Dancing life changes Jake Wood

For those who have never met him, his story is one of incredible perseverance and leadership.

“I have failed at a hundred things,” says entrepreneur and “Dancing with the Stars” champion Jake Wood, 35. “I’ve sacrificed almost everything I know to move from fireman’s helper to a leader.”

Wood, a friend of a friend, moved to Arizona with dreams of becoming a sportscaster. The commercial break on his weekend football games became a block party. He met a dancer-singer, Stacy Ferguson, at a studio. They started dating. From nightclubs to nightclubs and nightclubs that already had bathrooms, they danced, drank, made out. Always. Until he finally broke up with her.

“I gave up on her because she was lazy,” he says. “It was the dumbest mistake I ever made.”

A few years later, in 2004, during his seventh year on fireman’s task, Wood became involved with a small organization called Reaching Beyond, an inspirational Christian group founded by activist Rachael Drennen and community organizer Mel Pohlman. Reaching Beyond gave black children opportunities to learn ballroom dance and fun activities. The young people they started with were the first foundation members of the now-defunct Blacktie Affair, an organization founded by Leslie Winch and Elaine Youngblood to fight violence and reduce gang violence.

Wood was hired as director of program services for Reaching Beyond in 2006. Then in 2009, Staci V. Evans, a former dancer, realized she’d been hired at Cross County Executive District Council as a performer during an event to promote economic development.

“I immediately knew that it was so much more than just dancing,” she says. “I knew that it wasn’t a stepping stone to my dream job.”

When Evans and Wood started dancing together, she couldn’t use her name or title.

“He wouldn’t let me use my name because I was holding him back,” she says. “But once he realized I was holding him back, he was able to embrace me. He was the first person to teach me ‘show, don’t tell’ when we didn’t even know how to move.”

“It was a performance work setting,” Wood says. “In Christian-based programs, people don’t compete with each other. Everyone’s friends.”

In 2009, Evans recruited Wood, who had been training as a runner, to compete on “Dancing with the Stars” for charity. He danced and danced. He danced and danced, and danced some more. The performance was so good, he got eliminated. His time on the show didn’t stop there. He became the host of his own television program “Jake Wood: The Dance Life.” The recession changed his life, and his show, which aired for three years on the gospel-based radio network Sea 360 Radio, was moved to a Monday-night prime-time slot, where Wood appeared only intermittently until 2014. Then, in 2016, Wood went on two years of sabbatical from his professional life to launch a scholarship fund for middle-school students who want to dance. He also started a company called Dance@WIZZ on eBay. It made music equipment that he borrowed from celebrity instructor Michael Zangari, and saved Zangari money by buying it. “It was taking advantage of a basic system,” he says.

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