5 Lessons on Living Your Passion from an Almost-Centenarian

Shirley Goodman (The Dancing Nana) on achieving your dreams and making your passion a reality

Stephanie Horwitz
4 min readDec 21, 2022

At 99.5 years young, Shirley Goodman has been tap dancing for over 90 years. Shirley’s father was a vaudeville entertainer who taught her to how tap dance at the age of 8 years old, and her love for tap was immediate and unbreakable. Today, Shirley is still performing at various jazz clubs and teaching at retirement homes and community centers every single week. As she continues grooving and moving, it’s safe to say that Shirley’s fire for dance and music is still burning bright. With Shirley’s 100th birthday coming up in March and a new year approaching, I wanted to share some profound insights from my latest podcast conversation with this incredible almost-centenarian.

Listen to the full episode here, or on Apple, Google, or wherever you get your podcasts!

#1 Start small… and pay attention

Shirley opened her own dancing school when she graduated high school after a childhood of dance lessons and performing. But, let’s rewind: As a young child, Shirley actually started teaching dance lessons out of her own home for the neighborhood kids. She rolled up the rug, her parents installed a long wall mirror in the house, and started teaching (and charging money) in her own home! This was absolutely the precursor to Shirley opening up her very own dance school; While teaching the neighborhood kids at home was a way for Shirley to explore her passion, it set her on the path for becoming a teacher. Although the “home studio” may have started off more casual and informal, teaching dance in her home led the groundwork for Shirley to ultimately open up her own dance studio in its own building, and have a teaching career that spans 90 years (damn!). Don’t be afraid to start small with what you have. Don’t let the feeling that you need XYZ in order to start or to make it happen stop you from doing what you want to do. And importantly, pay attention to those make-shift activities and ventures you previously created or are working on now, because they could be dictating or laying the groundwork for your future.

#2 Bring your magic and outsource the other stuff

When Shirley opened up a dance school at the age of 17, she brought her magic: her passion for dance, her talent, and her knack for teaching. Shirley taught tap, toe, ballet, and acrobatics at the Shirley Cohen school of dance, but she did not know how to run a business. That’s where her dad came in. He took care of the business operations, arrangements, and logistics, while Shirley did what she knew (and what she thrived at). Shirley admits she didn’t know what she was doing. But there was a lot she did know: how to dance, and how to teach. What she didn’t know, she outsourced from her dad. If you have a passion or idea but don’t feel like you have the “full” toolset to bring it to life, you can always partner with someone else, outsource what’s missing, collaborate, and be creative in order to realize your vision.

#3 Reimagine your passion when reality changes

When Shirley’s husband joined the army and trained to be a pilot in World War II, she closed her dance studio to follow him. As Shirley stayed at the homes of local families in Florida during her husband’s training, she taught their children how to tap dance. Although she wasn’t teaching in her original “home base,” she took her passion on the road and incorporated it into her daily life. When reality changes and the “norm” looks a bit different, open your mind to how you can weave in your passion. With a bit of creativity, you can still do what you love, it just might look a bit different than what you are used to.

#4 It’s never too late to achieve your dream

Although she danced on the Major Bowes radio show as a teenager, Shirley never took her eyes off of her lifelong dream: to dance on television. When she was 96 years old, a video of Shirley dancing at a family wedding went viral on social media. With over 50 million views, Shirley was dubbed “The Dancing Nana, and her video was shared by dozens of major news and entertainment channels and publications, and landed her an invitation to dance on Good Morning America. Shirley achieved her dream in her late 90’s, with her grandchildren dancing beside her. She never took her eyes off the prize. Release yourself from a stringent timeline of when you think things are supposed to happen. Stuff is rarely chronological. Stay determined, stay focused, stay passionate, and be open to how and when your dream may be achieved.

Watch Shirley fulfill her lifelong dream of dancing on TV!

#5 Always be ready — your shot could be now

I’m not sure what your grandma keeps in her purse, but Shirley keeps her tap shoes in hers, and is ready to pull them out any chance she gets. Whether it be a night on the town or a casual family gathering, Shirley always has her tap shoes on her, just in case. She shares in our conversation how she pulled out her tap shoes to dance for Tony Danza after one of his performances. This is the norm for Shirley: she is always ready to whip out her shoes and dance for total strangers, celebrities, anyone, really! Always be ready to put your whole self out there. Be ready to shoot your shot at any time. Who knows who could be watching.

As Shirley says, always keep moving, and dance like nana is watching!

Check out more episodes of What Should I Do With My Life? here! Follow The Dancing Nana on Instagram here!



Stephanie Horwitz

I am a storyteller, connector, and community builder, as well as the creator and host of “What Should I Do With My Life?”