Driven To Dance

For Shannon Naujock, the beauty and grace of ballroom dancing are features of a competitive, highly athletic sport
Ozaukee Press staff

Shannon Naujock was shaking while she stood at the grocery store checkout. A clerk asked if she was OK.

The Port Washington native had been texting someone about a recent purchase of a $150 dress for ballroom dancing on eBay.

The woman decided to give her the other four dresses she and her daughter were selling, claiming “God was telling us to bless you.” They threw in jewelry and an evening gown.

“I had tears of disbelief and joy in my eyes,” Naujock said. “You just don’t meet those people.”

But she did, and the timing was ideal. Naujock was at a crossroads with her passion and was second guessing if she would continue to dance.

That generosity sealed the deal. “Plus, I gained a friend for life,” she said.

Naujock initially found her passion on a bit of a whim, making “one of those crazy  New Year’s resolutions” in 2015 to try new things.

She took a ballroom dancing lesson using an online coupon and found out she enjoyed the activity. This pledge — unlike many of those fitness and health promises — stuck.

“This is something I could probably be good at,” she said. “I always wanted to dance growing up. It was a chance to express myself, release emotion.”

But her parents couldn’t afford lessons and told her to take up running instead.

She attended Bryant University in Rhode Island on a 75% scholarship and was valedictorian of her class with a degree in applied actuarial mathematics.

Things later began to fall in line to allow her to revisit her interest in dancing.

In 2013, Naujock joined Kohler Co. as a benefits analyst. Once established in her career, dancing became a possibility.

Naujock switched from her first instructor in Milwaukee after she found more chemistry with an instructor in Green Bay.

In fall 2015, she needed a dress and decided on a budget of $100. She found one on eBay for $99.99.

She had eight lessons in seven weeks before her first competition.

“Looking back, it was ridiculous, but when I want to do something, I go all in,” she said.

After nearly two years, Naujock was looking to get more serious about dancing and was looking for a new instructor. She went to a camp in Miami and saw Maks and Val Chmerkovskiy and danced with Tony Dovolani of “Dancing with the Stars” fame.

Last December, she found Aleksandar Bonev in Chicago, a Bulgarian native who began dancing at 6 and had taught in England and Ireland. He came to the Windy City in 2013 through a lottery with nothing, having to sleep in layers since he couldn’t afford heat.

Bonev worked for the Arthur Murray Dance Center before going out on his own.

“He’s the true American story,” Naujock said.

After practicing for four months, Naujock won two scholarships at the Wisconsin State Dancesport Championships with her new partner.

“He knows stuff about the body you take for granted,” she said.

Chemistry between ballroom dancing partners is vital, she said. While dancers know different moves and styles, they don’t have a set routine.

“When you’re on the floor, people think it’s choreographed. It really isn’t,” Naujock said. “I have to anticipate what he’s going to lead. You have to be connected and be able to trust your partner.”

Judging, she said, is similar to that of figure skating, and it’s constant.

“You need to make sure you walk out onto the floor correctly. Everything is judged,” she said, adding judges watch off-floor behavior as well.

While dancers are ranked against each other, Naujock said she is really competing against herself.

“For me, it’s trying to be the best I can be and when I start comparing myself to others, I’ve already lost,” she said.

The dancing culture, she said, is mostly supportive. Dancers will take videos and photos of each other to help them improve

Competitions are expensive as students pay for their instructor’s travel, meals and time — they split the costs if there are multiple partners — but Naujock gets as much out of dancing that she puts in.

She said she dances to challenge herself, relieve stress, have fun and build community, and there’s more to it.

“On an intimate, personal level I dance to stretch my spirit, to become a better version of myself, and to feel the pure unrestrained, unedited joy that I used to feel as a child before adult responsibilities got in the way,” she said. “Ballroom dancing for me is an opportunity for me to feel the butterflies once again, to return to the purest part of life when time was of no matter, and to show the world who I am and who I can be.”

Motivation arrives as soon as she opens her eyes each day.

“When I wake up in the morning, I see my dresses on the door. It keeps me motivated to go to work to fund my hobby,” she said.

Naujock is 39 and said it’s almost never too late to start dancing. The biggest group of dancers, she said, are 50 and 60 and older.

“People should never feel they’re too old,” she said.

Naujock’s age actually has her eyeing a special prize at her next competitive event, the Chicago Harvest Moon Ball Dancesport Championships in Chicago in October. Bonev is the festival organizer, and

Naujock’s milestone birthday falls during the event.

“I’m wondering if I play my cards right if I could get a cake,” she said.

For more information on ballroom dancing, visit



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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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