I did it! I completed the next dance goal on my list: Emerald Ball! If you’re following me on Instagram, you already know how it went. For those of you that aren’t, I placed first in nine of my single dances, second in the other three, and first in scholarship! Rock on! And even more awesome: I enjoyed myself! Imagine that!
The session started at 6pm but I wasn’t scheduled to dance until 8:42pm. Despite that, I arrived at the hotel around 2:30pm. Anyone who has experience driving into LA understands. If you aren’t where you need to be by 3, you’re going to hit rush hour traffic. So I left at 1:30. My teacher’s fiancé/pro partner did my hair and makeup. She always does something different with my hair; I love it! And with hours until I danced, she could take her time. Check it out:
A can of hair spray, 47 bobby pins, and several layers of eyeshadow later, I went down to the ballroom to see if I could get in to try the floor between sessions. No luck, the day session was still going on. So I checked out the practice room. After about 10 minutes, I gave up and went back to the ballroom. I think I’ve decided I don’t like the practice room. Too enclosed, too crowded with just a handful of people, and I could feel the competitive tension. No thank you. Back down in the ballroom, the day session was over, but now they were cleaning. So I waited with another of my teacher’s students until we were allowed in. Once in the ballroom, I threw on my shoes and warmed up on the dancefloor, just for a little bit to get a feel for it. I had ear buds in with music playing, so I tried to ignore the ongoings around me and just get in my own zone.
I had a few butterflies, probably around three, fluttering around in my stomach, but actually I was feeling ok! No major anxiety or looming sense of dread. Once Teacher got down to the ballroom, he warmed up with his other student who was dancing earlier than me and then went around the floor with me. And I still felt decent! A little while later, I had someone tell me he saw me practicing and was impressed with my precise arm styling! Thank you, ego boost!
Hours later, it was finally time for me to dance. After my teacher placed me on the floor, with my back to the judges, he started laughing and said every one of them was staring at my tattoo with extreme curiosity/interest.
I was shaky during my first round, which was normal. I had to work through the rush of adrenaline. But it felt good! We were on the floor for two rounds, 8 dances in a row. I caught a grin from another teacher from my studio who was watching. I made a few of the judges smile as we danced by. Yay! There was a short break before my last round of single dances, and then I had to wait two hours until my scholarship! It was about 9:45pm at that point and my scholarship was scheduled for 11:46pm. Way past my bedtime!!
The scholarships for the other age groups were dancing before mine because they had multiple heats and quarter and/or semi-final rounds to get through. When they reached the final round, the remaining dancers were introduced one at a time as they walked out via the stage at the front of the ballroom. I was starting to feel nervous.
I retreated to a quiet corner to wake up my muscles after sitting around for so long. I tried to breathe slowly as I started to freak out a little. Maybe it was because it was so late, maybe I was just tired, but an uneasy feeling was sprouting inside. I danced really well so far, placed first in almost every dance. But I found myself fighting a raised expectation. I wanted first, I was starting to expect first because I was beginning to feel like I earned it! But I didn’t want to expect first because I didn’t want to deal with the disappointment if I didn’t get first. I hadn’t been competing against that many people, only one or two others were in each of my single dances. And three times, someone else was judged better than me. In the scholarship round, I was dancing against three other people. Not a lot of competition but still more than the single dances. So I fought this growing expectation of first.
Combine that with the unexpected stage entrance, and I had to appeal to my teacher for a pep talk and reassurance. He was all pumped up and ready to go, I must have looked funny trying to shrink into a tiny ball next to him. After being told I was killing it and I just had to walk across the stage, nothing fancy, I attributed my nerves to just being tired and followed Teacher to line up in the backstage area. While we waited, I stared at the three steps I had to take to get up on the stage, focusing on how I was not going to trip and fall.
“Screw it” was my coping mechanism as my name was called and Teacher led me across the stage and onto the dancefloor. Just smile and stand tall. And don’t trip. I successfully made it onto the dancefloor.
My favorite part of the comp came at the end of our tango portion of the scholarship. Two judges were standing near each other and one of them gestured to Teacher after we bowed. “Is that Gene Kelly?,” he asked, referring to my tattoo. Teacher confirmed that it was. The judge turned to the second judge and said, “see, I told you!” They had been debating whether it was Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire while we were dancing! You can see them discussing it in the video, it’s awesome and it made my night. I love my tattoo, so it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside when ballroom people admire it. It feels like a gesture of acceptance of all of me, not just the ballroom dancer part of me.
After the round was over, and we went back on the floor for awards, I focused on managing expectations. There were four people in my division, and I didn’t see how the others danced. I could get fourth. I fought my expectations and prepared to hear my name as the announcer said “in fourth place…” But he didn’t call my name. He didn’t call my name for third either and I felt better equipped to accept getting second. But again, someone else’s name was called. I won first!
I know it sounds ridiculous. This is the third competition where I’ve taken first in scholarship. But I still feel extremely cautious about raising expectations. There could always be someone better. It doesn’t mean I don’t dance to win, but I would rather be surprised that I won than be let down that I didn’t. I’m so sensitive to disappointment. It wasn’t a day for disappointment though! I’m happy to feel comfortable enough to declare I rocked it! Even though I watch the videos and still see little things I need to work on, I am more than satisfied with my performance. And I had a good time! This passion is soooo expensive to feed, I have to enjoy it. There is no point spending all of this money if it is only creating more stress. It is supposed to be my escape from stress! Of course, there is some stress over wanting to do better but it is the kind that motivates you, instead of killing you slowly.
So what’s next? That would be the United States Dance Championships, followed closely by Ohio Star Ball! At least I have a little more money to put away toward those comps from the scholarship winnings. Every little bit helps!