Bob Powers wakes up earlier than you.
For every competitive American Rhythm Dancer from the early 90's to 2004, that was the thought when you skipped practice, hit the snooze button, or looked to see his name on the list of professional competitors at your competition.
Bob Powers wakes up earlier than you.
By the time you start your practice, he's already run 4 miles in the desert, hit the gym, had breakfast, practiced, walked his dog, kissed his wife, had a protein shake, and returned for more dance training.
This was the era of Bob and Julia Powers. The Golden Age of American Rhythm dancing, and they were the couple that made second place feel like a lifetime achievement award. First place was a foregone conclusion, but their path was hardly that. There were golden conversations that guided Bob on his path.
Bob Powers: The Path of a Champion
AML: What is your origins story with dancing? You know, like the first 10 minutes of a superhero movie.
BP: I was dating a really hot girl the summer after graduating from high school and took her to see Saturday Night Fever for our first date. After the movie she told me she liked to dance. Between wanting to impress her, and being inspired by the movie, I rushed out to buy my first pair of Angel Flights (the only pants to be worn in a disco in those days) along with a matching plastic (otherwise known as polyester) shirt, and 4 inch platform disco shoes. The salesman turned out to be a local disco dance star and offered to show me the clubs. Turns out we had different taste in genders. One night in a disco club and I was hooked. For the next 2 months it was nonstop clubbing and learning to dance. The fake ID I bought was more valuable than I anticipated.
AML: How did Arthur Murray come into the equation?
BP: I was spotted practicing with one my two regular partners by the owner of the Arthur Murray Studio in Scottsdale, Arizona at one of the local clubs. She offered me a job on the spot promising to train me and make me a great dancer. Coincidentally, a former amateur British champion couple was sitting by and heard the entire offer. Once she left, they approached me and tried to discourage the deal claiming I would never learn anything from Arthur Murray. Wow, they couldn't have been more wrong.I got the job and practiced like a fiend in the studio after hours before going to clubs. Soon I was winning all the local Disco contests.
AML: How did you make the transition into Competitive Dancing?
BP: One day, a traveling coach came into the studio and asked why I only taught disco. I said, "I only know disco and it's going to be around forever". After he stopped laughing he called another Arthur Murray coach who lived in Phoenix, and booked my first professional lesson. After 4 lessons, the coach started the first golden conversation.
"What do you want to do with your dancing?"
"I don't know" I said "What is there to do with it?"
"Enter competitions" she said.
I loved sports, and was very competitive, so "Sure, why not?" I said. That lesson; to the delight of me, and the displeasure of my father, set my destiny for the next 30 years and the start of a passion that would never end. Golden conversation number 1.
AML: You grew up in Philadelphia, right? Did you catch any flack from the Philly kids back home when you decided to become a dancer?
BP: Yeah. When I left Philly I only wore jeans, Fry boots, and flannel shirts. After a year of being the disco king, I didn't own a pair of jeans and dressed like John Travolta junior. I got a lot of "yo dude, what the ___?" I had completely changed, and they didn't get it.
AML: Were they just overly sensitive to Polyester?
BP: The clothes weren't as hard to digest as the fact that my partner and I would go to the gay clubs for after hours since they were the only ones that stayed open. I think that's where we parted company.
AML: Out of the things that you thought you'd do in your adult life, what were you certain you'd be doing, and where did "dance teacher" rank in that assessment?
BP: As a kid, I was 100% sure I would be a doctor like my father. Nothing else even crossed my mind. The fact that I couldn't stand to have a blood test should have been my first clue that being a doctor wasn't in the cards for me.
Once I got to Arizona I started working in a restaurant. I really liked the environment, and ended up going to college for hotel restaurant management. I liked meeting people, I was good at it, and it seemed to work well with my budding dance career. Even while I was working at the Arthur Murray Studio, I kept my job and attended school for 2 years. Pretty soon, I quit the restaurant, and soon after I stopped going to school. But even for the next 4 or 5 years I didn't think this it was going to be my lifelong career.
It was just a 5 year summer job. So I guess you could say "dance teacher" ranked pretty low on the scale even then.
Interesting Facts About Bob Powers
1. Bob was 17 when he started working at Arthur Murray.
2. Julia started her costume business in 1996 out of her mother's house.
"She didn’t really grow it until 2004 when we retired. She has 17 girls working for her now."
3. Bob and Julia have been married twice!
"The first time was 9/3/1992 so we could dance at the US Championships. No one knew about that one except the officials at the championship. The second time was 12/30/1993 because we wanted to do it. Even my best man didn’t know we were already married."
AML: You worked in a pretty famous studio, with some legendary teachers. When did you start to catch on to that idea?
BP: I went from one of the smallest studios in my first two years to the number two studio in the company. What a change!! It took me another 3 years to realize what I had available to me and what I could do with it. I attached myself to the best in a couple different areas. David Woodbury was the top teacher, so he became my mentor for becoming a good teacher at the studio and Dance-O-Ramas.
Steve Platt was the manager, and one of the star dancers of the company. He became my dance mentor; coaching me and my partner, and teaching me about choreography. Roz DeBeve was one of the top owners in the company and treated me with such respect that I attached myself to her as a role model for the day I would own a studio. All this took a number of years, but turned out to be the most valuable training I could ever receive since it not only served me at the time, but paved the way for a successful career coaching in the Arthur Murray chain, and also prepared me for a career after dancing. It couldn't have been scripted to setup my long term career any better.
AML: How did you come to the decision to go from dance teacher, to "I want to be a dance champion"?
BP: Like a lot of dance teachers, I came to the cross roads of choosing a career in Arthur Murray, or leaving the company and finding a new trade. I decided I was going to quit. I wasn't going anywhere and it was time to look for greener pastures. Roz DeBeve was way ahead of me, (I told you she was smart). She brought in one of the best coaches in the country and took me to dinner with him. I was resistant but she insisted; "meet with him and if you still want to quit I'll accept your decision". I did. He started the second golden conversation "can you imagine yourself as a champion?" I thought about it for a split second and said yes.
For the first time I actually envisioned what it would be like to be a champion, the feeling ran over me like a powerful wave. He asked if I was practicing, going to competitions, taking lessons? I wasn't doing any of it. He encouraged me to do all of it. And in order to afford that I needed to be a top teacher. "Teaching should be a vehicle to become a great dancer. If you can make your students good you'll make yourself good in the process." he said. That conversation turned me around put me back on the road to becoming a champion, that was golden conversation number two.
AML: How did you go from "Dancer Bob", to "Champion Bob"?
BP: Golden conversation number three was with my coach; Rick Valenzuela. Rick was an amazing dancer, and year younger than me. His dancing was an inspiration and, when I watched him, I wanted more than anything what he had. I worked almost exclusively with him for 15 years. We decided that we were going to be champions together; he would be the international Latin champion and I would be the American Rhythm champion. The golden conversation came when he described how hard it would be. I would have to devote my life to it. It couldn't be something that came before or after work, I had to live it 24/7. "Imagine what a champion would do every minute of every day, and that's what you need to do." So I did.
AML: OK, so lay it on us. What did that schedule look like?
BP: Up at 5:45am, run 4 miles from 6 to 6:30. Shower, eat, be at the studio for practice by 9. Practice until 12, teach until 10, and start the whole thing again the next day.
AML: How did you change in the process?
BP: The big change was in my commitment. I ran every holiday because I knew my competitors were taking the day off. I was going to be the next champion, I didn't know with who, but I knew I was going to be in there. I saw it in my head every day. I heard the announcer say it over the intercom "the new United States American Rhythm champion".
What happened next was I got lucky (lucky = preparation and opportunity meet), and I met Julia in St. Petersburgh, Russia. I was so ready for someone like her. My head was right, I was in good dancing shape, and I was experienced. We eventually went on to become champions the same year.
AML: Let's talk about your wife Julia. She is such a charismatic character, and dynamic human being, don't you think she could have her own reality TV show?
BP: That's funny. I think I would be so afraid of what might come out of her mouth. Not what might, what definitely would come out of her mouth. Julia says what she thinks in the moment, and there is no filter. That's what I love about her, you always know where she stands. So, unless we want to move to a deserted island at the end of the show, no.
AML: OK, so all kidding aside, did she make you a harder worker, or are both of you just built perfectly for each other?
BP: After the third "golden conversation" I became pretty motivated and worked as hard as I could, so I thought. When I met Julia I had an interpreter. I described what our day would be like; the whole 5:45am to 10pm deal. Her reply was, "is that all I get to practice?" My reply was, "that's my girl". She blew the top off any limits I had about practice and hard work. She definitely pushed me to be better and work harder. She was more talented, I just knew more. Older but wiser, at least that's what I told myself.
AML: So then you go on an epic run, win US Championship after US Championship, and then you decide to call it a career in 2005. Was your retirement part of a plan, had you thought of it for a while?
BP: No, like everything else in my life I just felt it, and knew when it was time. I had planned on retiring for several years before but we would work so hard and train so intensely that when the US championships came about in September, we felt so good it seemed a shame to stop so we'd say, "Ok, one more year". One more year turned into five. By the 12th year I was ready to call it quits. My body was starting to feel the pains of age, and I knew it was time. When we walked off the floor I was done and never looked back.
The perfect ending to a great career.
AML: What made you decide to go from "retired Bob" to "studio Bob"?
BP: Before meeting Julia, I had the backup plan to buy the Phoenix studio from Jacques and Roz DeBeve. I knew the business, and owning a studio would be the next natural step had I not been able to achieve my dream of being a champion. After meeting Julia, I gave up the opportunity of owning the studio and followed the dance path. After retiring, we started Core Rhythms; a Latin dance exercise program that became the number one fitness product sold on TV. That kept me busy for a couple of years while Julia concentrated on developing her budding dress business with her mom. After the video business starting winding down I had the opportunity to partner with one of the business champions in Arthur Murray; Kimberley Carroll. We bought the Mesa studio and I was transformed into 'studio Bob'.
AML: Was that an easy decision?
BP: It was a great decision, as important as any decision I've ever made. There is life after dancing and I needed to reinvent myself again as an owner and mentor to new teachers and competitors. I grew up in a studio, and can't imagine not being part of one. Shaping the studio to how you see it is an amazing experience. Like competition, it can be very humbling and trying, but the rewards are worth all the growing pains.
AML: Where can people find you these days? Rumor has it that you're not traveling anymore.
BP: They can find me hibernating in the desert with my wife and pups. And, with a little luck, my daughter, her husband and two grandsons will be joining us. My son in law is a US Marshall and put in for a transfer to Phoenix. That would really make my life perfect. After years of traveling I’m really enjoying staying home and having a normal life where I know my neighbors and I know what day to put my trash out. I still judge quite a bit but yes, I’ve stopped traveling to teach. I love running my studio and spending time training my staff. I guess that’s normal.
AML: OK, so as 'Normal Bob', retired dance champion, and former traveling dance coach - describe the perfect day for this version of Bob Powers.
BP: I get woken up by a voice saying "go wake up daddy", followed by two 60lb Golden doodles jumping on me and licking my face, way earlier than I would like in really perfect day. We get up and walk a couple miles in the most beautiful place in the world; the McDowell mountain preserves in Scottsdale, Arizona. We spend the day swimming, eating home cooked food, prepared by my very domestic wife, and end the day watching an amazing sunset. After more than 30 years of traveling and living in a hotel, staying home and living a normal life is a perfect way to spend the day. I can't imagine anything better.
You don't need to run in a desert, become a United States Champion, or happen to find your perfect match on a chance meeting in Russia to learn something from Bob's story.
His path is about receiving, and applying, direction. We all have the opportunity to learn from our own Golden Conversations. If we can take one thing from Bob's story, it is the courage to take the advice. We want to thank Bob for taking the time for being a part of this interview, and our own dance path.