Ep. 158 Transcript - Dr. Chelsea Pierotti

Ep. 158 Transcript

Dr. Chelsea: For anyone who is dreaming of a career as a professional dancer, they're probably working hard in the studio, honing their skills to be the strongest dancer they can be, but in the professional dance world, talent is only 20% of the equation. There are a lot of other skills to master that make up that other 80%. This 80/20 rule where success as a professional dancer is 20% talent, 80% everything else comes from my esteemed guest today, Menina Fortunato. She's here to break it down for you. It's so valuable.

Menina's mission is to help the next generation of dancers create their dream dance careers. She had her own remarkable career for three decades in this dance industry. She has navigated the demands of both on-camera and behind-the-scenes work while also juggling the responsibilities of being a loving wife and devoted mother of three, which we'll dig into that whole work-life balance myth that neither one of us agree with anyway. But Menina has worked on prominent television shows and films including America's Got Talent, Star Trek: Enterprise, DC's Legends of Tomorrow, and she's graced stadium stages entertaining massive crowds with superstars like Britney Spears, Beyoncé, Carrie Underwood, Paula Abdul, and so many more.

Menina and I talk about maintaining motivation as a professional dancer, how our current generation needs to learn about rejection and handling negative emotions through mental toughness and some mindset advice for aspiring professionals, and, of course, she'll break down her 80/20 rule and share what that other 80% is all about.

And if you're a dance educator listening to this, before we get into the interview, it's important to make sure you're on my email list only for educators. It's where I keep you all updated on mental skills workshops and the Relevé Membership and even some special trainings coming up that are only available there. My email list is where I provide extra resources for dance educators and tips to help you and support you through this teaching journey.

So if you're listening and you're a coach or a studio teacher, and you're interested in learning more about helping our dancers with their mindset, building their resilience, and motivating them, please join my list to make sure you always get the inside scoop. So here's how to get on. You go to www.chelseapierotti.com/email and sign up. It's linked in the show notes below. So again, just go join in at www.chelseapierotti.com/email, and let's work together and make a positive impact on our dance industry. So now onto my interview with the wonderful Menina Fortunato!


[Motivational Music]

Hi, I'm Dr. Chelsea, a former professional dancer and mental performance coach. I know what it feels like to be a passionate dance teacher who cares about your dancers, but you want to challenge them and help them be their best, and I also recognize that some traditions and teaching practices in the dance world are harmful. So I'm on a mission to change our dance industry by creating happier, more successful dancers using positive mental skills.

When you understand how to help your dancers with their confidence, how to find their own motivation, work together as a team and more, your dancers will unlock new levels of competitive success and happiness. And it's not just about them; you deserve the same. So we'll talk about how dance teachers can use positive mental skills to be more confident, resilient, and motivated as well.

Be sure to hit “subscribe” wherever you listen to podcasts. There are new episodes every Thursday, and each week you'll hear from me and my guests with advice and actionable tips for building mental toughness, covering topics about mindset, motivation, resilience, and building a community. Passion for Dance is a show designed to help dance educators like you have a positive impact on every dancer you teach.

[Motivational Music]


Dr Chelsea: Hi, Menina. Welcome! Thank you so much for joining me today.

Menina Fortunato: Thank you so much for having me! Absolutely.

Dr Chelsea: Will you share a little of your dance background?

Menina Fortunato: The short version, I'm assuming, right? [Laughs]

Dr Chelsea: Yes. I know, you have such an incredible resume of stuff, but yes!

Menina Fortunato: That could just be a whole 30-minute conversation right there.

Dr Chelsea: I bet it could.

Menina’s Dance Background – 3:51

Menina Fortunato: Okay, so I'll give you the three-minute synopsis if I can. I started as a competitive dancer when I was eight years old. My father was my first dance teacher. He owned two dance studios growing up. My mother, when I was 13, had a midlife crisis and decided she wanted to start a dance competition. It's been around for now over 30 years. I helped her build it when I was a teen. So I was exposed to the dance business at a very early age because of my parents.

I started teaching at my father's dance studio when I was 12. I was helping on the business side as a teenager with my mom. I was running dance competitions with her. I started judging and teaching in the convention circuit by the time I was either 17, 18, right out of high school. And then I decided that I really wanted to pursue dance for myself. As much as I enjoyed supporting my family's businesses, I realized I had my own aspirations.

And I did the crazy thing of moving to LA, and that was back in 2001 (a long time ago). I wanted to further my performing career, and I had a big obstacle. I'm Canadian, so I didn't have a work visa. So I had to go handle that, and it took me about a year saving my money, getting all the documentation in order. I finally did get the work visa. I surprised my parents on Christmas day. I said, “Mom, dad, I'm moving to California,” and they were like, “What! How did you do that?” And then I'm like, “And I have an agent, and I have a place to live,” and I had all the things ready to go. I finished my teaching commitments and moved to LA.

I had, I guess, a little bit of beginner's luck. Within the first month, I worked with Paul Abdul, which was one of my teen idols (so that was huge), then did the Britney Spears tour auditions. I made it to the final cut. I was a new kid on the block. Nobody knew who I was. I knew who they were, but they didn't know who I was. I did not book the tour, but I ended up booking the Pepsi commercials back then for Super Bowl. So that was like a dream job, you know, at a young age, and then the rest is history.

I mean, I've worked with many recording artists. I was on my first tour with Earth, Wind & Fire. I toured with Rain (a huge K-pop star), toured with Luis Miguel (who's a huge Mexican artist that everybody knows in Latin America), and I've worked with other celebrities like Britney Spears, Beyoncé, Earth, Wind & Fire, ZZ Top, Carmen Electra, Paula Abdul, MC Hammer, Luke Bryan, Carrie Underwood, Victoria Justice, Pink, Fergie, and the list goes on.

I worked on America's Got Talent. I've been on Star Trek: Enterprise as a guest-starring role. I was a guest judge on Dance Moms. I also transitioned into the creative side working on the production teams of America's Got Talent as well as The X Factor, and that was kind of the birthing of wanting to kind of shift gears a little bit.

Also fast forward, I got pregnant in — well, I had my first baby in 2010. So that was another big life change. So then another big pivot happened. I also started — I should rewind a little bit. In 2006, I started The Hollywood Summer Tour. She's my first baby. I call her my first baby because that was an intensive program that I'd created to help dancers get an introduction to the commercial dance industry, and because it was just a natural progression, I was becoming known in Canada as the dancer who made it in LA and got her work visa, which was very foreign back then. We didn't have social media. We didn't have, you know, the same resources that we do today, so it was a very rare thing. I started with Canadians initially, and then now I've served dancers all worldwide with that program. And then I've been adjudicating and teaching and choreographing and doing all the things over the years. I wear many hats.

I am now, fast forward, married with three children, and I think another pivotal moment was 2020 for many of us in the dance industry. The events business shut down, so I could not do The Hollywood Summer Tour. So then it was let's pivot online, and there was a lot of trial and error, and there was a lot of struggle, and there was a lot of hardship during that phase. I struggled for a good two years where I was really trying to figure out what do I do with my life?

I literally went from a good six-figure income to nothing overnight. I could barely scrape, like, $500 a month some months, and it was just so bad. And I just had baby number three during the lockdown. So it was like, I'm stuck at home. I have three kids. I'm broke. I don't know what to do with my life. I guess you could say I had my own midlife crisis. And it was also around the same time (around 40) when I was like, “What can I do?” And I dabbled with a bunch of mom dance fitness programs, which I was doing because that was my own problem that I was trying to solve. I'm like, “I'm stuck at home. I need to get back into shape. What do I like to do? I like to dance, but I have a baby. How do I do that? Let's workout with the baby.”

So I created a whole program around that, and I had a little success with that, but it still wasn't enough to really pay the bills. And then The Business of Dance was born. The Business of Dance is my newest baby. It's an online mentorship program where I help aspiring professional dancers learn and prepare to create careers in the industry. But I do it from the comfort of my own home, and I can serve dancers worldwide, and I truly believe I have finally found what I believe, at least for this time of my life, my dream business model. I get to do what I love from the comfort of my own home with my family around me, being able to travel, which I still love to do. I've been to over 40 countries. I was just in Mexico on vacation with my family last week while working on the beach, literally doing interviews on the beach, and being able to serve dancers worldwide and helping them create their careers and having incredible client wins.

I just had 12 of my mentees just in the Super Bowl, a bunch of 18 of them just in New York Fashion Week. I just got news today that one of my Italian dancers just booked a Nike gig. We had a dancer that just booked a Gap campaign, kids doing Disney commercials, helping them get signed with agents. A couple of them just got accepted to different university programs. So lots of incredible client wins, and I'm working with kids as young as five all the way to adults, everything in between, that are at different stages of their dance careers. And here we are!

So hopefully I crammed all of that in!

Dr Chelsea: I know, you have such an incredible career that’s just — you know, it's not done. So I want to get to Business of Dance, of course. But I, before we get into the mindset side of it, because of course that's where I want to dig in with you, in your professional career, do you have a favorite performance or a favorite moment onstage or something that stands out to you? I like starting with something happy and fun.

Menina’s Favorite Memory Onstage – 10:12

Menina Fortunato: Yeah, I think the Britney Spears Pepsi was definitely a highlight as a young dancer. At the time, Britney was at the height of her career. So she was like the biggest pop princess at the time, and I remember that job being, you know, like a dream come true kind of job. That was a huge highlight.

Star Trek: Enterprise was a really cool gig because it was actually my first guest-starring role where I was actually acting and dancing, but they needed an actress who could dance, and that's mainly why I got the job. And I was a Green Orion Slave. If you look that up online, you'll get to understand what I'm talking about. I'm half naked and green and dancing. I'm an alien, and it's a thing, and it created a whole cult following that I was not prepared for.

I remember the producers on the show said, you know, “Take your address offline.” I'm like, “Why?” “You're going to be getting fan mail,” and I'm like, “Really?” “And then you're going to get invitations to do conventions.” I'm like, “For one episode?” And I didn't believe them, and sure enough, I was in Germany, I was in England, different parts of the US doing appearances, doing autograph signings, and I have a trading card, I'm in a video game, I've been in a comic strip.

I'm part of the Star Trek Legacy family now. I've met so many of the actors from the different series’ and movies and such over the years. I did that job in 2005. I still, to this day, get fan mail for that one episode because it was such an iconic role because apparently the pilot episode with William Shatner was — they had an Orion slave because that was the alien, the character that I played, but it was they hadn't seen an Orion slave in 30 years. So it was one of the fan favorites of, “They brought it back!” So that was kind of a really cool job. 

Dr Chelsea: That’s awesome. I love that they chose an actual dancer for that. You know, just sometimes that's not the priority, and, if you choose someone who's truly well trained, yeah, then you can stand out in the role.

Menina Fortunato: Well, there were three of us, and all three of us were dancers, and one of them actually was one of the original members of the Pussycat Dolls. She was a very well-trained dancer, but she also was a great actress as well. So, yeah, we all had dance backgrounds, and it just so happens that the choreographers had the same agents that I did, and my agents also were friends with the producers. So there was a synergy there.

Dr Chelsea: Yes. That sounds wonderful.

Menina Fortunato: There were many dancers in the world that could have done that job. Stacy Walker and Travis Payne were the choreographers on that job, who are iconic from the Michael Jackson era. And yeah, I could go on with so many other — Rain's world tour was amazing. I know most of your listeners probably have no idea, but if you know K-pop, you know, Rain. He's like the Michael Jackson of Asia.

We had a plane that had his logo and everything wrapped on it, like it was sponsored by Korean airlines. Everywhere I went, because I was a token blonde, Jamie King was the director. He made me the blonde. I was the only Caucasian on the tour, and everywhere I went, they knew who I was. All his fans knew who I was. And it was always like, “Can I take a picture?” I was like, “Yeah!” I'm like, “You care about me?”

And I remember in Hong Kong, I was not ready for it. I'm jet lagged, tired, dragging my feet off the plane, and there are hundreds of fans with signs and everything. They're following us to the hotel. I'm like, “Oh my gosh, this is wild!” You know the time of the Michael Jackson era when people were screaming and all that?

Dr Chelsea: Yeah.

Menina Fortunato: That was it for Rain. But I was a part of that, so it was like, “Whoa.” I was not ready for that. I didn’t even know who he was when I auditioned for him either. I had no idea what I was embarking on. So yeah, I mean, there are so many, so many stories I could share on that.

Dr Chelsea: Yeah. Well, thank you for sharing! I think that’s really fun.

Menina Fortunato: But I won’t go too deep into it. Lots and lots of good gigs.

Dr Chelsea: Well, let's talk motivation because, yes, there are these big highs and these incredible experiences, but as you kind of alluded to in your journey, it's not always there. There are days when you're not motivated to go on auditions or to get up and go to work, to keep trudging when some door has closed. So can you share a little about what has kept you motivated to continue this professional career for so long? If you’ve lost it at one point, how you’ve got it back?

What’s Kept Menina Motivated Professionally – 14:17

Menina Fortunato: Passion, and the theme of your show. [Laughs]

Dr Chelsea: Yes. [Laughs]

Menina Fortunato: Passion. Passion is what drives me. I cannot do things just for money. I have to do things because it's passion driven, and it's super important to me to do something that I love, and that's why I chose dance as a career. And that's why I was even so persistent even in 2020 when I remember my parents were like, “Oh, you can teach French,” because I speak French. “There's a shortage of French teachers. You can go work for the government and have a French job, and then you can have more security, and da, da, da.” I'm like, “I do not want to go teach French and have a nine-to-five job!” “Back home you can get a pension.” I'm like, “I don't want any of that.” I'm like, “I want to dance. I want to do something related to dance!”

So I've always been a person of let's find a way, let's figure it out. You know, I'm gonna fall on my face. I'm gonna fail. I'm gonna make mistakes. I'm gonna feel defeated. I'm gonna cry about it. I'm gonna pick myself back up, and I'm gonna figure it out. And I think anybody that's achieved any kind of success in life, no matter what it is, has experienced a lot of failure as well. And without risk, there is no reward. So if you truly want something, whatever it is that you want in life, be prepared for a lot of failure, be prepared for a lot of risk because you have to bet on yourself. Nobody will believe in you unless you believe in yourself, and I think that's a theme in my entire life is passion.

I am driven by passion, and because I love dance so much, I will do whatever it takes to figure it out and to make it work. Just like if you're a parent and you have a child, it doesn't matter how hard those days are, you will do anything and everything to put food on the table and to, you know, make, make things work for them because of how much you love them. And I think also, too, my other why would be probably my kids. You know, my kids gave me this extra drive of like, “Okay, I guess I have to not only feed myself, but I’ve got to feed a whole family. I’ve got three kids to feed plus two dogs now.” She’s got a lot of mouths to feed! So I’ve got to make some big moves. I can't be playing small. I’ve got to play big. I’ve got to bet on myself.

You know, it's not always been easy. I'm not going to say that it was always peaches and creams. There have been feasts. There have been famines. And I think the longest drought I've ever experienced was from 2020 to 2022. I’d never been so frustrated with my career in my life because I can only control what I could control, and I think during that time, a lot of us felt like our hands were tied, and it was literally a kick-ball-change dance. It was like, “All right, we're going to kick-ball-change and pivot. Where are we going next,” because, clearly, I keep hitting brick walls. I keep banging my head against the wall. I'm like, “There's gotta be a way out of here!” [Laughs]

Dr Chelsea: Yes! Yes. Well, and the passion comes through in your work and when you talk about it. And so, I can see maybe following a passion sounds like a value of yours. Like that's going to be your north star —

Menina Fortunato: That will keep me going.

Dr Chelsea: — compared to anything that might be more secure, right? Which tends to be the argument for people who love you, but they're worried about you if you're going to pick something that's not as stable.

But I agree. I think that what separates resilient dancers and business owners is that strong sense of personal values so that even when you are dealing with 2020 and the shutdown and, you know, the complete loss of income, you have a sense of — you are grounded in who you are, and you can use that to pivot. Do you feel like you have your set of values? Have they evolved throughout your career?

Menina’s View on Values – 17:48

Menina Fortunato: I don't think my values really have changed in that regard, and I think that's probably why I've been so frustrated is because I'm pretty headstrong about what I'm willing and not willing to do. Even during, you know, the pandemic, there were certain things I was not willing to participate in, and it cost me jobs, and my values were stronger than a paycheck.

And I was like, “No, I'm not going to participate in that. I refuse to participate in that. That does not align with my values. And I just can't do it just for a paycheck. I’ve got to figure out another way to do it,” and I literally was like, “Well, I don't want to participate in the outside world because the outside world has gone crazy and gone mad right now, so I'm going to figure out what I can do in my own little bubble of my own safe haven, which is my home where I can make up my own rules.”

Dr Chelsea: Yes. Well, yeah, I talk about values a lot, which is why I wanted to ask, because you sound like you have that conviction, and it's not that that time is easy, but I think when your values are solid, it is easier to say no or to not be as tempted when you need the money, but you are still able to be like, “Nope, that doesn't fit,” and then also trust yourself to figure it out because you've been able to do that multiple times.

Menina Fortunato: Yes, a hundred percent. I agree.

Dr Chelsea: Yeah, that’s wonderful. One of the other things you've talked about — pivoting a little bit, while we're at it — is your 80/20 rule, which when I've heard you talk about this, it's like, “Yes, thank you!” I have to ask. So the short of it being, you know, success in this dance industry is like 20% talent, 80% everything else.

Menina Fortunato: Yes.

Dr Chelsea: So will you share what that everything else is and kind of how you got there?

The 80/20 Rule – 19:19

Menina Fortunato: I think that's a big bucket. The everything else is definitely a big bucket because I think a lot of dancers are so training, training, training, training, training, skill, skill, skill, talent, talent, talent, which a hundred percent you need. I'm not saying that you don't need it. But how many talented dancers that we know on this planet don't make it? A lot. So what is the missing link? Why are they not making it? And why are the not-so-talented dancers — I mean, not to say not-so-talented, but not as talented — and I always say, I’ll admit I'm one of them.

I was never the most talented in the room. I was never that competition kid that won all the first place in the high scores and all this. I wasn't that kid. I was third place. I was lucky. I was happy with my place, and maybe I got a couple of scholarships, but I was never the most outstanding dancer in the room. I know for myself, I know there are peers of mine that are probably scratching their head like, “How in the world does she make it? I don't understand.” You know, “She wasn't even that good,” you know? So I can attest that talent from my own experience and from observing other dancers as well is a part of the equation, but it's not everything. So let's talk about the everything else part.

One thing that you had brought up is mindset. Absolutely, mindset is a huge thing. You know, if you self-sabotage yourself, if you don't have your head on straight, if you don't have the perseverance to push through, it doesn't matter how talented you are, it could really crush you if your head is not in the right space. That's one element.

Then there's the whole branding/marketing aspect of it. You know, you have to understand that if you are in the dance business, you are a business owner. Whether you are self-employed, whether you have a corporation, you are still a business owner. You’ve got to treat your career like a business. Therefore, every business needs sales and marketing. So you are selling yourself at the end of the day, your services. You are the product, and you need to know how to package that product. Just like Kellogg's has their fancy whatever packaging and their Tony the Tiger and all these things, are they great products? No, they're horrible products! I mean, I don't even want to go into what the Kellogg's CEO said.

Dr Chelsea: Right, yeah.

Menina Fortunato: I don't know if anybody heard about that, but he was like, “Oh, if times are tough, eat Kellogg's for dinner.” I'm like, no! You're going to poison children already with the cereal and the breakfast in the morning. Now you want to poison people at night? No.

Anyways, so my point is they're perfect example of somebody that has great sales, marketing, branding. They have a multi I don't know if it's billion- or million-dollar business, not because of the quality of their service or product, but because of their branding and marketing.

So you are no different. As a dancer or a dance business owner, you need to know how to package yourself. You need to know how you sell yourself. You need to know how to come into a room, whether it's an audition or an interview, or whatever it is you're doing, and come in with that confidence. You know, it's not just a five, six, seven, eight, and the moment music comes on that's when you shine. No, it's the moment you walk in the room. People are watching and observing you. How do you interact with people? Are you a likable person? Do I even want to work with you?

Dr Chelsea: Yeah.

Menina Fortunato: Because that's another big component. I mean, if you're gonna go on tour with somebody, if you're gonna spend 14 hours a day on set with somebody, you better want to like them. And most choreographers and directors can say, “We want to like you, and if you have an ego, check it at the door because we don't want to work with you.” But if you come in with that positive energy, that can-do attitude, you're eager, you're here to serve, people want more of that. Then you have your reputation that follows you.

So, you know, I was that new kid on the block in LA. I was so eager beaver. I was like, “Let's go, let's work,” and I was just so happy. I heard dancers bickering and complaining about stuff, and I'm like, “Whatever.” I'm like, “I'm happy to be here.” But that energy is probably what got me rehired over and over again. That reputation does follow.

So having that positive mindset, that confidence, having the will, the drive, the perseverance to go through. I know so many dancers that — unfortunately this a whole other conversation, but the competition world right now, as we see it with the gold, silver, platinum, ruby, diamond, I don’t know what the heck all these awards aren't anymore.

Dr Chelsea: Mm-hmm.

Menina Fortunato: It's hurting our children because they walk away every competition — and I'm experiencing now because my eight-year-old just did her first year of competition this year. We're in it. She walks away feeling a winner all the time, and that's great and it makes you feel good. You get that little dopamine. But what is that doing to prepare our children for the future when they're going to be faced with rejection, a lot of it?

Dr Chelsea: Yeah.

Menina Fortunato: You're going to hear no’s and no’s. I know so many competition dancers, they're like, “I'm going to move to LA, and I'm going to do a new move to New York, and I'm going to start auditioning,” and they get there and they go, “Oh, This is a little bit harder than I expected.” “Oh, there are a lot of talented people out here.” “Oh, there's a lot of politics. Everybody knows everybody. I don't know anybody.” And then, “But that dancer wasn't even as good as me. How did I get cut?” And then they can't deal with the rejection, and then they're crying about it, and then they go broke, and then they turn around and go back home to mommy and daddy, and their dreams are crushed.

So being able to deal with that rejection and having that resilience and being able to have that can-do attitude — so a lot of it is around mindset, a lot of it is around work ethic, a lot of it is around the business side. You have to understand what you're getting yourself into. This is the business of dance, and you have to understand how the business works. And, unfortunately, in the traditional schooling system (whether it's university path or whether it's even the studio path), our dancers are not learning the business of dance. They're learning the skill and the art of dance, and that is a big reason why I started The Business of Dance is to bridge that gap, so that way I can take the talented dancers and I can teach them the everything else part. Because that's what I’m focused on in my program.

Dr Chelsea: Mm-hmm.

Menina Fortunato: I don't actually teach dance in the program, even though we have some on-demand classes, it's not the focus. The focus is really learning everything. Even within my program, we cover taxes and finances and college prep and mindset and mental skills and headshots and resumes and demo reels and websites and castings and how to do self-tape auditions and learning about the unions and all these things that are vital to know if you want to create a career.

So when I say everything else, it's all the stuff that I teach in my program that is the everything else, because I'm noticing that everybody's focused on the 20% talent part and we're doing it. You know, we dedicate 10 years plus a lot of times to the talent part, which is great, and we need it, but we also need the other 80%, you know? And then when you package that together, you're unstoppable.

Dr Chelsea: Yes. So good. And I think the talent part — I always feel like talent sets your floor, and then everything else is what goes past that, but it's just your baseline, right? It's just the beginning. But if you don't learn the rest of it, then that's where you're stuck, right? There's nothing that's going to go past that.

And I fully agree with your mental toughness and lack thereof assessment. I'm seeing it everywhere too. We've gone too far into the praise and happiness and protecting emotions that we're actually not able to help them learn to handle negative emotions. We're trying to make the negative emotions go away. I'm like, “They don't go away. They're going to be there your whole life,” so rather managing them a little bit and learning, like you said, this is a part of this and it's more managing it than being so crushed that you can't function anymore. Because as you said, some really good dancers are then going to miss out on their potential careers because they can't handle that mindset side of it.

Menina Fortunato: The rejection. Yeah, no, I see it all the time where they're used to winning everything, and then suddenly you just don't win all the time, and then you're like, “Oh, so, but is this how it goes?” Like, yeah, 90% of the time you're going to feel like you're a failure.

Dr Chelsea: Right.

Menina Fortunato: And then the other 10%, when you actually do book a job and you actually do have success, it's going to feel amazing and it's going to be so worth it.

Dr Chelsea: Right. Yes.

Menina Fortunato: But I also think that there's a lot of value in losing. I think there's a lot of value in failing. I think there's a lot to learn. You don't learn when you win. You learn when you fail. You learn when you lose. I can't tell you, those two years of struggling, that was probably the biggest learning period of my life. I did some big and bold changes that I may have never done because I was comfortable before and getting comfortable being uncomfortable can actually be a great thing.

Dr Chelsea: It’s a huge, wonderful thing, yeah.

Menina Fortunato: It's a blessing in disguise. It sucks in the moment. You don't like the feeling. You're like, “Ugh, I'm frustrated. I'm stuck. I don't like this feeling,” but it also forces you to be creative and think outside the box and think of different ways on how you can turn this failure into a success.

Dr Chelsea: Yes. Well, and I think dance is just one of the many wonderful vehicles to teach us that, but if dance isn't teaching you that, you're missing such an opportunity. It doesn't have to be harmful either. We don't need to go back to that version of it either, but dance is such an opportunity to learn to think about your own growth and your own success and my own goals and my own creativity without being so focused on, “Where did I place this weekend,” or “Who's ahead of me,” or “She looked better than me,” and being able to learn that. Dance is such a great opportunity. It's right there. Let's use it that way to be able to actually learn to fail. I fully agree. Failure is the best teacher.

Menina Fortunato: Yep, a hundred percent. So celebrate the failures. If you're listening, celebrate the failures. It's okay. Cry it out.

Dr Chelsea: Absolutely! It's not fun in the moment, but so much better — and maybe you and I are both speaking from the years of wisdom, but it's easier to see now looking back, right, that it was so helpful. It doesn't feel so helpful in the moment, but it truly is. Yeah.

Menina Fortunato: Yep.

Dr Chelsea: I would like to talk a little bit about dance as this sustainable career, right? You have been able to make dance your professional career for a very significant amount of time and then still turning, as you said, online, when that was what aligned with what you wanted and your family.

So when you talk to competitive dancers now, or kind of that traditional, more studio competitive dancer, who's considering that career in dance, but they are either scared to go for it, or maybe, back to what we were just saying, they're naive about what's about to happen, what are those big challenges that you're seeing with our current competitive dancers who are hoping for this professional career?

Challenges Menina Sees in Dancers Seeking a Professional Career – 29:16

Menina Fortunato: I think I see a lot of dancers that, after they graduate the high school competition dance life, they seem to think, because society says just go get a degree, and they want to study dance, “Just get a degree in dance, then you'll be able to create a career in dance.” I'm not knocking anybody that wants to get an education. However, I've also had mentees in my program that have graduated with a BFA in dance and still don't know how to create a career because they're not even teaching that in the education system.

So, there's a naivete from the dancers and sometimes the parents because they, too, don't even know what lies ahead, and they think, “Well, my kid's talented, so I guess they want to create a career. So go study dance, and then go get a career.” Not to say that you can't, but there's still so much to learn beyond what they teach at the university level to create a career. And, you know, that is the reality check that I really focus on with my mentees as well in my program is to help them understand.

Because even now I'm getting where they complete my six-month program, and they're like, “I feel like I have everything I need, and I'm ready to conquer the world, and I feel so confident now,” and I'm like, “Hold on a second. First, let's celebrate. Amazing. I'm so glad you feel confident. I'm so glad you feel like you have everything you need, and that's great, but let me give you a reality check. This is just phase one. This is just the foundation. Your next chapter is going to come with a whole new set of challenges.”

Every stage comes with a new set of challenges, and you will never know everything. You will never have all the answers. There's always going to be growth, and there's always going to be learning lessons. And even at, you know, 20, 30 plus years into the industry, I feel like I'm still learning. So be open to learning. I'm all for education. It doesn't always necessarily come in the academia world. But always be open to learning new dance styles. Don't be a one-trick pony. Be as versatile as possible. Have as many toolkits in your toolbox. Make as many connections and relationships as possible because the relationships, even in your competition dance days, can lead to something later on, 20, 30 years down the line.

One of my team members, our client success manager, she was a dancer that I used to compete with when we were 13 years old, and we didn't come from the same studio. We didn't even come from the same country. She's American. I'm Canadian. I used to compete a lot in the US, and we used to see each other at the same competitions in Seattle and Portland and Spokane and Hawaii. We kept seeing each other, and we didn't have social media back then, so when we stopped competing I never saw her again. And then she found me on Instagram, like, 20 plus years later, and then I ended up hiring her for my program.

So those relationships — she remembers how I made her feel back then. So how you are to people now, it doesn't matter how old you are, young or old, those relationships are so valuable down the line and could open doors for you. You know, be kind to everyone because it doesn't matter where they are, and not just the people that you perceive are important. Be kind to everyone because people talk, the dance world is small, and your reputation is something that will follow you for the rest of your life.

Dr Chelsea: Absolutely.

Menina Fortunato: So be kind to everyone. And, you know, if you're younger and you're competing in the dance world, don't be so focused on the award part. I mean, that's great. If you get a scholarship, you get a trophy, I mean, enjoy it. Celebrate it. That's fantastic. I'm not saying don't, but that is not the win. At the end of the day, the win is, “What did you learn that weekend? How did you improve? Were you better today than you were yesterday? Did you make a new friend? Did you make a connection?” Because those, to me, are the big wins when you do the whole competition thing. The plastic trap, the trophy, the metal, whatever you get, it's going to be a dust collector, and if you're like me, you ended up donating all of them anyways.

Dr Chelsea: Oh yeah. I ditched that box a while ago. Yep.

Menina Fortunato: Yeah, I finally gave away my last trophy last year. I was like, “You know what? Why am I carrying this?” Like, I got photos of it. I got the photo of it. I took a big photo of all my trophies over 20 years ago when I applied for my visa, which was helpful, I will say. But after that I was like I have no use for those.

So they feel good in the moment. I remember sleeping with my first trophy, my first first-place trophy that I ever got from my first solo when I was eight years old. It meant so much to me. But in the moment they mean a lot. In the grand scheme of things, they mean nothing. But it's the relationships. It's the learning lessons. And did you grow? Are you better today than you were yesterday?

Dr Chelsea: Yes. That is such great advice. And you're speaking my language all about that community and how you treat people and then your own sense of success being within you, you get to decide and then noticing your own growth. That's wonderful, thank you.

Pivoting a little bit from there one more time. I think you've started recently talking about this balance, as you mentioned in 2020, and now having children and trying to learn a new balance. Every phase is different. As you said, a new era, a new decision of what this is gonna feel like. And I think we see, you know, the shiny media articles, the Instagrams and all of this where it looks like, you know, they have something special that allows them to balance all this or, “How did she make it? This is so hard.”

And I've heard you share that you want dancers to know dance can be a part of your life in every era, and I fully agree. Same, right? It's continued to be a strong, important part of my life. But will you share about your own balance, how that's shifted for you. Really, it's the mindset part that I want to tie into that, not just that, but the pressures around your career and how the mindset to be a successful business owner and mom has played out for you.

Menina’s Take on Balance and Mindset – 34:45

Menina Fortunato: Well, let me give you the real. I don't believe in work/life balance anymore. [Laughs]

Dr Chelsea: Me neither! I have said that plenty of times! Work/life balance is not a thing. That's not how I go at it. No, okay. So tell me how you go about it.

Menina Fortunato: It's an illusion. It's an illusion, and when you look at my Instagram or my website and all that, that's just marketing. Okay, let's just put it like that. That's just marketing at the end of the day. I just know how to do personal branding. I know how to do marketing. That is what I teach my students. But that's the highlight reel. Don't judge someone's life just by the highlight reel.

Now, of course what we put online, you know, should be our best foot forward. Of course we want to put our shiny objects and all of that, but you also have to understand too, this is like 30 plus years in the making. This is not something that I just started yesterday, and I suddenly have all these credentials and all these things. This is an evolution. This is a whole body of work, a whole lifetime of work. Some people go to school for four years, and then they get their career. I've been dedicating my time and energy and effort and love into this thing called dance my entire life. So, as far as I'm concerned, I’ve got a PhD as far as life experience goes.

Dr Chelsea: You probably do!

Menina Fortunato: So the work/life balance part, it's messy. It's messy. It's always chaos.

You know, for example, it was a Friday. I was at the dance competition. My kid competed. Whatever, they got some special awards, and then we went home. I didn't know that there was the showdown thing. So at midnight the night before I got an email saying that the group's going back for the showdown for whatever Sunday night. I'm like, “Oh crap. I’ve got to do my own podcast interview for The Business of Dance. I’ve got a group call at five o'clock. Guess what? Call time’s at three o'clock. Stage time is right after four o'clock. My zoom call is at five o'clock. And then I'm like, “Okay, so I was supposed to be at home for this. So how am I going to do this? I’ve got to be dance mom now and I’ve got to do my business and I got to be at a different location?”

So guess what I did? I packed my bags, got my kid ready, we went to the competition, I sat in the audience. “Hooray, hooray, clap, clap, clap.” Okay, great. I was like, “Can you stay with your dance team?” And my little three-year-old stayed with the dance team. Because, “Mommy's got go to work.”

I go find a corner in the upper floor of the conference center with a table. That was all I had, and it was a standing-up table. It wasn't even a chair table, and I brought my little portable lights. I brought my little portable mic. I had my computer. I set it all up. I did an interview with the artistic director of The Joffrey Ballet School and with my clients. I'm doing my recording for an hour. Boom, I close my computer, pack my bag. I go back to the theater. It's time for the awards. “Clap, clap, clap.” And then I'm posting that on social media, and then I'm posting little clips of the interview that I did. That was my Sunday.

Dr Chelsea: Yes.

Menina Fortunato: You know? And, oh yeah, just to add another picture, my three-year-old falls asleep during the awards ceremony. So he's dead weight. He's a really heavy three-year-old too. I don't have a stroller or anything like that, so I'm carrying him with the bags. I'm trying to say hello to people that I hadn't seen in years or whatever at the dance competition, because I seem to know everybody, and I'm chatting with people holding my three-year-old. And then I asked another mom, “Can you just hold it for a second so I can go say hi to this one person?”

Dr Chelsea: Oh, I love that you asked. Yes.

Menina Fortunato: And then I put them down. I'm like, “Okay, I need to be businessperson for a second.” I needed to go talk to somebody. And then I'm like, “Oh yeah, take a photo with my kid and the judges.” I'm like, “Okay, photo guys. Snap, snap, snap.” And then and then my son finally woke up, so then we went home and then I had dinner at, I don't know, it was like ten o'clock at night. It was just a gong show, you know? It went well.

Dr Chelsea: Right, but that's the reality. Yes.

Menina Fortunato: But it was just chaos. And someone actually did tell me they're like, “Yeah, your life looks so perfect.” I'm like, “You know what? That's the problem.” I'm like, I think I need to show more behind the scenes because my life is pretty chaotic if you really look behind the scenes. I feel like I could have a reality show just on my life.

Dr Chelsea: And I treat it as like a work/life blend. To your point of sometimes exactly at the same time you are both business owner and mom, and you can't always separate the two. And sometimes you can do, like you did of like, “I'm going to be here for a moment, and then I'm going to shut that down. I'm going to be here for a moment,” and you're able to do both. But it's always a blend. It's not an either/or. But if I can kind of ask the real question, are you okay with that amount of chaos? Is that your value in what you want? Or is this like, you wish it was different?

Menina’s Thoughts on Managing Chaos – 39:03

Menina Fortunato: Sometimes I thrive in it. There's a little part of me that enjoys it. You know, I was proud of myself at the end of the night when I laid my head down. I was like, “I did that. I did that. I was dance mom doing hair and makeup, getting my kid ready, fed, put them on stage, watched them, supported them, was there for them. Then I was able to step away, do my work, be there for my clients, you know, work on my business, then go back for my kid. And then I had to do some other business, said hello to some people I hadn't seen in a while.” And then I felt very accomplished. I was like, “That was a real juggling act.” It's chaos, but…

Dr Chelsea: It is. I think it goes back to what you said that those are both your passion, so at the end of the day, yes, it was chaos, but it was chaos of two things I love, which is very different from trying to do a work/life blend, if you will, with something that you're not super passionate about and something that you just kind of have to do. So it doesn't have the same weight to it. I will say that's my experience as well, right? Same crazy mom life/work life that is sometimes in conflict, but yet they're both a passion. So yet it always feels okay at the end of the day.

Menina Fortunato: Yeah. No, in the moment it's a bit chaotic, but at the end of the day, when I look back, I'm like, “I'm proud of that. I did that.” And that's what I want. I wanted a family, and I want dance. So I'm doing it. It’s a blessing. Even though it was chaotic, I'm grateful for it. I'm grateful that I get to do that.

You know, a couple other parents weren't able to be there for their kids because they had a job, and they would lose their job if they went to that dance event, and I had the freedom to be able to be like, “Okay, we're just going to kick-ball-change and pivot today. We're not doing our interview at home, and we're going to do it on the conference center floor.”

Dr Chelsea: Yes, absolutely. Well, and it made me think of — so one last thing. I remember what I wanted to say before, and I think this is a great example that, okay, yes, I am an academic and I'm all for academic training, but you're right that that's not the whole thing, and often we're missing experiential learning. You have to go out and do it, and that's where this learning how to balance like that and learning the chaos I think comes from a lot of our younger training as well and learning all of that balance and learning that it's not always going to be easy or handled for you. You have to figure this out.

So I think that sounds like a big part of what your program is as well. It sets you up for all this, but as you were saying, that's phase one. Now you’ve got to go do it and just apply this toolbox to whatever that career path is that you like.

Menina Fortunato: A hundred percent. A hundred percent. It's one thing to learn it. It's one thing to even set up the foundational. But then it's actually, and I tell my students all the time, “You’ve got all your marketing materials now, great. Now you can submit to agents, great. Now you can submit for jobs. But then what happens when you’ve got the interview? Are you ready for that? Do you know how to handle that? What happens if you book a job? Do you know how to handle that? Do you know how to handle the contract? What if you're on set and you're dealing with a situation?” There are going to be obstacles, and there are never-ending going to be obstacles.

I do, I think a blend of education, whether it's academia or whether it's educational programs like mine, always be learning, but always be doing as well because you learn from doing and the greatest lessons that I've learned are from doing. I like to learn and do, learn and do, like apply the learning. They say knowledge is power, but I say knowledge is power when applied because you can study all of it and know everything, but unless you actually put it to practice, that knowledge is useless. So go put it to practice.

Dr Chelsea: And I feel the same about confidence. And that's when people like, “I want to be more confident. How can I be more confident?” I was like, “You have to do the work. Confident is a verb. You have to go do the thing. So you can learn all the tools, I can tell you all the mindset tricks, and tools — they're not tricks — mindset strategies that you can do that are real, but then if you don't go out and try it, you don't know. Like, “Oh, that was harder than I thought, or it worked there, but not there. Why is that? How can I adjust?” And you have to go constantly do it.

So I really appreciate what you're saying. I totally agree with this constant learning, applying, learn more, apply differently, adjust and carry that forward.

Menina Fortunato: A hundred percent. I totally agree.

Dr Chelsea: Before we go, will you share where people can learn more about The Business of Dance and everything that you have available for them?

Menina Fortunato: I have a lot of things. You can start with my Instagram @meninafortunato. That's my Instagram handle, which has a web of links where you can find www.bizofdance.com, which is Business of Dance, or www.dancehst.com, which is the Hollywood Summer Tour, www.meninafortunato.com, which is my personal website.

So I have a lot of websites, and I have a lot of pages. But the good thing is a simple Google search, I have a unique name that you could find anything and everything. You can find articles, podcast interviews, YouTube videos, websites, social media pages. I'm an open book. A lot of my career and my life is all on the internet, which comes from branding. You know, the marketing part that I teach is you want to be omnipresent. You want to be accessible so that if somebody doesn't know who you are, they can do a quick Google search and boom. There you are. “Oh, okay, cool!” So yeah, Google my name. That's probably really easy.

Dr Chelsea: Yeah, well, and we'll make sure everything is linked, but yeah, I have a similar, unique last name, which can be hard. People don't know how to spell, but if you get close, Google finds me, you know? It works.

Menina Fortunato: Yes, yes. There's no other Menina Fortunato, at least that I know of, so you should be able to find me.

Dr Chelsea: Yeah. Oh, that's wonderful. Okay. Well, again, I'll make sure everything is linked so people can find you as well. Before we go, any last thoughts that you wanted to share with the people who are listening?

Menina Fortunato: Well, thank you so much for having me and giving me a platform to speak to your audience. These sessions go by so fast for me because there's just so much that I would love to share. But I feel like this was a great conversation. I feel like we touched on a lot of different areas. So I'm really hoping that whoever's listening to this can gain some value and get some inspiration for themselves and be ready to take action as well, you know? It's great to listen to all these conversations. I encourage it, but now find one thing in this conversation that we just had that you can take away from it, and go do it, so that it's not just an inspirational talk, but an actual learning lesson for you.

Dr Chelsea: That's wonderful, and that's such a huge focus in everything I say too. It's like you can learn all you want, but yeah, go do it. Go take action. So thank you, Menina for sharing that and being that inspirational voice. But I agree. If you're listening, go. Let's go take action. So thank you so much!

Menina Fortunato: Beautiful. Thank you so much!


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Thank you for listening to Passion for Dance! You can find all episode resources at www.chelseapierotti.com/podcast, and be sure to follow me on Instagram for more high-performance tips at @dr.chelsea.pierotti. This podcast is for passionate dance teachers and coaches who are ready to change the dance industry by creating happier, more successful dancers. I'm Dr. Chelsea and keep sharing your passion for dance with the world.

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