Moving forward, I plan to write a debriefing review of each competition I dance in. But to catch you up, here is a summary of the three I’ve done so far: San Francisco Open, Holiday Dance Classic, and California Open.
San Francisco Open – April 2014 – Anxiety and Joy
The San Francisco Open was my first competition. I had done a showcase and a team match (mini studio competition) before, but that was it. Living in Orange County, California, it might seem odd to choose a comp that was not local, but my teacher was giving a discount to all of his students because he was aiming to win top teacher and so wanted as many people to go as possible. The discount made it affordable for me.
I deal with anxiety in general and performance anxiety in particular. I hate getting up in front of people, with all eyes on me. Which is one reason I am so grateful for ballroom, it is forcing me to face this fear. So I was a nervous wreck in the weeks leading up to the competition. I had anxiety attacks over small things like the fact I didn’t get a manicure because I didn’t know it was expected until someone brought it up or that it would be almost a week between my last dance lesson and the day I competed (it didn’t matter that there were travel and other competition days in between). My teacher’s pro partner was going to do my hair and makeup and was ever so patient with me as I inundated her with texts asking what I needed, what I was forgetting, when I needed to be where, what I should expect. I watched my fellow students dance rhythm the day before I was to dance smooth and continued my nervous hand wringing and deep sighs. Ironically, I slept better the night before smooth than I did the night before watching rhythm. My hair and makeup appointments were set separately early in the morning of the big day, so I was able to go down to the ballroom in between and ask a nice hotel security lady to let me in to warm up on the competition floor and have some quiet, alone time before the craziness started. If you ever have the chance to get into the ballroom before the comp starts, when it’s empty and quiet, I highly recommend it. It was very helpful to have the time to kind of meditate in the space while going through my steps.
When it was finally time for me to dance, I just tried to remember what I was told. Keep my chest up, breathe, smile, follow my teacher. Once the music started, the nerves disappeared. I was sheer joy as I moved across the floor. I wasn’t perfect, but it didn’t matter. I was home! It was that time on the dancefloor that made me realize that this is where I belong. The only time the anxiety came out was in tango. My teacher still likes to laugh about how I appeared so calm, except for my right hand that was shaking like mad in his, but only during tango.
Final results: second and first places in my single dances and third place in my scholarship, all in bronze
Holiday Dance Classic – December 2014 – Anxiety and Pride
My second competition was held in Las Vegas at the Tropicana. Still out of town, but I drove with another student instead of flying. So that saved some cash. Cutting expenses was the name of the game this time. Teacher discount didn’t apply to this one. I was going early enough again to watch rhythm the day before I danced smooth, and I was stocked with trail mix, baby carrots and clementine oranges. I couldn’t afford to eat out for every meal. I even brought tea bags to make my tea in the morning so I didn’t have to buy the $4 tea at the Starbucks down in the casino. I need tea like most people need their coffee, but I wasn’t about to spend that much on hot water and a single tea bag.
This time, I couldn’t sleep the night before I danced. I was sharing my hotel room with the student I drove with (also a good friend who shared the first comp experience with me at San Fran) and a friend who flew out to support me and share a Vegas weekend after the comp stuff was over. I was up a lot earlier than they needed to be, of course, so I took all of my stuff to get ready in the bathroom, to not disturb them. I sat on the floor and ate my trail mix and oranges for breakfast. I made my tea with hot water from the sink because there was no coffee maker in the room. And I tried to breathe. I had done this once before, but now it felt like stakes were set a little higher. There were expectations now. And with my budget being so tight for this comp, I was feeling a little like the servant girl trying to pass for high society. Did I really belong here? I certainly wasn’t in the same tax bracket as most of the other students. It felt like that mattered, even though I told myself it didn’t.
When I got down to the dancefloor after hair and makeup, my roommates were already there and with a cup of Earl Grey from Starbucks (I love my friends!). Teacher pulled me aside to warm me up and calm me down because he already heard that I didn’t sleep and was again freaking out. After some deep breaths and a rocking hug from Teacher and some pacing/stretching in a corner, I felt a little better and ready to get on the floor. But it was bittersweet because I was seriously questioning if I could afford to keep doing this awesome thing. I told myself to be grateful for every moment, just in case. Once the music started, I just breathed and enjoyed the ride. I could feel the improvements I had made since San Fran and I was proud of myself!
Final results: first places in single dances with the exception of a second and third in my first round and first in scholarship, all in bronze
California Open – February 2015 – Confidence and Disappointment
My third competition was local, in Costa Mesa, California. So no travel or hotel expenses. And since Holiday, I started working as a personal assistant to my teacher. He needed the help and I needed the funding to keep dancing. And now that I had done well at two competitions, Teacher was talking big, like going to Nationals and winning a title. I was hooked, not that it took much, so I was all for setting big, exciting goals. Provided I could find the money. I was actually feeling really good leading up to Calopen, as the competition is nicknamed. I had some good lessons where I had a lot of “lightbulb” moments. I danced in a team match the week before the comp and felt good about my performance there. I was feeling confident and ready! Then I woke up with a headache a few days before the comp. Not unusual, I’m prone to getting migraines and headaches. But not something I want to deal with right before I compete. The headache didn’t go away. I wasn’t feeling so great anymore, but was determined to stay positive and not let it shake me. I woke up the day of competition and the headache was gone! But my body was not happy. Shoulders and neck were super stiff. My body felt tired because I had woken up a couple of times during the night. I told myself, it’s ok, you’re ready, you can power through this. When we got to the ballroom, Teacher warmed me up, went over a couple things, and declared me ready. While he went to do whatever he needed to do, I did my usual pacing/stretching and breathing in a corner and tried to ignore the uneasy feeling that was growing inside me.
The pressure was off this time because I wasn’t actually competing against anyone except in four of my single dances. Even in those dances, it was only one other person. So I tried to tell myself to just relax. Once the music started, it was not all sunshine and rainbows. My neck was tight, my body felt heavy and unresponsive. After I ended up on the wrong foot in my second foxtrot, I wanted to cry. I actually had to fight the urge to push my teacher away and run off the dancefloor to sulk in a dark corner. I was so disappointed in myself because I knew I was better than this! Teacher said I was doing great and to stop putting so much pressure on myself to be perfect all of the time. My friends and fellow students that came to cheer me on (love them!) said I looked beautiful and they couldn’t tell that I wasn’t dancing my best. Which was really nice but left me feeling a little alone. They could dismiss my thoughts of poor performance, but I couldn’t. The thoughts were still bouncing around in my head, stupid little demons.
By the time I danced in my scholarship (against no one), I felt a little better. My body was a little looser and responding to me. My performance was closer to what I thought it should be. A surprise came when I found out that my scholarship was also a “best of the best” challenge. I had to dance an extra dance of my choosing to compete against the scholarship winners in the other age groups. I spent the minutes in the on-deck area before I danced my tango not thinking about how it would just be me and my teacher out there, alone, no other couples. I was actually proud of how I controlled my thoughts on that one because it was definitely an anxiety attack waiting to happen. But I kept my cool and went out and felt good about the performance. Despite my neck hating me when I forced it to stretch back in the tango lunges. Teacher and I worked on that in subsequent lessons so it’s not so painful.
My “best of the best” tango:
Final results: first places across the board! I am forever grateful to the universe for making my first “bad” comp experience at a comp where I wasn’t actually competing against anyone, with a few exceptions.
My competition goals for the rest of 2015 are Emerald Ball, the United States Dance Championships (a.k.a. Nationals) and the Ohio Star Ball (that’s where you’re expected to go when you win “best of the best”). Keep your fingers crossed that I am able to earn the money necessary and that I win scholarship money so it can be put toward the next comp! Given that I am on a tight budget and can only afford two lessons a week, sometimes barely, I know all of this is insane. But I say if you want something badly enough, you do what you have to do to make it happen. And if you’re willing to do whatever it takes, then it must be something worth doing!