Tara Walmsley wanted to take a fencing class but ended up finding her passion in dancing instead


Photos by Rachel Coward

Tara Walmsley accidentally two-stepped her way into a passion 17 years ago, when she arrived at Bellevue College to attend her first fencing class. But the class was canceled.

Rather than returning home, the Bellevue resident took note of a ballroom dancing class right down the hall and thought, “Why not?” She went in, but wasn’t instantly won over.

“I thought, ‘This is so cheesy,’” she said. “But the teachers from U-R Dancing were amazing, and they had us go over and over the steps so it was engrained. I realized it came naturally to me.”

Walmsley, 43, grew up in a Caribbean family, and her father was in the military. They lived all over the world, including St. Thomas, Germany, Long Island, and elsewhere in the United States. Music filled their lives.

“Through all the music, I must have learned the basics of the movements subconsciously when I was young,” she said. “I was a success from the get go.”
By day, Walmsley works in the IT department at HDR Engineering, a job she compares to puzzle solving.

“There’s always something to do, always something new coming in, something different to do every day, or more like every 15 minutes,” she said. “It’s everything from getting someone a new piece of software to ‘My computer died.’ I could get a call from two different people with the same problem, but the fix could be different for both of them.”

She loves the fast-paced, ever-changing job.

Illustrations by Mike Forbush

Illustrations by Mike Forbush

“I am not good at monotonous tasks, being idle, or having nothing to do,” she said. “Each day I walk into a new day’s agenda. It’s never the same.”
And, like her dancing hobby, Walmsley also fell into her career by accident.

“I was in marketing and working for a startup that went under in the recession,” she said. “So I just took the first job that I could find. I ended up as the administrative assistant for the IT department at HDR Engineering.”

She learned on the job and soon had an official IT position.

Both Walmsley’s job and her dancing hobby are dynamic and challenging.

“Dancing is about following your lead,” she said. “He sends a message to my body, and it’s my job to accept the message and follow.”

The first six years of dancing, Walmsley did nothing but salsa. Then she discovered ballroom, rumba, cha cha, waltz, and more. For the last year, she has been taking international ballroom classes, which have different styling and timing.

Walmsley estimates she spends about six hours a week dancing, including at social dances at various dance studios and her regular classes at DanceWorks Studio in Redmond.

Her hard work paid off at a seven-night Dancing with the Stars cruise in October 2015. She went on the cruise with a friend and fellow dancer, Alex Hooi.

Both were selected to dance in the boat’s onboard competition, and both made the finals. Walmsley, who to that point had never performed publicly, suddenly was thrust into a Broadway-like production with lights and an audience of 1,500 people.

To her surprise, she finished second overall, receiving a perfect score from the judges. Hooi won the entire competition due to his fan support.
“The judges loved me,” Walmsley said. “But the audience loved Alex.”

Walmsley took her newfound confidence for public performance and competed on two formation team dance showcases in April.

“I’m not keen on performing for crowds,” she said. “In fact, it was super scary, but I was able to overcome and perform the best I could.”

She continues to hone her dance skills by undergoing an assessment program called the Dance Vision International Dance Association certificate process. The process includes standards for a set of basics of each dance. A certified instructor watches and assesses each move, she said.

20161021_tarawalmsey_008“Did you do the heel turn right? Did you put your foot in the right place? It’s all very technical,” Walmsely said. “It’s important to have a measurable way to assess your dancing.”

Walmsley plans to hone her craft by taking “lead” classes. Lead classes are typically taken by male partners, but Walmsley says there’s a benefit in understanding both the lead and follow positions.

“I love how dancing makes me feel,” she said. “It really makes me so amazingly happy to get out on the dance floor and express myself,” she said. “I get to dance with friends. It’s an exciting experience because every dance is unique based on the music, your dance partner, and the style of dance.”

This article originally appeared in the December 2016 issue of “425 Business.”