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“​Even as an actor, I always find my way back to me, and I think that’s who people are really interested in.” – Actor-Dancer Danny Lewis on acting real.

Actor, Dancer, pilot, and entrepreneur Danny Lewis.

What’s your backstory?

I’m an actor, dancer, writer, and entrepreneur. This is my story. I grew up in a pretty normal middle class family in Rocklin, California, a suburb of the state’s capitol, Sacramento. Though my parents divorced when I was 9, they both supported my brother and me in our various endeavors. I was one of those kids growing up who saw the movie “Top Gun” and knew exactly who I wanted to be for the rest of my life: a fighter pilot.

I worked my ass off in school, earned super high grades, and somehow convinced my congressman to nominate me for The US Air Force Academy. I was the nerd who was in Junior ROTC in high school, so I had been wearing an Air Force uniform since I was a teenager, but getting to The Academy as a cadet was a total shock. I went from being the top guy in a local ROTC unit to just another Freshman.

It was a tough adjustment. I was always sort of a rebel growing up, and didn’t even make it out of basic training without earning a spot on the probation list. I made my way off the list, but I realized that I’m not a huge fan of bureaucracies. It’s tough to have a boss who’s your boss simply because he or she is older or has more seniority. It makes you appreciate hard skill, talent, and character. Don’t get me wrong, I had an amazing experience. I made lifelong friends, earned my degree, and commissioned as a lieutenant.

I even earned a ticket to pilot training in Mississippi, which was a crazy and awesome experience. For over a year, my classmates and I hammered out 20-hour days learning to fly three different planes. We learned the basics, aerobatic flying, formation flying, it was all pretty fast and crazy. The stress was intense.

4:30am briefings so that we could get to the plane and prep to take off at exactly sunrise. It was intense, stressful, and the most difficult thing I had done my whole life. Pilot training was one of those life experiences that pushes you hard. It forces you to take massive leaps out of your comfort zone every single day. Just when you get comfortable with anything you’ve learned — takeoffs, aerobatics, landings, and solo flights — you’re pushed to do something new and super uncomfortable. You never feel quite right in pilot training.

You never really feel settled. But I think that was instructive more me. It taught me to take a chance and do what feels uncomfortable. And when you lend some thought to it — serious thought — you intuit that the only way to grow is to push beyond one’s comfort zone. After earning my wings, the Air Force stationed me in Las Vegas, Nevada and tasked me with flying Predator “drones.” It was beyond surreal. I went from wearing a helmet, oxygen mask, and flight suit, flying 300 knots, to sitting in a modified storage container flying about 75 miles per hour in Iraq, Afghanistan, and a few other spots. It was one of those jobs that is 99% boredom and 1% pure adrenaline. I remember one night we went from flying on autopilot around a building for hours to celebrating hunting down Bin Laden.

We were doing super important things, but it often felt mundane. I think that’s what the important things in life often feel like, and that’s OK. I just needed some excitement more often, so I got into ballroom dancing as a side project. Really, it was a friend who suggested I buy one of those daily deals and go with her. I took a week of convincing me, but I finally went. It only took another week for me to fall in love with dance. Now, maybe five years later, I perform routines all over and compete when I find the time. I absolutely love it! In fact, it’s a big part of what I do now as a performer. After a few years of drone flying, I got out of the Air Force and moved to Los Angeles.

Ultimately, I thought my goal was to become a general in the Air Force, or an astronaut, or something like that. But it took me a few years to figure out that, even as a kid, I didn’t really​ want to be a pilot like in Top Gun. I really wanted to be the guy ​playing​ the pilot. I wanted to ACT. I wanted to create compelling stories filled with rich characters facing impossible odds. It sounds trite, I know, but I really wanted to plum the characters I’d met along the way in the Air Force. I don’t know why, but I’ve always been fascinated by what makes other people tick. What motivates them to do what they do.

Acting, story-writing, and content production lets me do this on a deep level. I get to know a character inside and out, and I get to really understand what it is that drives people. It’s fascinating! I mean, I’m sure story exposition and character development aren’t everyone’s idea of fun time, but I just love the stuff! Now, I spend most of my time developing characters and stories with my various content partners, and hone the crafts of dancing and acting. I don’t think I’m world class — I’m definitely a better pilot than I am a performer — but I’m putting the time in to getting there.

I think that’s the toughest part of any career. I think it’s super tough to keep your head down and focus on getting better, even when you don’t see an immediate return, but I feel like I’ve had a great of training that keeps me in the zone and focused on becoming better every day. And really, that’s all we can ask of ourselves.

I know this is not an easy job. What drives you?

I think it’s really a desire to always grow and achieve. It’s not really the achievement, in and of itself, though. It’s more about the journey. Of course, I love to exceed goals – personal and professional – but I really find joy in the struggle of the journey. I love meeting a challenge, looking it straight in the eyes, and attacking it with vigor and focus.

Even if I don’t meet my goal, I thrive on the knowledge, experience, and grit I’ve gained along the way. It’s a high of sorts. The external victories are wonderful, but the struggle is what I truly love. None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? What lesson did you learn from them?

There were so many amazing people that helped me along the way, so it’s tough to point to the support of just one as the linchpin. I can definitely say that without my good friend, Laura, I would never have learned to ballroom dance. It’s truly remarkable the impact she had on my life. I met Laura serendipitously when I moved to Las Vegas.

We met at a community event and became good friends almost immediately. Looking back at it, it was crazy that we even connected. She’s about 20 years my senior, was married with four kids, and established as a successful doctor when she stumbled across one of those daily deal websites that was offering a month of unlimited ballroom dance lessons.

She asked if I wanted to join her. I was a tough, “I’m macho” Air Force fighter pilot, so of course I balked. Really, I just laughed one of those bellowing laughs. It was a silly notion to me. Ballroom dancing? I still laugh when I think about it. It took her a few weeks, but she finally convinced me to join her. Day one I was hooked! Within a month of starting, I was taking private lessons, within three months I was competing, and within five months every second of my free time was consumed by Rumba walks, lock steps, and all things dance.

The rest is really history. Laura introduced me to dance. She introduced me to my first love and motivated me to pursue it. She’s always always supported me, encouraging me to pursue a career in entertainment and entrepreneurship. And when things get unbearably tough, she’s always there to lend positivity and support. She’s really amazing and she’ll always hold a special place in my heart.

How do you push through your worst times?

The funny thing about the challenges of life is that intuitively, they stress us out. But when we stop, take a breath, and intellectualize the challenges, what may seem impossible – “the worst of times” – are actually opportunities to shine. We all have those days, weeks, months, or even years that are exceptionally tough. That’s the other piece of the puzzle; understanding that we’re not unique in our struggles and that others have successfully made it through.

When I stop and think about the challenges and how to get past them, and then remember that others have been through similar tough times, I find that I’m ready to pick myself up and push forward, a better person for the wear. It’s way easier said than done, but this approach is doable for anyone.

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