The studio owner recounts the twists and turns on his journey to a late career in dance
Back in the late 1990s, Daniel Tackett certainly looked the part of a ballroom dancer. As the emcee and manager for local “punk-swing” musician Wolfgang Parker, Tackett would dress in custom zoot suits and spectator shoes during Parker's shows. But even though he'd always wanted to dance, he didn't know how.
“I didn't realize it was really a trained skill,” said Tackett, who will celebrate 10 years as the owner of the Fred Astaire Columbus Northwest Dance Studio in September. “I thought either you danced or you didn't, and I didn't.”
So Tackett was terrified one night during a show when a woman pulled him on the dance floor. Luckily, she patiently taught him how to swing, showing him under-arm turns and over-arm flips, and then calling out the moves so he appeared to be skilled in front of the crowd.
“We caused quite a scene,” he remembered. “Everybody just backed up and started watching us.”
But once his partner left and Tackett was approached by another woman who wanted to dance with him, he confessed he didn't know what he was doing. Having just watched Tackett dance, the woman was offended.
“She goes, ‘Look, if you don't want to dance with me, you don't have to be an asshole. Just say so,'” Tackett said. “Then I was like, ‘Screw that. I've got to learn how to dance.'” So he offered dance studios the opportunity to promote their businesses at Wolfgang Parker shows in exchange for giving him lessons. Soon, Tackett could confidently dance swing.
“But I realized I was a one-trick pony because the swing band started playing mambo,” he said. “And then at that point I would have to leave the floor and go get water or use the restroom.”
One could say Tackett's quest to learn mambo lead him to a fulfilling career as a competitive dancer, teacher and studio owner. If this were a movie, he would have begun taking regular classes the next day, mastered multiple dance styles and returned to the venue to win the heart of the woman he rejected. However, real life took him on a different and more interesting path, including stints in Canada, Pennsylvania and California, before he seriously pursued dance.
“I've never had just one thing that I do,” said Tackett, who also ran the Hep City Records label with Parker, and worked on and off in construction since graduating high school. “I like to be busy.”
After helping a friend move to Canada around 2000, Tackett decided to stay in the country and earn a certificate in e-commerce solutions development. But he grew bored and returned to Ohio. From there, Tackett, an experienced martial artist, moved to State College, Pennsylvania to become a sparring partner for his professional cage-fighting cousin.
“It wasn't the lifestyle I enjoyed because it became so … routinely aggressive,” Tackett said. “All we did was get up in the morning, lift, train [and] fight.”
But Tackett's fighting days were not over. Shortly afterward, he moved to Anaheim, California to study Japanese sword-fighting. For six months, he slept on a bench in his sensei's dojo and trained each day.
A romantic relationship brought Tackett back to Ohio. Though he'd kept up with swing dance over the years, he still had a desire to learn mambo. He finally got the opportunity in 2004 after randomly winning a drawing for free introductory lessons at the Fred Astaire Dance Studio he now owns. To his surprise, he was quickly offered an instructor position.
“He was just really great with new students,” said Kate Crook, who taught at the studio with Tackett. “He just had instant success because of his personality.”
Tackett and Crook were also dance partners and went on to become undefeated champions in the “American Smooth” division (waltz, tango, foxtrot and Viennese waltz) in Ohio.
“I think he's naturally very coordinated and has a great sense of rhythm,” Crook said.
Tackett quickly rose through the ranks, becoming studio manager and emceeing at national Fred Astaire competitions. He decided to buy the studio in 2007. “It just came to a point where it was either I needed to go all in or go do something else,” he said.
Though he has been committed to dance for so long, he wouldn't say he has found his calling, or even that there is one calling to be found. “You've got to keep trying something new,” he said and revealed he might pursue politics, with an intention to help small-business owners.
And as an expert on changing careers, he has advice for people who feel stuck and afraid to pursue their dreams.
“We only have this one life, as far as I know,” he said. “If you don't try, you'll never know.”