There was a time when no amount of tugging could get Brittany Shaw on a dance floor. In fact, the only thing begging and pleading would coax out of her would be tears.
“There’s a family story about me crying at a wedding because I didn’t want to dance,” says Shaw, who was 12 at the time. “I had self-esteem issues.”
Those concerns are long behind Shaw, who’s now 36 and is one of the first to greet clients at Pratt Home Builders, where she serves as the new home matchmaker.
“I make sure we pair our customers with the right community and the right home,” she explains.
Shaw’s reluctance to step onto a dance floor is also in her rearview mirror. If anyone remembers her wedding day standoff and doubts she ever bopped, jigged or twirled, she can point to the trophy she and her coach won in the 2020 Dare to Dance competition.
Based on the television show “Dancing With the Stars,” Dare to Dance is the Chattanooga Kidney Foundation’s largest annual fundraiser. Shaw and her 2020 partner, Realtor Dean Botting, danced a Rumba to “The Greatest Showman” and won the Dr. Jackson and Milli Yium Award for outstanding service to kidney patients.
“I raised close to $40,000, which wasn’t bad for a pandemic year,” Shaw adds. The Kidney Foundation raised $332,000 that year.
When the curtain fell at the end of the event, Shaw put away her dancing shoes. Now she’s slipping them on again as she prepares to return for the 2022 Dare to Dance competition as one of five all-star competitors.
“I feel like I’m back in it with people who did better than me,” Shaw says without a whiff of false humility. Although Shaw no longer fears stepping onto a dance floor, she tends to downplay her skills because she expects excellence from herself.
“I was out of shape in 2020 and know I could’ve done better so I’ve been hitting the weights and going to the track. I also told my coach I want our dance to be challenging.”
Shaw’s coach for this year’s event is Joel Thomas, a full-time dance instructor based in Chattanooga. Although Shaw says she felt like she’d struck gold when she was teamed with Thomas, she soon began to feel as though her reach was exceeding her grasp.
In time, her commitments at Pratt and her ambition to create a showstopping performance nearly led to the kind of meltdown often seen during the practice sessions on “Dancing With the Stars.”
“I was close to falling apart,” Shaw says. “I texted my sister and a friend that I might have made a mistake.”
Shaw says few things in life have been truly difficult for her – even leg pressing 1,200 pounds. A fitness enthusiastic who’s taught yoga and exercise, she says her rigorous work ethic has always produced the results she wanted.
But her return to Dare to Dance was looking like her personal Mount Everest.
“The choreography and the moves are hard,” she clarifies. “I told Joel wanted our dance to be the culmination of all the athletic things I’ve done, so you’ll see us doing crazy lifts and moves that challenge my flexibility.”
A dance as difficult as Shaw is describing needs a song with more zip than a ballroom waltz, so she dug deep into her personal favorites and unearthed a fast-moving classic rock gem from the ‘70s. Although she won’t reveal its title, she says it’s the perfect engine for the kind of choreography she and Thomas are preparing.
“The song is fast. Fast, fast, fast. This dance is going to be the hardest thing I’ve done.”
Although Shaw insists the other all-stars performed better than her during their original appearances, she’s confident Thomas can elevate her performance for the 2022 event. She also refuses to let her self-imposed underdog status stop her from aiming high.
“I’m going for the mirror ball trophy,” she says, referring to Dare to Dance’s grand prize.
Perhaps the person who inspired Shaw to dance in front of 800 people at the Chattanooga Convention Center in October will give her the final push she needs to reach her peak performance – her father, Tommy Shaw.
No, Shaw’s father was not the guitarist for Styx, he was a builder from Long Island, New York who met her mother during a trip to Dayton, Tennessee and then returned to marry her.
As filtered through Shaw’s memories, her father was a larger-than-life figure with feathered hair, “eight pack” abs and biceps that could cut glass. And in his physical prime, there was nothing he couldn’t do.
“He bought a plot of land and built our house with his own two hands. And he hunted and fished, and we ate what he’d caught or killed.”
Tommy Shaw was also unlike any other person she’s encountered, Shaw says. She recalls him breaking out in a run and hurdling fences on their property, shooting a sprig of mistletoe off a tall tree so her mother could have a traditional Christmas and dropping her off at kindergarten in a monster truck.
“He loved life and was full of life,” Shaw reminisces.
In his later years, however, Tommy Shaw morphed from a picture of vibrant youth to a cautionary portrait of ill-health. His eight-pack abs and extraordinary biceps disappeared under weight gain after he took a sedentary job and he ate foods that only worsened his condition.
Shaw’s memories of this period of her life include her frustration as she watched her father decline. She’ll also never forget the days his doctors diagnosed him with Type 2 diabetes and prostate cancer at the age of 57.
Kidney failure followed in the wake of Tommy Shaw’s double-barrel diagnosis. Although he was alive when Shaw performed in 2020, he died in August 2021 – only a few weeks after he and his wife celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary.
Shaw is still mourning her father’s death, saying it will be hard to experience future milestones such as weddings and grandchildren without him. What makes his absence an especially bitter pill to swallow is how he could have at least kept his kidneys from failing, she says.
“Diabetes or high blood pressure are usually the culprits behind kidney disease, so it’s preventable most of the time. But we fight our health every step of the way with poor choices. Sitting all day and consuming sugar contribute to the conditions that perpetuate chronic diseases.”
While a wholesome diet and exercise are vital to maintaining good health, so is keeping close tabs on one’s physical well-being.
“Early detection is important,” Shaw advises. “I wonder if it could have saved my dad.”
In memory of her father and in support of good physical health, Shaw is raising funds for a mobile clinic where individuals will be able to receive kidney screenings.
She envisions the vehicle traveling to underserved communities and the parking lots of corporations where dozens of employees work deskbound jobs.
Passion alone can’t provide the vehicle to the Kidney Foundation, Shaw says, so she’s directing everyone who will lend her an ear or a pair of eyes to her donation page at pages.donately.com/thechattanoogakidneyfoundation/fundraiser/all-star-team-brittany-and-joel.
“People are always talking about giving back and where to donate. I believe it’s important to spend money where you live.”
As Shaw sets her sights on raising $20,000, she’s also focusing on climbing her personal Mount Everest. Her vigorous workouts, intense practices and calming pep talks from Thomas will get her there – to the place her father showed her she belongs – she says.
“Dad made me believe the sky is the limit. I dreamed it, so I know I can do it.”