Reflecting on Ignite Phoenix

I had the pleasure of sharing the stage this past Tuesday with 16 incredible presenters.  Together, we all overcame our fear of the stage, of the spotlight and of failure to ascend one of the valley’s largest soap boxes for 300 seconds.  During the course of our 5 minute presentations we battled our nerves, time and the intense desire to ramble in order to share our passion with some 600+ attendees.

Truly, the Ignite Phoenix experience is a rare and incredible opportunity.  It is a synergy of random ideas and passions.  An assemblage that transcends genre in a way that has become rare and difficult to find. Ignite 5 saw presentations on Bats, Education, Gundam Action figures and Dance to name but a few – short of random links posted by particularly eclectic friends on Twitter, or social link aggregators like Digg/Reddit there are only a few events like Ignite Phoenix and TED/TEDxPhoenix which truly embrace random intellectualism and curiosity.

The thing about Ignite that really makes it that much more special is the pace. 20 slides, 5 minutes, 15 seconds a slide…what a rush! It’s a format that gives even the most experienced public speaker pause.  All the while it creates a platform which is incredibly audience friendly.  With the standard format typically consisting of 18 presentations, tuning out for 5 minutes if you don’t care for a topic or find it interesting is painless. It’s the exact opposite of the 90 minute lectures droning on about something that failed to catch our interest which many of us came to dread in College, Business courses and seminars.

A Presenter’s Reflections

Presenting at Ignite Phoenix pushed my comfort level and boundaries.  I’ve presented in the past to smaller groups, traveled the world for months on my own, delivered business pitches and successfully navigated social situations – but this was different. This was terrifying. It took me back to a time before I’d developed my current social competency.  It took me back to the first day of High School every year when the fear and anxiety of the High School social experience/social shark tank left me physically sick to my stomach. Heart racing, palms sweating, imagination running wild.

Applying to present was a challenge in and of itself.  I found 15 excuses every time I went to fill out the application. Was my idea good enough?  Was I truly passionate about it?  Would people care?  Why would I want to do it – after all, no one was forcing me to apply.  Eventually, I put aside my excuses, nervously re-read the my brief topic submission and hit submit. That action came with the same sensation I typically feel when making a big purchase online. Do I really want this? Did I order the right item?

So, in light of all that – why did I do it? Because it was worth every piece of energy I invested – both positive and negative.

Overcoming those challenges, those discomforts and those excuses was an incredible learning experience.  Sure, Ignite is about sharing your passion and knowledge with others but it’s also about something more.  For the presenters it’s about learning about yourself.  About building and internalizing your self confidence and belief in your self – and that alone is invaluable.  Making the decision to present was worth it long before I even took the stage and actually presented.  That was the icing on the cake – A lucky bonus and exciting opportunity to share.

What of the presentation itself?

There’s something special about the Ignite crowd. They’re happy.  That sounds silly, but in this day and age it’s significant.  They’re not there because they have to be, they’re not there because they should be, they’re there to learn and because they want to be! That’s over 600 open, supportive, eager eyes, ears and minds that want the presenters to succeed.  They want to learn, be inspired and captivated. That positive energy is a force to be reckoned with.  It is contagious and it makes presenting much, much easier. There is no competition, no back stabbing or anything of the sort. It’s just open, sincere cooperation, collaboration and sharing. That positive approach stretches beyond the crowd and was shared by the other presenters. There were words of advice, suggestions, encouragement, jokes, smiles, fist bumps, high fives and shoulder pats throughout the course of the evening.

Tips for future Presenters

I really hope this post helps encourage each and every one of you to submit a proposal to present at Ignite Phoenix 6. If you get selected, here’s my advice:

Go simple. Go big. – Your slides are the life of your presentation and an indication of how professional it looks and feels. Listen to the organizers and past presenters. Go with big, simple images and very simple statements or text. One lone word is best, 3 or 4 is good, more than that? Try and avoid it. There’s a temptation to feel like you need to read what’s on your slides. Even if it’s only a sentence to “remind” you. Don’t do it! Anything more than one word encourages you to awkwardly change from a conversational delivery to a quickly read interjection. This breaks your flow, changes topics abruptly and can be awkward. If you put more than two words on a slide IGNORE THEM – they’re for the viewers, not you as presenter.

Rehearse – Yeah, yeah. I know it’s a pain, but look at it this way. Your presentation is only 5 minutes. Running through it two or three times a day before you present is no big deal. Your presentation should change EACH time you present it. Why? Because you need to focus on the main points you want to share and get comfortable with your time frame – NOT with a memorized statement you’re going to regurgitate. Think about what you like in each practice run, then work on incorporating it next time. That way, no matter what happens during your presentation you can adapt and respond without getting stumped!

Warm Up! – Don’t present cold! For Ignite Phoenix 5 we began at 6PM. I practiced the night before, which was great – but you also need to practice as close to your actual presentation as you can. For me, that meant going through my presentation twice at 4PM before heading to the event. A cold start makes it MUCH more difficult to remember what you want to cover and leaves you less comfortable with the timing, slides etc. – it means you have to think more…and that’s the last thing you want to be doing.

Don’t Narrate – It wastes time! Pausing your presentation to say, “woah, here we go”, “whoops, that went fast”, or “umm….where was I” will throw off your rhythm, undermine your confidence, and tells people there’s a problem. Silence is golden and less expensive! You’ve only got 15 seconds a slide and 300 seconds total – don’t waste them!

Have an Intro Slide! – The Ignite Phoenix team will introduce you with an intro slide, but have one of your own! It helps make the presentation your own AND it gives you valuable time to get out there, look at the audience, get comfortable with them, and let your brain catch up before you’re performing at full presentation speed!

Above all, get out there and try it. Ignite Phoenix 6 applications are already open. It truly, truly is an incredible experience. One that everyone is capable and qualified to participate in. Go SUBMIT your idea now!

Want to learn more about Ignite Phoenix? Check out

Lastly, thank you again to everyone involved in the Ignite Phoenix process. Those who made it possible, those who presented and the wonderful audience.

From Ballroom to Boardroom – Ignite Phoenix 5

Hello friends!

First and foremost thank you for allowing me to share my passion for Ballroom dancing! I’ve put this post together as a follow up to my Ignite Phoenix 5 Presentation in order to share more information with anyone inspired to try Ballroom dance.

The valley has a plethora of wonderful social dance venues, most of which offer a lesson as part of the evening’s cover. Average price for the lesson/evening of dancing varies, but it’s typically under $10. The venues themselves come in all types and shapes from Bars to Dance Studios. The really exciting part is that these group classes are tailored to beginners fresh off the street, offering a fun alternative to private lessons. They also don’t require that you bring a partner, though it’s never a bad idea!

My personal recommendation is that those new to Ballroom/Latin/Swing dancing start with the social salsa evenings. Salsa dancing is one of the less intimidating dances, and also one of the easiest dances to pick up and begin dancing socially.

The Presentation:

Where To Go?

I’ve included the following links to venue and calendar information for social dance venues around the valley: – Salsa Dancing – Salsa Dancing – Swing Dancing

AZ Lindy Hop Society – Swing Dancing

Phoenix USA Dance – Mixed Venues

Tango Arizona – Tango Dancing

*If you know of another dance resource here in the valley, please post it in a comment and I’ll get it added ASAP!

Other Resources

In 2008 I wrote two posts geared towards helping people interested in getting into Ballroom. While they’re slightly dated, they’re still worth a look if you’re on the hunt for more information:

Ballroom Dancing – It’s Not Just Social, It’s Business

10 Tips For Ballroom Success


Have questions or need clarification? Post a comment or shoot me a tweet @AlexBerger with whatever is on your mind and I’ll see what I can do to help!

A Quick Thank You

My personal relationship with Ballroom dance began 5+ years ago, through the Ballroom/Latin/Swing courses at Arizona State University.  It is truly amazing how diverse and unexpected Ballroom’s benefits are – regardless of your vocation.  Over the last five years I’ve seen it transform everyone from collegiate athletes to budding engineers.

When I started dance classes at ASU, dancing was still anything but cool and to say I lacked an aptitude for it would be…well…an understatement. Luckily I ended up getting Larry Caves as my professor. Larry’s mentorship stretched beyond his fun-first approach to Ballroom and was instrumental in helping me realize that dance was far more than just a social outing.  Not a day goes by in my professional career as a Mergers and Acquisitions Analyst or entrepreneurial pursuits that I don’t rely on the skills I learned dancing.

Ignite Phoenix 5

I’m very excited to announce that I will be speaking at Ignite Phoenix #5. I’ve been a huge fan of the Ignite series since I discovered it just under a year ago. It embodies a somewhat random, haphazard pursuit of knowledge and wisdom which I absolutely love.

Late last week I was informed that my talk “From Ballroom to Boardroom: Three Steps in the Right Direction” had been chosen as one of 18 presentations for Ignite Phoenix #5 which will be taking place November 3rd (tickets go on sale on the 16th!). It truly is an honor to have been selected, with over 100+ proposals submitted the diversity and range of ideas proposed were truly fascinating.

What is Ignite?

For those of you unfamiliar with Ignite Phoenix, Ignite is a series of events that have been organized by inspired, creative individuals in communities throughout the world. Some are location based (like Ignite Phoenix) while others are company based (like Ignite Google). I’ll have 5 minutes and 20 slides to present.  The catch?  Those 20 slides change automatically every 15 seconds!

“Ignite Phoenix is an information exchange for fostering and inspiring Phoenix’s creative community. In one evening, you hear 18 passionate speakers from our creative, technical, and business communities talking about their current projects or favorite ideas for just five minutes. Presentations will educate and inspire you, and maybe make you laugh in the process.”

If you’re interested in viewing past Ignite Phoenix presentations check out their channel:

Event Details
When: November 3rd, 2009
Time: 6PM-9PM
Where: Tempe Center For the Arts
700 W. Rio Salado Parkway
Tempe, AZ 85281

Tickets go on sale Friday, October 16th at 10AM and will sell out quickly. The ticket price is $5. A limited number of tickets/access to a viewing room will be available on the day of the vent for free.

Interested in more on the topic I’ll be presenting on? Check out my blog post Ballroom Dancing – It’s not just social, it’s business. The post is over a year old, but expresses some of the foundational concepts I’ll be covering in my talk.

If you have any thoughts, questions or comments I’d love to hear them. Just post a comment below!

Las Vegas Desert Challenge Ballroom Competition

Vegas Competition Group

This past weekend Nate and I attended the Las Vegas Desert Challenge Ballroom Competition with ASU’s Devil Dancesport Team. The competition draws students from several major southwestern universities and is held over a two-day period. My little brother Nate is currently a Sophomore at ASU and has picked up where I left off with the ballroom program. As part of the fun he’d signed up for a number of dances in this past weekend’s competition with several different partners. I had initially planned to tag along and support Nate and the team but ended up doing a late sign up about an hour before the competition started on Friday. One of Nate’s dance partners and a mutual friend needed a partner for several latin dances and graciously talked me into signing up for the competition.

Friday morning at 6:15 a.m. we all gathered in the parking lot north of the football stadium, staggered onto the two waiting buses and prepared for the long drive to Vegas. Two stops and X hours later we finally rolled into the city that never sleeps and set to exploring our hotel. We had an hour and a half to prepare before check-ins during which I frantically ran around getting the fee paid and signing up for Rumba, Salsa, ChaCha and Merengue. After getting checked in I set about trying to locate an outfit that would work for the comp. Luckily I’d brought a pair of black slacks and was able to borrow a black dress shirt. We all grabbed a bite to eat and then the dancing began.

After an hour of check-ins the comp started at 5 and ran until about 8 Friday evening. The main event was the open salsa competition. Andrea and I made the first two callbacks which was fantastic since we hadn’t had any time to practice together and had only danced Latin once or twice before. What really made the night though was Nate and Debbie’s Salsa. They were able to carry over some of the social Salsa moves we’ve developed for the club, and apply them to the competition environment. The result was a fantastic set of dances which took the GOLD! No small accomplishment given the structure of the Salsa competition. Unlike the majority of the other dances which are broken down into skill categories – Newcomer, Bronze, Silver and Gold – the Salsa is an open dance where all levels of dancers compete at once. As a result it’s both significantly more competitive than some of the other events and has a much larger crowd.

After a few exciting hours of competition the first day of the event ended. We assembled a decent-sized group. After waiting a while to round everyone up about 25 of us started toward the strip. The walk ended up being about a mile or so and after a few hiccups we ended up at a restaurant capable of serving the 15 of us or so that were still together. The food hit the spot and we managed to work in a little dancing at the restaurant in an open space that had been created when they put our 5 or so tables together. Stuffed, exhausted, and dreading the walk back to the hotel we began the mile walk down the strip and the additional mile between the strip and hotel. After a few hours spent socializing we all turned in.

The 2nd day of the competition was long. Check in was from 8-9 and open dancing stretched from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. with a 2 hour break for dinner. The day was a full one. Luckily the dancing was excellent, and the event organizers did a great job moving things along and mixing in social dances.

All of the ASU competitors did a fantastic job, and there was a lot of terrific dancing. For my part, I danced Rumba, ChaCha, Merengue and had a blast. Mixing things up and keeping everyone on their toes Nate and I decided to have some fun with our Merengue. Dragging our poor partners along, we performed a mid-dance tunnel maneuver where one set of dancers holding hands opens up and creates a bridge/tunnel of sorts, which the other pair then bends down and backs through. While the move didn’t score us any points with the judges (and may have even gotten us disqualified) it was entertaining and well worth it!

While I don’t have any direct video of the comp itself uploaded, Nate just finished posting this video of a ChaCha I danced with Jill during one of the social breaks.

After the competition wound down a group of us formed up and began the trek back towards the strip. After another long, tiring walk, we managed to arrive at the Excalibur before the buffet’s 10 o’clock closing time. As you can no doubt imagine, after a long day of dancing without food breaks, we were famished. We hungrily set to the task of emptying out the buffet and managed to make a pretty impressive dent before relaxing for a few minutes in a food coma.As we left the buffet in the Excalibur we picked up a few refreshments and then hit the strip. Several of the members of our group were under 21, and eager to keep the group intact we avoided areas that carded, sticking instead to the outdoor parts of the strip and common areas/casino floors.

Vegas Competition Group

Singing, dancing, and goofing off we made our way down the strip pausing to take in anything/everything interesting and generally having a blast. Eventually, we found our way towards Paris, Paris! We were delighted to find a large open portion of the sidewalk located directly in front of the bar’s patio area. The bar’s music blasting on the patio was loud enough that we could easily hear it on the sidewalk. As luck had it, it was just right for dancing. Before long we’d dropped our bags, put down our drinks and grabbed our dance partners. The sight of the 12 of us dancing on the sidewalk quickly caught passerby’s attention and before long we’d managed to gather a bit of a crowd. As the crowd grew, the occasional random brave soul jumped in and joined us. Hotel/Bar security kept a wary eye on us, and at one point 3 officers on patrol paused to watch us for a few minutes before continuing on down the strip.

One of the most entertaining moments came when one of the group realized that the music would work for the Wild Wild West line dance we’d learned earlier that day during the competition. If we thought we’d made a scene with the random dancing we’d been doing before, the line dance stopped passerby’s in their tracks. Before long, we’d probably gathered 30 or so people on the street and another 30 or so on the bar patio. After a few minutes of the Wild Wild West line dance, we decided it was time to continue exploring. We picked up our bags and were gone…just like that =) It felt like a spontaneously orchestrated Improv Everywhere skit. It was a blast!

From Paris, Paris! we meandered up and around the fountains before pausing briefly in front of one of the Casinos. Georgi and Chels (our two resident dance/gymnasts) showed off their skills with a number of back flips in a grassy area. Back flips completed and all extremely impressed we made our way inside and found our way to the stunning floral gardens. The gardens are incredible, with intricate designs created out of live flowers. It’s a beautiful and vibrant creation. As an added perk there were a number of beautiful butterflies on display in the butterfly greenhouse. Enjoying the setting we paused for a number of photos…more than a few of which involved dips, lifts, or other entertaining poses before making our way back outside and onto the strip.

Once back on the strip we wandered for another hour or two, pausing to take photos, dancing, drinking, and generally having a wonderful evening. Eventually, footsore and exhausted, we made our way back to the hotel by way of McDonalds. By the time we got back to the hotel it was 4:00 a.m. and after40 minutes or so socializing in the hotel room we split up and called it a night.

After 3 hours of sleep it was wake-up time. We piled our sore, bruised bodies back onto the buses for the trip back to Arizona. We’d all made loads of new friends, had incredible stories, and a wonderful weekend full of memories to show for it. Vegas was a blast!

New Salsa/Rumba Videos

Howdy all,

I decided to take my camera out with me this weekend to two dance events and recorded some quick video. These videos are significantly different than the footage you may have seen from December/May a year ago.

The first is a Rumba filmed at the Shall We Dance studio during Devil Dance Sport’s Spring Magic Themed dance on 4/5/08. The second and third are Salsa’s filmed Sunday 4/6/08 at Shall We Dance during the Sunday night Salsa function and represent typical dances during the weekly social.

Rumba w/ Chelsea:

Salsa w/ Ashley:

Salsa w/ Michiko:

This footage is all of just fun, social, spontaneous dance. Nothing choreographed or planned out.

London – Tango Fire Argentina Tango Show

Tuesday – Woke up feeling a cold coming on. No fun. As a result I’m home a bit early 10:00ish and taking it easy tonight. Hopefully sleep, water, etc. will kick it before it takes hold.

I started the day off by going to the Imperial War Museum. It’s an incredible thing, a maze of winding rooms full of stories, happy, sad, grim, and incredible. They really do a great job of presenting the stories but not overwhelming you with content. One of the most interesting parts was a re-creation area modeled after the trenches from WWI. They have it in a seperate area, with lights dimmed, you wind through tight quarters that look like you’re in the maze and in the action. Though it’s full of manikins and plaster it is still a great bit.

From there I headed into London proper, exploring Hyde Park and wandering all over the downtown. Too many places to list, but I mainly revisited China Town, Soho, Piccadilly, etc. before eventually deciding to pick up another set of theatre tickets for this evening. In the Tube I’d seen advertisements for Tango Fire – a play of sorts. When I got to the discount ticket booth, i debated seeing Phantom or Les Mis again, and decided against it. Of the other shows discounted i saw Tango Fire and decided to go with it. Check the website for them here: I really had no idea what it was, other than it was a show, and focused on tango – so I figured it had to be good…right? =p

After picking up the tickets I killed 2.5 hours eating, relaxing, and wandering a bit more. Then I started toward the Picadilly Station to head to the Hoburn Station which was closer to the venue. Turns out there was a track failure somewhere and Picadilly was backlogged like you would’nt believe. It was fubar’d so – looking at the lines of people going in, I decided I was better off walking. The walk was a good 15 fminutes forced march, but ended up being perfect as I still arrived with time to spare.

The show itself – incredible. As I understand it, it’s a traveling performance – if it comes to Phoenix…See it! There are 10 dancers (5 male/5 female), a singer, and 4 band members. Violin, piano, bandoneon & double bass. That’s it. For the most part there were only 2 sets. The rest was all dancing or music. The program primarily consisted of the band playing as the dancers danced incredible tango routines – sometimes solo, sometimes all at once. Think of Dancing With the Stars – but 1,000 times better and more impressive. Other times the singer would sing while the band played. Other times the band performed solo. Throughout the entire performance it was tango song after tango song. The sound quality was incredible and each 45 minute half passed in what seemed like moments.

The dancers themselves performed complex steps, kicks, flips, lifts, holds, and of course dips. I’ve never seen tango quite like it. If there are video’s on the web, i’d definitely say take a look.

Now, i’m back at the hostel and preparing for bed. G’night!