Since graduating from Central, Zach Benson ’08 has been dancing his way around the world. A self-taught break dancer, Benson’s talents have landed him on a TV show and allowed him to support himself as he travels the globe.
The Spanish and health promotion major first learned to dance in 10th grade when a friend gave him a breakdancing DVD. Benson studied it and taught himself the moves, then eventually met other kids who were into the dance style. Benson says he is motivated to dance by a need for self-expression, not a desire to be the best.
“I don’t dance to be first, win a competition or to be famous. Dance to find yourself. Dance against yourself. It’s all about developing yourself and becoming the best you can possibly be,” he says.
The Urbandale native’s dancing has taken him far — including auditioning for the TV show “So You Think You Can Dance?” He auditioned three times from 2011-2013 in Los Angeles for the show. “The first experience was the craziest because it was my first time to audition for something like this,” he says.
Benson was eventually cut from season eight of the show, but the judges invited him back for season nine. “I trained very hard and made it farther. Each season I learned something new and made it farther. The most important thing is learning from your mistakes and then doing whatever it takes to improve yourself and grow,” he says.
Meeting like-minded performers from around the world was his favorite part of the experience. He made it to the top 100 dancers.
In addition to dancing, Benson’s life since college has included service work and personal training. Immediately after graduation he performed a year of service with an urban ministry program called Mission Year. He was placed in Atlanta, Georgia, and served more than 1,000 hours of community service while living on $2 a day for food and “building genuine relationships with my neighbors,” he says. When his year was up, Benson worked as a personal trainer in West Des Moines for two years.
Today, Benson is living in South Korea. “I found my birth mom four years ago and made a promise to her that I would be back some day. So I’ve just been studying Korean, spending time with her, dancing and teaching.” His life includes a lot of traveling — last year Benson taught dance workshops in Malaysia, Singapore and China. He also flew back to Iowa three times.
His latest project is a talent agency focused on educational workshops and events. He says, “I represent dancers, make-up artists, massage therapists, singers, painters, etc. Basically anyone that has a talent they can teach or perform can be a part of my agency.” Called Each 1 Reach 1, the agency’s mission is to allow people to share their talents with others through workshops. For instance, Benson recently flew a performance painter from Kansas City to Korea for 11 days to perform, teach and speak to students.
Benson says he hopes to inspire others similarly to how he was inspired by people he met at Central. “During my time (at Central), I met so many inspiring friends and teachers that gave me the tools I needed to be a success,” he says. He had many mentors on campus, and says, “The thing about Central is that the staff really cares. They go above and beyond to help you and serve you. Central took good care of me and helped shape me into the person I am today.”
And now Benson is working to encourage others, using his talents for dance and bringing performers together with audiences. “My dream now is to encourage others to reach their potential in life through the arts,” he says. “I love helping make others’ dreams come true. My mentors taught me just to ‘pass it on’ and to give freely. There’s so much talent in this world but not a lot of people ‘make it.’ I want to teach these artists how to do what they love for the rest of their lives.”