Dancing amid Adversity

dancing amid adversity

Dancing amid adversity: An Interview With Joel Torgeson

Dancing amid adversity. West Coast Swing dancing is fantastic for lifting the spirits and keeping us active. But with the corona pandemic gripping the world, limiting social interaction, it can be easy to feel anxious, isolated and lost. We are living in very unique times and for dancers everywhere they are exceptionally challenging. But there is hope and opportunity mixed in with the loss.

We interviewed the innovative and optimistic Joel Torgeson on how West Coast Swing Dancers, or indeed any dancer, can find opportunity in these uncertain times and learn to dance in adversity.

The interview: Dancing amid Adversity


Natalie: So I’m going to let you introduce yourself because I’m probably going say your surname a little bit wrong.

Dancing amid adversity – Joel:

Well my name is Joel Torgeson I’m a dancer currently in Minnesota in the United States but I kind of go all over the place I write a blog. I’ve got some other projects that I work on, feather three is a business that I own and do some other things. But yeah that’s me, Joel.


Dancing amid adversity – Natalie:

Thank you Joel.  And you just like casually scoot over the other businesses that you run. Which are quite prominent really. So you’ve recently had to go back home to Minnesota because we’ve been hit by the corona virus globally and before that you were touring like UK, Ireland and Europe that’s quite exciting how did you find that?


Dancing amid adversity – Joel:

Oh it’s a tonne of fun!

I’ve always wanted to do a longer-term trip overseas it’s something that I’ve just kind of always had as a goal .

There is a book that I read that has influenced me a lot is “Vagabonding” by Ralph Potts and he kind of talks about being able to travel the world and especially in a way that isn’t structured.   It’s gonna sound a little strange because I ended up with a very planned schedule while I was there but just being able to go and experience things and see where the experience takes you.

I feel like I was able to get a bit of a taste of that on my trip over in Europe. So, yeah, I was in I was in Europe and the continent I spent a lot of time in the UK teaching dancing and also exploring and seeing stuff so it was a really good time yeah great.


Dancing amid adversity – Natalie:

What is your favourite place to visit?


Dancing amid adversity – Joel:

I had great experiences all over! I really enjoyed everywhere.  There’s some really cool spots to see in Romania. So, I enjoyed Romania, I found the people in Germany to be super welcoming and exciting, I love that the UK was also gorgeous I spent a lot of time in Scotland really got to see some beautiful places there.

Never having been to London before so when I came down from Scotland to London that was really cool to see some of the famous sights.

So I mean it’s hard to I guess. It’s hard to say.


Dancing amid adversity – Natalie:

Yes. Well those are some really great places. One of the things I enjoy travelling with West Coast is that I always try and take on a little bit of social time in that country after the event.  It’s to get to know the country.

So, we invited you on for many, many reasons. But, one of them is that  I’ve been a fan of your blog for ages and I love how your brain thinks, and you’re very much somebody who loves learning and growing which is one of my core values. (Growth and learning).

Recently you posted a blog called “The Corona Opportunity” and I was hoping we could talk about that a little bit because I’ve seen a lot of posts going out and I think people have been trying to share positivity and support for each other.

I know teachers are offering live classes and making them freely available. I know many people are doing yoga and nutrition and other things on-line and we’re trying to support peoples wellbeing.

But I love the tone of your Blog and I was hoping we could go over some of the points that you raised in it.


Dancing amid adversity – Joel:

Absolutely. What in particular?


Dancing amid adversity – Natalie:

I mean to me you’ve titled it ‘The Corona Opportunity” and I know you covered that this is a very tragic event and it’s affecting a lot of people. We all hope everybody is staying safe and well and I know

there have been people who have sadly passed away across the world. It’s [corona virus] been indiscriminate.

But that aside, this time is a huge opportunity and hopefully we can go over some of the key elements of where you think your biggest areas of opportunity are and then how people can access those.


Dancing amid adversity – Joel:

Absolutely. So you’re absolutely right. I think of this it’s difficult to talk about because we’re in an incredibly sad time just as you say like it is really sad what is already happening and what’s going to happen in the coming months. Hundreds of thousands of people if not millions are going to lose their lives and there’s nothing nice about that.

I guess I don’t have anything additional to say other than that’s really sad and I’m sorry for everyone who that’s going to affect.

At the same time I think that we can choose to look at this as an opportunity to bring ourselves forward

in a variety of different ways.

In the article I talk about opportunities to educate yourself was one of the big ones that I had I called

it like Corona University. And what we’re seeing is tons of online platforms are offering their content for free or for very little cost to people who you know don’t have don’t have things to do during this time.

Now some people you know health care workers in particular their work to the brink and I’m very

grateful to those people who are doing that but for others of us who don’t have that occupation and who may be out of work in a sense, like myself. There’s no one taking dance lessons or going to conventions right now.

This downtime of sorts becomes a huge opportunity to work on other elements of our person.

So one example I looked at is on the online platforms like Coursera or EDX I think there’s another one there’s

you know online courses available from places like Harvard.

I’m taking one from the Wharton School of Business right now on entrepreneurship.

They’re free to audit. You can go and get that information.

If you want to get the certificate you can pay extra and get the official certificate. But for me I just really like information. I like being able to know things and so having this extra time for me is a great opportunity to get out and just learn a bunch of stuff.

Dancing amid adversity – Joel:

I’m also on Duolingo right now practicing German so I’m starting to learn German and I’ve been able to put a ton of time in on that. I can’t quite say like for sure that I speak German yet. I think I’ve got a month or two practicing yet to go. But I’m really enjoying it you know?

So that’s been that’s been really fun

I think another opportunity that people have, and I’m personally I’m not using this in the exact way that perhaps I would recommend to some other people too but there’s an opportunity here to if you want to double down on the dance practicing that you already do.

Or if you’re someone like myself who dances for a living and dances all the time; I’m actually taking this as an opportunity to step back and work on some other wellness things that help support my dancing.

What this looks like for me personally is; while I was in Europe and travelling and also you know before I

went to Europe I was traveling the U.S. pretty aggressively as a dance professional. Dancing four or five nights a week and I’m dancing a lot and I’m teaching and I’m social dancing I’m doing all this stuff. That can take a toll on your body over time.

So I’ve actually been using this opportunity to recommit to doing yoga. I’ve done yoga every morning for the

past two weeks and I’ve been able to you know work on my meditation practice and go out for long walks.

Dancing amid adversity – Joel:

So still staying fit but finding different ways of moving my body because frankly I came back from Europe with a mostly healed stress fracture in my left foot, a problem in my right knee and a little problem in my right shoulder.

The stress fracture is gone because I’ve been taking the time to give it the space that it needs. And both the right shoulder and right knee are feeling better and continue to feel better over time. So, that’s what I’m doing.

For people who maybe don’t dance as much it’s also an opportunity to practice drills or things like that. Drills can improve your quality of movement for the future.

The other thing that I’m doing and you’ve maybe seen this from the blog, is that I’m taking the opportunity to really work on my writing and try to work on that as a skill I think.

You know when we find ourselves in times of isolation or places where we’re not able to interact as much with the people that were used to, especially on the actual face to face level; that can be really challenging for people and from very understandable reasons. But I think it’s also an opportunity to work on things. Like reading, if you like meditation which I do it’s a great opportunity to work on stuff like that.

I guess that’s kind of a brief overview of some of the topics that I covered in that blog.

Basically the underlying theme of it is that we have an opportunity to look at this in the way that we choose to and if we see it as an opportunity for growth we’ll find the things that we can grow. But if we can’t look past the tragedy and the difficulty,  we’re going to lose the opportunity to reap the rewards of focusing on other things.


Dancing amid adversity – Natalie:

Love that.

I notice that you read quite a lot as well, you’ve even got a blog post on “Books I have read this year” or something like that.

I always get inspired by people who are positive no matter what.

Nelson Mandela was one of those for me who was so terrifyingly positive and had an ability to influence those around him that they put him in isolation, literally because he would give hope.

And I think it’s a such challenge to do that. I’ve had my ups and downs and last few weeks. I’ve lost a lot of work as well because of it [COVID-19] and I’m now kind of doing a lot of stuff to try and sort that out. But I think people can have the anxiety, you can sit with it and stay there, or you can acknowledge it work through it and then use this as an opportunity.

But I think one of the biggest things now is people being so generous. There’s so much out there for us. Like you said University of Durham and UK universities have opened up multiple courses as well to go study. So I think even if you are suffering form anxiety right now, if you say;

“Right okay I’m going to take this opportunity I’m going to learn. “

The choice can then be overwhelming of what to do/ what to learn. What would you recommend for pinpointing what to focus on right now?


Dancing amid adversity – Joel:

You know that’s that’s gonna totally depend on the person.

I think it’s like this.  (This comes from like workouts and Exercise Science and that sort of thing but it can work here.)

The good program that you followed is better than the perfect program that you don’t.

I think the paradox of choice is something that we really can be hit by. I know I get hit in the

face with it all the time. Like when I was trying to choose the courses that I was going to do and I ended up settling on a data science course and an entrepreneurship course. But when I was looking at them on the two online programs; entrepreneurship there were like fifty different options of what I could take!

It’s like, oh how do I choose the best one?!

And the reality of it is they’re all probably gonna get you to approximately the same place. Choosing any one of them is going to be better than you know sitting on the couch watching Netflix.

Not say that I haven’t done that!

My family and I have watched Netflix. It’s been great and I think that’s important for people to know. Because, I think sometimes there’s a danger of seeming like and automation who just like run through walls all the time!

As if we’re never not productive! That’s simply not true. I certainly have been watching shows with my dad I’ve been watching The Big Bang Theory and stuff like that that’s a great way of spending time with him and also watching a show I enjoy.

So I think it’s getting that downtime is really important.


Dancing amid adversity – Natalie:

Yes, and I’ve even heard that we kind of have to have the monotony. That period of actively not thinking to really segment that learning into your brain. There’s a lot of neuroscience around needing a bit of boredom and relaxation.


Dancing amid adversity – Joel:

I think you’re absolutely right. It’s impossible to be redlining or be a hundred percent cognitively or physically all the time. We need that downtime.

Just going back to the paradox of choice, like I said, I think if you if you pick a direction and run in it you can always go you know a little ways and you can go a week into a course and be like you know what this isn’t exactly what I thought it was going to be actually I don’t think this is what I want.

That’s fine! You can go start something else.

But if you never start off in a direction, you’ll always be right where you are. So as glib as it might be to say, just pick the direction and start running, and you can always reorient yourself once you get a little ways down on that path.


Dancing amid adversity – Natalie:

I have the phrase on my wall; “Done is better than perfect.”


Dancing amid adversity – Joel:

True and you got that the one that I remember from when I was in undergrad anthropology was – this was mostly for people who are working on their dissertations but they would say – don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.


Dancing amid adversity – Natalie:


So we’ve got dancers who maybe they’re still doing a day job but from slightly different, difficult conditions because they’re working from home.

People have different size homes, some can get outside more than others and they’ve got this free time in the evenings but they don’t want to let the dance practice go. In that situation I know you’re not doing a lot right now because you’re kind of apologizing to your body and you’re letting it heal and recover a bit. But what would you suggest to somebody who’s now like “oh my gosh I don’t have an instructor right here right now what should I do to make sure that I’m practicing the right way?”.


Dancing amid adversity – Joel:

A couple things.

So one of the things that I think is really important and I think it’s something that I’ve heard Brandy say as well, and something that I really believe personally; is that small practice chunks throughout the day tend to be more useful in the long run than just doing one big chunk every now and then.

What I mean by that is you know if you have a desk job or something where you’re working like that, if you’re able to take let’s say like a five-minute break. Put on a song. Just jam out and think about maybe one maybe two things that you’re trying to do.

Let’s say it’s rhythm you’re trying to make sure that your triple rhythm is appropriately structured or rolling through your feet. That’s a common one that a lot of students end up working on.

Dancing amid adversity – Joel:

That’s going to be a really effective way to get that information and get that process started in your subconscious mind. Then you can go back to your work and your subconscious brain is still chewing on what it is that you were working on.

I think sometimes we psych ourselves up that a practice session needs to be you know 15 minutes 30 minutes 45 minutes whatever. We feel like we really have to slam away on it. There are some concepts for which that’s going to be the most effective way of practicing.

But I actually think that for the majority of people things like posture, or rhythm and things like rolling through the feet. We don’t have to be in a maximally warm place – warm in terms of you know warming up your body – in order to access some of those techniques. So that’s what I recommend to most of my students to work on. Work on your rhythms, work on rolling through the feet, work on some of these basic techniques, because frankly you’re not gonna be able to focus on them for 20 minutes!

I don’t know about you guys but like just rolling through my feet for 20 minutes is a little bit mind-numbing.

Do it for two minutes.

Dancing amid adversity – Joel:

I can do it for half a song and that’s actually the unit of practice that I think really makes a difference. We’re trying to find the minimum effective dose.

Anything beyond that is going to be surplus in my book. For me, I would say to those people find ways to push yourself. Put a little time in the schedule or when you need a break, every once in a while whatever it is for you dance one song and focus on that and to me that’s actually a more effective way than just practicing in the evenings.

But really any way that you can use to build a dance practice into the stuff that you already do is to me going to be the most effective.


Dancing amid adversity – Natalie:

Thanks, Great advice. So, I also coach. I’m trying to say to people, take breaks from your desk. The problem with working from home is the kitchen is way closer [than in work] and so people tend to take breaks and eat. You’re not walking as far.

But your solution incorporates a little bit of music, gets your blood flowing. It gets your brain turning off so that you just focus better when you go back to work. You’re also getting a practice into your day as well. It helps your mental health too so you’re not stressing out over your job you’re not stressing out over your practice! Brilliant.

Dancing amid adversity – Joel:

Yes. And another thing I think is they’ve shown from memory studies that you remember the most information, your peak work tends to be at the beginning and the ends of your work unit.

So sometimes breaking your work up into more individual units helps.

Now if you’re doing something like writing, or coding, where you really need to be in a flow state ,maybe that’s not exactly the way that works.

But I still think there’s something valuable to it.


Dancing amid adversity – Natalie:

Yeah completely. Thanks very much. There’s a whole load of free coaching knowledge there!

I don’t want to take too much more of your time. I appreciate you’ve got a lot of things to do and we’re midway through the day for you.

You’ve also got a new blog post to get out today – so watch out for todays everyone!

But, in this time period, where it is probably going to get more challenging before it gets easier. Some people will find it easier than others and particularly, I think, extroverts like me suffer from not being around a variety of people. It doesn’t matter how great the one person or two people are, it’s not a variety of peoples energy. I can suffer quite a lot from that

What is your advice for having resilience? Because I think being positive now is fantastic, in a few weeks time it’s going to be much harder. So how do we mitigate against that?


Dancing amid adversity – Joel:

You know, the honest truth is I don’t necessarily have a great answer for this.

There’s probably more qualified people online or elsewhere who would have better answers for this than I do.

I guess what I would say is you know don’t be afraid to reach out I think a lot of people all over are experiencing similar things and you know I think a great practice for this sort of thing is contacting one person a day or something like that.

But someone who maybe you knew well in the past, but you don’t have a stronger connection to you now and finding a way of reconnecting with them. Maybe it’s sending them a Facebook message or something like that

I’m more of a fan of just like just calling someone and leaving them a message.

The rigmarole of like Facebook messaging and all that, there’s a lot of impersonality and text up. Sometimes just calling, leaving a message or seeing if they’re online willing to talk for five minutes….. that’s kind of cool.

So I’ve had some success with that but, yeah. I mean I think you’re right. It is going to get harder before it gets easier.

Dancing amid adversity – Joel:

Resilience? I don’t know. I think finding within yourself something to work on. Something to be proud of I think that’s really effective for a lot of people. That’s what kind of keeps me going is working on my health in my body. Taking walks and that sort of stuff. Working on my mind.

But you know I tend I have extroverted features but I’m a little bit more of an ambivert too.

So I’m happy to have my alone time with my headphones and just shutting out [the world] and reading.

I guess the biggest thing I would say is, don’t be afraid to reach out to people. Everyone’s in this together and I think people on the whole are really happy to be contacted.

I feel like they’re wanted and needed by other people so it’s alright to reach out and see where people are at/


Dancing amid adversity – Natalie:

Thank you.

I’ve got one last little question. You’ve kind of covered it mostly.

The things you’re studying at the moment, what would be the best outcome for you personally in this time period?

What are you looking forward to having produced, created or learnt in this time?


Dancing amid adversity – Joel:


Okay. So, this is actually really good question.

I think something that is useful for me to relate.

So for me, I’m working on German, I’m working on entrepreneurship and data science.

These are some courses that I’m taking.

Working on my writing. I’m also working on starting a business with my sister. So my sister is an artist and I’m trying to start something similar to what I’ve done with putting stuff on shirts for dancers. I’m looking at doing that for her, with some of her art. So that’s exciting.

I think that is the biggest thing that I’m focusing on right now in terms of my own learning.

I believe that we as a society are going to get through this. I’m hoping I don’t get coronavirus and if I do, I hope I make it through. I think the probability factors are pretty good for me.

So I think that you know within two years time, we’re going to find ourselves in a position where we’re coming out of this economies will probably be damaged.

Dancing amid adversity – Joel:

But hopefully we will be headed in the right direction. So I’m trying to lay the groundwork right now for that future date. So that whatever it is that I’m doing then, I’m ready for it.

You know? Financially certainly, but also in terms of the opportunities that I’m ready to put into the market.

So that’s why I’m kind of exploring.

It may seem odd to be exploring business opportunities while you know businesses is going through the floor. But I think there’s an opportunity to get ready now for a future state that we’ll be in. So whatever that is for you. If you can find low-cost ways of preparing yourself for future opportunities your banking on that you’re not losing that effort .

You’re banking it up so you can spend it in the future.

Dancing amid adversity – Joel:

So that’s really what I’m focusing on. What is the future state that I envision? And how can I prepare myself to be ready for that and ready to take advantage of that when it comes?

For me that’s taking some entrepreneurship classes and you know setting up a new business and trying out some of that stuff so that’s kind of what I’m focusing on.

Just a small list of things. Also, if it helps anyone, I also need to clean my room! This is my Tesla coil over here I built a long time ago and it all needs to get cleaned up!

But that’s another project that’s on the pile.


Dancing amid adversity – Natalie:

Wow! Well thank you so much for sharing your time and you thoughts and sharing some positivity and potential opportunity for people as well!

I think it’s going to be really appreciated.

Just really quickly, if people want to know more about you where they can find you?


Dancing amid adversity – Joel:

Yeah if you want to know more about me I definitely recommend checking out


That’s my blog like I said. I’m gonna update my About section here at some point but I’ll make that a little bit more up-to-date here soon.

I’m also on instagram @trolltortoise and facebook @naturaltortoise. I think those are probably the main ways to find me but the blog is probably going to be best.

Check out my current business that’s featherthree all spelled out featherthree both words.

I have an online storefront, so I also have an Instagram and Facebook for that account as well so check me out

wherever you want!



Great thank you so much.



Yeah thanks for having me on!



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