to tell you, your videos online are like a shot of adrenaline and pure joy. What jumps out is the way I see people, even if they are coming to your dance class in masks, still smiling so big with high energy!
Tara: Yes! Absolutely.
Hayley: Can you share about WERQ Dance Fitness and what you all do?
Tara: Absolutely. Well, let me start with how to say WERQ, W-E-R-Q. It is not an acronym for anything. It really is just work. Like that hyped up feel of: Work It girl, work it honey! That kind of thing. WERQ is the wildly addictive cardio dance workout based on trending pop and hip hop music. What I love about WERQ is that it is for everybody! I know sometimes people look at a dance format or a cardio dance format and think: Oh, no, that's not me—I haven't been dancing so long or I don't really work out. As a newcomer, people may start with “I don't, I can’t, I haven’t” in their speech. I just like when people move out of that to give WERQ a chance! When they really just allow themselves to move into a world of: I can and I will, and I am doing this because WERQ is a no judgment dance zone. Hayley: So that environment is really open, for them to be able to do that. Tara: You don't have to have any dance experience to be able to do it. If you have that desire to be moving and grooving, know that WERQ is for anybody! Hayley: Are you ever surprised by who shows up to class?
Tara: I mean, I've had everyone in my classes from young kiddos, to people who have literally had one dance class before and they were in their eighties! Seriously. These people are still moving their body and not letting their age or what they haven't done be their restriction. Hayley: What does the class look like? Tara: So in my classes, it is what you talked about in those videos. I love to see people doing their facial expressions, even if it’s behind a mask. Because in my classes specifically, I really do encourage people to live their best life in this class. I want you to be full out and be fully engaged and be free because as adults, there's so much that the world puts on us and it limits us. Hayley: Sure. Tara: What I mean by that are these messages of: well, you have to take care of responsibilities only, or you shouldn't be doing that because you're too old, or you shouldn't be doing that because you don't have enough experience.
We let these things get in our head, and they dictate our lives. It can really put us in a place of limiting beliefs where we just kind of start to feel like: as adults, I'm not supposed to do that. Hayley: Can you tell where people are, energy wise, when they walk in the room? Tara: Yes. So when I step into the territory of working in fitness, I see people come in very limited. Like, they come in wanting to move just a little bit, not really being full out. Then by the time they leave my class, honey, it's a different story. It's a totally different story.
Hayley: You watch that completely change. Tara: We have a strong voice as instructors. We have the ability to give people that permission. It’s a platform that we're given and we're getting to transform lives, to impact lives, to help people really believe in what they can do. We build a community in our classes, in our fitness centers, in our studios, or wherever we're at. And I take that responsibility very serious. Hayley: Have you always? Tara: I have to honestly say, when I first started out doing WERQ, I did just pop in. I was a choreographer, a WERQ instructor, and a master trainer—and I really just did it because it was something that filled up my free time. I'm a dancer, and it's what I love to do. Then at one point, I thought: there's more that I could be doing besides just giving a class, and there's more that I can be doing besides just giving people a good workout to burn calories. I want people to leave dance class and feel like their soul has been touched, does that make sense? Hayley: Yes. Tara: Okay. I'm like, I want you to leave class and feel like you made a friend, not just with me as an instructor, but with everybody in the class. I want you to leave class feeling like, you know what? I came in thinking that this was maybe something that I couldn't do, but I left feeling way more accomplished than I ever imagined. So they can kick all those limiting beliefs out the door! Let them go. Let them not restrict you and hold you down because you have control over that 45 minutes in that class to be the best version of you. If you come to a Tara Jackson class, I am going to force you out of your bubble.
Hayley: It sounds like you have a gift of reading the room and seeing when people might be getting in their head.
Hayley: What specific ways do you use leadership to bring them out of that space?
Tara: That’s all it is, right? That’s the challenge. There are all kinds of things that I do. Hayley: What have you found that’s worked well?
Tara: For example, I teach at a couple of the different studios. I teach at the WERQ Dance Studio, a new studio that is now about a year old. I mean, it's a baby. So hey, anybody come out to the WERQ Studio at 1534 Burlington Street in North Kansas City, Missouri. Then I also teach at Dance Fit Flow, which is on 17th and Locust. But pretty much when I walk into the classroom, I get the music going right away because there's just something about music that makes people ease their way in the class. It's not quiet and it's not stagnant, so they kind of come in and it relaxes them. Hayley: That’s so inviting. Tara: Once people get their belongings all situated, classes start with Circle Up. Circle Up or the Circle of Love, as I also refer to it, gives me an opportunity to be looking at everyone in the room, but also gives everyone in the room an opportunity to look at each other and not just focus on the instructor.
So that dynamic in the circle is inclusion, taking a moment to introduce myself along with the format, and to also set the expectations of class. Most classes that you go to, people will introduce the class and the format, but they may not necessarily tell you what they expect in your class.
I tell people what I expect as well as demonstrating moves for them. Like, if I say, hey, I want you to shake your booty, I will demonstrate what I mean by shake your booty! And I might say, hey, I want you to get loud and let loose—I might do a cartwheel in the middle of the circle. I mean, I don't really know what I'm feeling at that moment, but it's something to get people laughing! Hayley: I love it! Tara: It’s really letting them know: One, we are in a relationship. When you walk into this class, I am here for you. You are here for me. It is not just about this one person. This class is about community. Hayley: How does that community piece come in?
Tara: By reminding them, don't be afraid to introduce yourself to a friend. I give people an opportunity after every couple of songs to find a new spot, find a new friend, and find a new space. Because all of that creates a new energy as well!
I feel like when you leave people in one space the entire class, people only will focus on themselves and the instructor. So there's really no opportunity to build anything else because all they are going to focus on is that mirror, to look at themselves, and then also that instructor. So I like for the circle to set expectations for me as well, to smile and engage with every single individual in the room.
Hayley: So it’s not one sided. You get to know them, too? Tara: I like to know everyone’s name. Sometimes I even say, “When you introduce your name, also tell me your favorite ice cream and why!” Because it just brings something unexpected. Then we start having this whole conversation about ice cream and flavors and things that we have in common right off the bat. Those little things allow people to break down their walls. Hayley: You’re challenging them to show up differently. How does that continue during dancing? Tara: Once we get to working out, if I feel that people are holding back their energy, I call it out so people can shift. I might say, “Hey, what's happening here, friend? You're holding back! I know that you are holding tight to something, and whatever it is, I want you to let it go.” And I might even take a second to get the whole class to shake our bodies out and let it go. So we're all in the class just moving, but we're laughing and we're letting loose!
Then before you know it, it's like they have mentally transitioned and are ready to get back in the game and to let go. So I just keep encouraging them and reminding them throughout the entire class: You've got this. This is about you. This is your workout. Make it what you want it to be.
Hayley: Yes, and I have witnessed it. You are so good at it, and it brings about a change and a transformation. Like, no exaggeration. But I am curious about the flip side. How has it changed you to do that?