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Meet Tara Olson

Today we’d like to introduce you to Tara Olson.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Tara. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
There are actually two beginnings because there are two parts to this. I originally included a lot of history about the dance program my mom and I built together and the dance team that I am about to talk about because that story is incredible. I kid you not, that program has changed lives and saved lives, but for this I felt I needed to share more specifically about my role as the coach of the Newport Harbor Dance Team, and how I had to lay down my own agenda to pick up a much more important one. At one point it had become clear that the Dance Team needed a coach so I took the role as their first ever coach in my early twenties and continue to be to this day. There is so much to it, so much, but if I’m truly being given the opportunity to be honest I’ll take it if that’s ok. Straight up, I am a Jesus follower. I’m aware that I did not land where I am because of my talent, because of relationships and connections or my own confidence. It truly fell on my lap. In my time as the coach of this team I have done it two ways. My way, and God’s way. I had danced my whole life but when it came to teaching and coaching I didn’t really have any mentors. I educated myself as much as I could from people who inspired me from afar, and then just went for it, used any natural eye for detail and excellence I had and did my best. There was a point though where I felt like who I was inside the dance room and out were not consistent. There was a day when I had gone to a church service and seen one of my mom’s students from a distance and asked myself, “would she be surprised to see me here?”  That really bothered me, and I knew I was missing something. At that moment in time I had finally reached a point where I was getting really good results out of my dancers. They were strong, people were loving their performances and I was getting a lot of positive feedback from people I knew in the dance industry and also from our audiences. I loved my dancers more than I can even tell you, but I was pretty much focused on the physical and teaching them to use their bodies to create impact and power. Even so, I knew it was a problem that I didn’t feel I was bringing Jesus into my coaching. I knew how amazing He was and loved Him deeply but for whatever reason I didn’t know how to bring Him into the dance room, and I was confused and frustrated by that. So, it seemed that I had to decide if I was going to risk “lowering my standard” to try it His way or if I was going to plow through on my own. I was really afraid that with the surrender I would have to let go of all of the success and make friends with an unknown approach that I couldn’t see working. The next time I went to practice, I stopped outside the back door, and just prayed. I talked to Jesus. I think I said something like, “You know them better than me, you know what they need and I trust that you are the ultimate coach. How would you coach this team? Show me.”  After I prayed that prayer, God changed my heart and gave me what seemed like a completely new set of eyes to see what was needed, where the access point was to their hearts and what was possible for them. It wasn’t about drilling like crazy and encouraging them to just “fight for it.” Since then I have never looked back and can tell you, as off beat as it might sound, I have learned most of what I respect and apply about coaching from Jesus. Don’t get me wrong, we work hard, really hard and we drill and we hustle, but that’s not the only type of training anymore. Mindset training has taken priority and as THIS kind of coach, the results that I had been afraid of losing were actually even better than they were before. Instead of just producing powerhouse dancers I was able to partner with the living God to breed truly powerful people who were being transformed and set free in body, mind and spirit on a daily basis. Anyone who has been on the team will tell you that you are taught to get into your gut, deep down where you live, and to fight harder than you ever thought you could. This kind of fight is different though. It’s not the old way of getting pissed and punching at the wind. So many dancers show up so tough but have the most twisted view of themselves, the world around them and other people. They beat themselves up day and night and fall victim to the lies that come from constant comparison. What I get to do now is get to the root of the human being, help them see the lies they have believed and point them to the truth of who they are and what they are actually capable of. God wants us to be free. So this “fight” has become about that. Fighting for the freedom of each one of these guys no matter what it takes. Teaching them that this is not about “you suck” but “there is MORE FOR YOU.” I refuse to allow my students to float on feelings but to instead stand on truth. We work through the feelings of course, but we don’t let them be the decision makers. Resilience is a choice, love can a lot of times be a choice, fighting the RIGHT fight is a CHOICE. Every day they get the opportunity to make those choices and push for the breakthrough to personal freedom again and again. People ask me all the time how I get them to dance like that, to move like that, to fight so hard and dance with such intensity. It’s so hard to answer that question. You kind of just have to be there and experience it yourself. People are drawn to their honesty and confidence as they perform. The breakthroughs are real and when they happen, fear is forced to hit the road. The dynamic between myself and my dancers is one of mutual love and respect. The conversations I get to have with them are rich, life giving and activate powerful movement in both their lives and mine and I receive that as an honor. I see the importance in the small things and I celebrate the victories that come with the big things. I do my best to keep my focus forward, to commit to being the best coach I can be to them, and continue to follow the Ultimate Coach.  

As for the second part, the vision unfolding, I’ll get straight to it. There was a day where I just got hit with the heaviest burden, in a good way, like a mission. Why can’t I find dance, in the context of representing the true heart of Jesus, being done at a legitimately high level? How come when I hear gorgeous songs that are written about HIM, I don’t SEE that represented in the music video? I believe that there is an opportunity to use visual arts to show the heart of Jesus. Not to prove that He exists, but to show what He is like. I have been praying, waiting, wrestling, processing, dreaming, and trusting in that vision. For now I create pieces on my own dancers that do this in the space I am currently in, but I am trusting for more. The most recent part of this vision was “The Blessing: Global Dance Response.” I had seen The UK Blessing where they had taken people singing from all over the UK to sing the song “The Blessing” by Kari Jobe and Cody Carnes through Elevation Worship in a video format that allowed people to participate from their homes. Apparently this had been done before by other people I just hadn’t seen those yet. When I saw The UK Blessing I immediately thought that there could and should be a response as dancers. Usually I get nervous about that kind of thing, I don’t want to be wrong and for sure don’t want to fail but this time I just went for it. I didn’t know how to find the people for the project so I made a video invitation meant to be open to anyone globally that I put on YouTube and Instagram, prayed that the right people would respond and then just waited. I had planned a Zoom meeting where I would teach a few moments of corporate choreography that most anyone could do and was going to lead people through a process to teach them how to actually respond to God honestly instead of just dancing to a pretty song. Then people would submit their videos and my dear friend Carly was kind enough to edit and create the final product. We ended up having people from all over the world which was really cool, and incredibly humbling. Watching people in Uganda just going for it, and then seeing somebody in their kitchen in Italy just overwhelmed by the presence of God, and then seeing a 9 year old with hands lifted high, and the women in Slovakia just being still…this opened my eyes to such a beautiful part of Jesus’ heart. It was truly an honor to lead them through that night and then to see all of their video submissions, there were around 100 when it was all said and done. The intent of the video was for people to see that God is FOR THEM. No matter who they are, what they’ve done, or what they think of Him, He is FOR THEM. If you are reading this, He is FOR YOU. I just wanted people to know that so badly, because the reality of that when received, changes things. He is FOR YOU. This has been one part of the vision unfolding. Check with me in a few years to see what else happens, maybe 50. Now I actively wait in faith, until He shows me the next step. 

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
NOPE. I’d say if you plan to do anything like this you probably want an off road vehicle for the road ahead. In the context of the Dance Program at the school, there has been a lot of flying by the seat of my pants and being taught by my own mistakes. Internally I have been stretched and molded in ways that have been very isolating, frustrating and at times heartbreaking. Externally there have been so many good things from so many people, in fact mostly that. Still, it would not be honest to say that there has not been very harsh criticism, pressure, more heartbreak and frustration and some knives both in the gut and in the back. It’s been hard to hang in sometimes but my example is Jesus, and I continue to follow his lead the best I can. I fall short of that everyday and I am the first to own up to my own stuff. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I do know that I have been placed where I have and until I am sent elsewhere I need to focus on the mission.

In the context of this vision with the heart of Jesus being shown through music and visual arts, I am learning a lot about yielding to God and His timing. I’ve had so many people over the years tell me that I need to be in LA, that I need to get in the mix. “Tara you belong up here, you’re better than that, what are you doing?” Trust me when I tell you I have wrestled with that for years, my resistance is not a lack of ambition, but a deep trust and obedience to Jesus. The thing is, it’s not about what I CAN do, but what I am CALLED to. I’ve learned that discernment is not knowing the difference between right and wrong but knowing the difference between what’s almost right and what’s right. I am not interested in going anywhere that I am not sent, He must become greater, I must become less (I’m no poet, that’s from John 3:30).

“Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” Psalms 27:14

We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
I am a choreographer, creative director, dance coach, and dance teacher. I mainly work with my dance team but I also work as a professional choreographer and creative director for other dance companies and teams both high school and college and also with music artists and businesses also with choreography and creative direction. I am known for my ability to transform dancer’s mindsets and turn them into powerhouses. I am known for creating deeply honest, raw, emotional dance pieces that seem to cut straight to the heart and also very intense, powerful, hard hitting entertainment pieces geared at non-dancer audiences. I am known to be a leader, to be a coach to loves my students no matter what and if they let me will lead them to a version of themselves they didn’t know existed. I do this all with the gifting and help of Jesus and His Holy Spirit. No joke, I really do. Probably sounds incredibly “over religious” but it’s not that, it’s just who He is and what He does.

What were you like growing up?
Growing up, I was pretty timid when it came to trying new things, and I struggled with change. I battled a severely tormenting and debilitating anxiety disorder from age 13-28 just to be straightforward. Feel free to ask any questions about that. That said, I was always a very empathic kid, I was passionate about what was right and true and was bold in standing firm in those things. I loved dance from an early age, always loved horses and loved to surf. I would stay out in the ocean for hours. I was and still am a fiercely loyal friend and family member. I grew up really close to all of my cousins and I am very grateful for that. I loved Jesus early on, then really struggled with my faith, completely doubted it, challenged it for years and then Jesus showed up. He’s beautiful.

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Image Credit:

Carly Sharp

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