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Inside Business - Mixing Business with Pleasure

February 1, 2006

INSIDE BUSINESS
Cover Story
February 2006

MIXING BUSINESS WITH PLEASURE
By Lynne Thompson
Photography by Eric Mull

Jeannette Potts had a running joke with a resident of the Gates Mills neighborhood where she used to live. Potts, a doctor at The Cleveland Clinic and a divorced mother of two, liked to dance the tango. She recalls that the neighbor would watch on Sunday nights as Potts emerged from her farmhouse in high heels and exotic attire - everything from yoga pants and wild tops to the stereotypical dress with a form-fitting, off-the-shoulder bodice, flared asymmetrical skirt and ruffles at the hem - to attend the mélanges then hosted by Belinda's Nightclub on the near West Side.

"She'd see me from her porch and say, 'So, Jeannette, where are you going this Sunday evening?' And I'd say, 'I'm going to church.'"

Potts is not alone in her love of the dance, a fusion of African traditions and the European dances prevalent in Buenos Aires, Argentina, from the late 1800s to early 1900s. According to Rick Ramos, a local Century 21 real estate broker who moonlights as a tango instructor, the membership of his Western Reserve Argentine Tango Society alone numbers approximately 120. He estimates 30 to 40 people regularly attend the weekly "tango nights" hosted by three other instructors in the area.

But Potts takes her passion to the extreme. The 44-year-old urologist, who specializes in treating male pelvic and genital pain, stresses that she studies authentic Argentine tango, not the ballroom variant.

"Ballroom tango is more of a show for the audience rather than a dance between two people," Potts explains. She tries to schedule lessons in Chicago and New York City at least once every four months, and spends her off hours at medical conferences around the world - as far away as tango-mecca Buenos Aires - looking for a great tango partner.

"There are a few really good tango dancers in Cleveland, but the pool is so small for the number of women who pursue it more seriously," she says.

Even more compelling is the fact that Potts has found a way to turn a profit on her leisure activity: Two years ago she began offering executive seminars under the name of Dr. Tango. The sessions use tango as a metaphor for leadership, collaboration and renewal.

"Tango," Potts says, "is a great exercise in learning how to abandon yourself from your career, your partner, relinquishing control and enjoying yourself and trusting your intuition."

Potts is a Walton Hills native who was born a dancer. Ethnically, she is half Polish and half Mexican.

"At any social event [where] there was dancing, there was no such thing as a wallflower," she says. "I can't even comprehend that term."

Potts picked up polka, salsa and cumbia as a child, and took Hawaiian and Tahitian dance lessons when she visited cousins in her mother's native Mexico as a teenager. She studied ballet and flamenco as a student at Lake Erie College.

She was introduced to the tango by Rick Ramos in 2001 at a Peruvian Independence Day party. The self-confident Potts, who always learned steps with ease, felt inept when she first tried to tango. So she signed up with Ramos for lessons.

The appeal extended beyond the challenge of mastering a difficult art.

"It's very sensuous," Potts says. "That's probably what captivated me from the very beginning."

Over the next several months, Potts continued taking lessons from Ramos and other instructors, signed up for an Argentine tango dance conference in New York City, and began gliding her way through clubs in the exotic locales she jetted to for medical conferences.

She began writing down her observations about the similarities between tango and life: Like tango, life is not choreographed; a good leader takes the blame for a misstep; a good follower respects the leader's ability to compensate for the follower's mistakes; to anticipate is often to miscalculate and diminish one's ability to react to the moment; it is sometimes better to pause and listen than succumb to the impulse to act.

While the tango's appeal for Potts initially was sensuous, she began intellectualizing the dance as well.

"Everything I did on the dance floor was readily applicable to how I communicated with my children, how I metaphorically 'danced' with my patients, and how I tried to work on my listening skills," she says. "Being a follower, you have to be a very good listener."

The doctor shared these thoughts in February 2004, when she spoke (in fluent Spanish) to a chapter of the Young Presidents Organization (YPO) in Costa Rica.

Potts had planned to lecture the YPOers and their spouses on maintaining intimacy in their marriages. But the group told her they wanted an interactive program.

So she gave a first-day lecture on human sexuality and then, following the well-established link between sensuality and the tango, gave the YPOers a romantic version of her "Tango Lessons for Life."

On the second day of the seminar, she gave an all-out, two-and-a-half-hour tango workshop.

"They loved it," she says.

Some months after the Costa Rica YPO conference, Potts had lunch with Adam Kaufman, president of the Inventory of Skills Foundation, a YPO medical referral service based in Chagrin Falls. Kaufman told her that he had heard about her performance in Costa Rica. He suggested that she start a business based on "Tango Lessons for Life."

Potts did not waste any time and formed Dr. Tango LLC. The name came from a moniker bestowed upon her by a patient's wife.

Aura Lopez, a meeting planner at the Clinic's International Center, was one of the first to book Dr. Tango's services for a January 2005 program at the Intercontinental Hotel for the Cleveland chapter of the Young Entrepreneurs Association.

"We wanted something different for these people," Lopez says. And they got it.

Potts has since appeared at the November 2005 national convention of the Mexican Urological Society in Veracruz, and has been asked to speak at medical society meetings in New Zealand and Brazil.

Her offerings run the gamut from a brief dance demonstration to comprehensive workshops and seminars that range from $500 to $5,000 for the hosting organization.

Her standard seminar consists of a tango performance followed by a tango-as-metaphor lecture. She tailors every program to the group who requests it.

Key among her business lessons is "leadership with integrity," in which she points out that just as a leader brings out the best in a partner by respecting the partner's abilities, an employer will reap contributions from employees by respecting their abilities.

She spends very little time on the topic of sex in her lectures these days.

"There are people who do these tango workshops, and they're all about sex," Potts says. "To me, that's not intellectual."

The demand for her services will undoubtedly increase with the release of her first book, to be published by Cleveland Clinic Publishing this fall, with the appropriate working title "Tango Lessons for Life."

Recently Dr. Tango LLC acquired some office help - a communications consultant to assist with the company Web site, www.doctortango.net, and handle media inquiries and other public relations tasks.

"I feel better knowing that I have someone who's actually watching out for me on the business side, while I'm doing the creative stuff, writing and composing lectures - and taking care of patients."

And no matter how successful Dr. Tango LLC becomes, Potts' patients don't have to worry about her closing up her medical practice.

"My career is to be a healer," she says.

     
 
What is business but a dance between two companies?
What is life but a dance between people?
— Jeannette Potts, M.D. - Dr. Tango
 
     
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