Believing in herself was more important than believing a high school mate who told Heather Wudstrack that she was a terrible dancer.
Heather, now 31, of Tigerton, teaches dance at Get Out & Dance in Weston, where she teaches ballroom dancing full time. It wasn’t the career she envisioned, but it turned out to be what she needed to reach her potential.
A DC Everest graduate, Heather set out to study Family and Consumer Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. Two months into the semester, Heather’s mother Darlene was diagnosed with breast cancer. âMy whole world has come to a standstill,â Heather said. “I wanted to be there for her and support her during this painful time.”
Heather returned home when she could to be with her mother during chemotherapy treatments. They spent quality time together talking, laughing, and dreaming about the things Darlene would do when the cancer went into remission. “We laughed so hard we cried, and other times I didn’t think I would survive. It was one of the most difficult and dearest times of my life.”
In the fall of 2006, Heather did not return to college. âI could see mom’s health was deteriorating, so I signed up for online classes to be closer to home,â she said. In September, Darlene lost her four-year battle with cancer at the age of 43.
âI tried to continue with the school but it was just too hard. I felt like I was adrift without an anchor,â Heather said.
Heather thanks her brother Mike and husband Lee for their tremendous emotional support, but it wasn’t until dancing came into her life that she really felt alive again. A friend encouraged her to take ballroom dancing lessons at Get Out & Dance.
“I always felt uncomfortable and insecure about dancing, even in college. I reluctantly agreed and ended up having a lot of fun.”
Her enthusiasm caught the attention of Tom Neterval, the studio manager, who asked Heather to become a dance teacher. With trepidation, she took her husband’s advice to give it a try. âMy posture improved and my confidence grew. I set goals that sometimes seemed impossible, and as I encountered them, I realized that the only one holding me back was was me. “
The more dance steps she learned and then shared with other students, the more obstacles Heather overcame on her own. “I had found a way to express my feelings and show a part of my soul that I thought I had lost. I fell in love with dancing.”
The dance also made a connection with her mother, who Heather described as someone who could light up a room with her fun and spontaneous personality. “I could see that dancing brought out some of my mother’s best qualities in me. It became a way to celebrate her influence on my life.”
Through dancing, Heather puts into practice the advice her mother gave during their chemotherapy treatments: celebrate the little things in life, live life to the fullest, follow her dreams and laugh often. His dance classes embody this spirit. Whether teaching the waltz, tango, foxtrot or hustle, Heather urges her students to let go of their fears. “I tell them not to worry about making mistakes because I can guarantee that I made each of them first. I fell, crashed into things, stepped on and I keep kicking. Dancing isn’t always about the end result, it’s the journey. “
Part of Heather’s journey has been meeting the right people to make her dreams come true. Her grandfather, Dr. Mertz Peterson, was another great supporter of her dancing career. “He said to me ‘Heather, you shine when you dance. You’ll never be as free or as happy as on the dance floor. Follow your heart and let your creativity shine.'”
In 2013, Peterson got to watch Heather strut around as a professional dance professional for Dancing for the Paws, an annual Marathon County Humane Society fundraiser. Under Heather’s direction, her dance partner, Keith DuPuis, won the competition.
âHeather has an innate sense of how to bring out the best in people,â said DuPuis. âDuring the five month training process, she empowered me, and at times even pushed me, far beyond my comfort zone. I felt that she often knew me better than I did. knew myself. “
A year later, she and a partner entered the Twin Cities Open ballroom dance competition, with news that her grandfather had just died. Once again, dancing was a source of strength. âI remember how proud my grandfather was of me and wanted to pay tribute to him,â she said. “Months ago, he had said he was going to watch me dance from the sky, so I better give him a good show, and we did.”
When not dancing, she can be found enjoying the peaceful outdoors, hunting deer, and fishing for walleye and blue gills. Last hunting season she shot an eight point buck with a 211/4-inch inside spread. “My students wouldn’t believe it, but when I’m not dancing in the studio I’m a pretty calm person.”
What health benefits does dancing offer?
Not only is it one of the most effective forms of exercise for the body, it is also a great mental exercise. A study has shown that ballroom dancing can reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. The ballroom is also a social activity, so many people use it to increase their social circle of friends.
– Heather Wudstrack
What dance style can I learn at Get Out & Dance?
Get Out & Dance of Weston offers dance lessons for all ages and abilities and for singles and couples in four styles of ballroom dancing, including American Smooth, American Rhythm, Latin, and International Standard. The studio is owned by Dr Anna Gilbertson. For more information, visit www.getoutanddance.com.