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David and Lissette Lucas of ‘Shake the Ground’: “Dedicate the Time”

Dedicate the Time — You need to understand that once you decide to do this you need to dedicate yourself 100% of the time and expect it to take 150% to get it done. As part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing David […]

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Dedicate the Time — You need to understand that once you decide to do this you need to dedicate yourself 100% of the time and expect it to take 150% to get it done.


As part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing David and Lissette Lucas.

David and Lissette, partners on stage and off, co-founded Shake The Ground with in 2012, and in 2013, Universal Ballet Competition. Having had professional performance careers that took them all over the world, they met as artists at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet Company, where together they danced many lead roles. A mutual love for the art of ballet, after retiring from the stage, they went on to choreograph and stage works for students abroad and began to refine their teaching skills, educating the next generation of dancers at institutions like The North Carolina School of the Arts, South Carolina Governor’s School of the Arts, Dillard High School for the Performing Arts, the Canadian School of Ballet, and the esteemed Joffrey Ballet School. Looking to make a larger investment in the future stars of tomorrow, Shake the Ground and the Universal Ballet Competition are committed to providing educational opportunities to dancers of all levels through master classes, performance opportunities and mentorships. Additionally, the competitions offer over 1,000,000 dollars in scholarships to inspiring young dancers, annually, to assist each of them in reaching their remarkable potential, catapulting them to the next level of their dance careers.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

We met in Winnipeg, Manitoba Canada and danced together in the Royal Winnipeg Ballet Company for many years. It was amazing to be able to travel with the company to perform in many countries. When we retired we decided to move to Florida where Lissette has a big family to raise our children. We have a son and daughter and it is great having grandparents and relatives here in Florida.

We were judging in competitions and thought that there would be a better way to do it — one where the emphasis would be on creating opportunities for dancers for their futures in dance in addition to the competitive element. This is why we have partnered with some of the leading schools in the dance world to offer scholarships to summer sessions so they can continue to the next stage of their dance careers.

We started the Shake the Ground dance competition in 2013 with 5 competitions. In 2014 we started the Universal Ballet Competition. These are 2 completely different competitions. Shake the Ground invites dancers who train in a multitude of disciplines; Ballet, Jazz, Contemporary, Hip Hop, Tap, Musical Theater and other types of dance, while Universal Ballet Company focuses strictly on Ballet and Contemporary.

Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?

We wouldn’t label ourselves the authority in our industry as there are a lot of companies that host great events. What we do have to offer is that we have a background in dance that allows us to understand the dance world and provide dancers what they really need to excel and reach their dreams. We also have a big network of amazing judges and master teachers to always offer our students the best insight from the industry, no matter where they are in their dance journey. One of our strengths is who we surround ourselves with. Our staff, most of whom have been with us from the beginning, are industry professionals and are the heart and soul of Shake the Ground and Universal Ballet Competition. We are able to think outside the box and offer things that no other company can offer. By doing this we are ever expanding and evolving!

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

As dancers it was always amazing to have the opportunities to perform in different countries. Lissette danced the role of Juliet as a guest Principal dancer with a company in Florence, Italy. For David to perform in Japan doing Corsair Pas de deux was a highlight. To see the cultures of these countries and to be performing there seems to somehow give you an extra energy boost from the excitement of being in a foreign country. It was also exciting to perform in Greece at the top of the mountain at the Acropolis while U2 performed in the valley below. While our music was quiet you could hear them playing in the distance. Really cool!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When we first started Shake the Ground we were told that we would be lucky if we got 3 studios to sign up to attend the 1st competition. The 1st competition had 5 studios sign up but with only 34 entries total. We thought it was awesome and were so excited and thought yes we made it. In hindsight we lost money on the event but didn’t know any better since we were so excited about the 5 studios signing up. The lesson we learned was to create a budget and profit/loss study to determine about doing the events based on numbers and not on what people tell us it should be. Though we may have started in our first city with just 34 entries it has become one of the biggest cities we do annually and were able to build it into a big success in the future.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define what a ‘Thought Leader’ is. How is a thought leader different than a typical leader? How is a thought leader different than an influencer?

I would define a thought leader as someone who is a source of knowledge in their field. It is someone that others can reference and build their ideas from. A thought leader is a person who is not only experienced but also innovative in their respective area. They are people who guide a field and lead the way for other leaders to follow. They combine innovation and knowledge to create new ideas and help others flourish.

A thought leader is different from a typical leader because they usually are those with the most time or experience in the field. They provide insight and ideas that other leaders can then use and build on. They also differ from an influencer because a thought leader does not mean to simply influence others to follow the same rules, but rather to use the expertise that they have acquired to help others continue to improve in the discipline.

Can you talk to our readers a bit about the benefits of becoming a thought leader. Why do you think it is worthwhile to invest resources and energy into this?

It is worthwhile to invest resources and energy into being a thought leader because becoming a thought leader allows you to be at the forefront of innovation. It allows you to provide something to the world that was never available before. By being at the forefront of your field you can make changes and create something better than it was before. You can be a guide for those that are beginning to help them, and the field evolve and grow. There is no price for being a point of knowledge and growth for those around you.

Let’s talk about business opportunities specifically. Can you share a few examples of how thought leadership can help a business grow or create lucrative opportunities?

Thought leadership can help a business grow because it allows you to create new openings in the market that may not have existed before. By having the newest ideas and experience in the field you can see areas of need to be filled, as well as understand how to better the elements that are already in place.

For example, after many years in the ballet world as professional dancers, we saw what a challenge it was to create a life in the field, and we were able to fill that need for opportunity through our work with Universal Ballet Competition Auditions which allows dancers to audition all over the world from one location. This was something that could have only been created from the experience and innovation that comes with being a thought leader.

We have also innovated through our Virtual Workshop Series, where we allowed dancers to train from their own homes with world class master teachers. Our experience in knowing how invaluable it is to learn and gain exposure during a time when competitions could not occur is the key to creating this program that allows students to gain opportunities and experience in the field.

Ok. Now that we have that behind us, we’d love to hear your thoughts about how to eventually become a thought leader. Can you share 5 strategies that a person should implement to become known as a thought leader in their industry. Please tell us a story or example (ideally from your own experience) for each.

  1. Dedicate the Time — You need to understand that once you decide to do this you need to dedicate yourself 100% of the time and expect it to take 150% to get it done.
  2. Work Hard — commit to the idea that customer service is a lost art and you will need to go above and beyond what is expected. This will be one of the things that will make your company stand out above the rest.
  3. Do the Research — do your homework on what you decide to do that way you will be prepared to take and make calculated decisions.
  4. Learn from the Mistakes — everyone will make mistakes, but it is how you learn from these mistakes that will either make your company excel or repeat the same mistakes.
  5. Prioritize Growth — always prepare a controlled growth strategy to follow your research. By having a plan, and a growth plan, you limit your company exposure and yield a higher percentage for success.

In your opinion, who is an example of someone who has that has done a fantastic job as a thought leader? Which specific things have impressed you about that person? What lessons can we learn from this person’s approach.

Someone who has done a fantastic job as a thought leader is Elon Musk. He has a vision for helping the world evolve into the future and what he can create to help us get there. His vision expands beyond the world we live in to other planets so the existence of the human race will go on.

I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is your feeling about this?

We don’t believe it should be avoided. It is simply a title that aims to differentiate those that are specialists in what they do. It is important to recognize those that have learned, grown, and put the work in to create something new and better. This term helps to differentiate those that can guide other leaders in the profession and points out someone that can provide support and insight.

What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?

Our advice would be to lead in an area you are passionate about. We work in an area that we love each day, and want for dancers to experience the love that we have for that art. That passion is what helps us to avoid burnout. Being able to see a dancer succeed and grow because of opportunities you have provided drives us to never stop innovating, creating, learning, and working. We know how difficult it was to be starting out as a dancer, so we avoid burnout by remembering how important these connections are for up and coming students. New ideas and constant growth are also key components of thriving. If you are constantly moving forward and creating, there is no way to become tired since you can create a new goal to fuel your passion all the time. The key to avoiding burnout is doing something you love and evolving each day.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

An appreciation for the arts would be a movement that we believe would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people. The arts are an outlet for so many people of all ages to express their ideas, work through challenging times, and help them grow. However, the arts have always been the first area that is cut out of schools, cut out of funding, and removed from the lives of so many people who benefit from them.

We would like to create a movement to build a respect for the arts and the impact that they have on people, how they can change someone’s day or even someone’s life. We have felt the impact of the arts on our lives, the lives of the dancers we meet and even our own children. We know how critical it can be, and that is why we would like to start this movement. Various states have prioritized bringing back the arts during difficult times and we know that it has definitely benefited its citizens. We would aim to have all states understand how much it helps all those in the area and try to see the arts as a priority not an option.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Some men have thousands of reasons why they cannot do what they want to, when all they need is one reason why they can”

Martha Graham

This quote is particularly relevant to us because we have had so many obstacles that have stood in the path of getting to where we are today. We have a million reasons for why we shouldn’t have been able to create Shake the Ground and Universal Ballet Competition, plenty of people who have told us we might not succeed, and even our own doubts. But, we have held tight to the idea, that we need just one reason why, one dancer who needs the opportunity, and one thing to make us say “let’s do it”

We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Mikhail Baryshnikov would definitely be someone we would love to have lunch with. We have looked up to him as an artist and role model from the time we started out in the field, and we know he would be able to provide invaluable insight.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can follow our sister companies at https://www.instagram.com/universalballetcompetition/ and https://www.instagram.com/shakethegroundcomp/

Thank you so much for your insights. This was very insightful and meaningful.

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