At What Point Can You Call Yourself a “Dancer”?

I think I’m going through a little ballroom withdrawal. It’s been weeks and weeks since I took a group class. My last few private lessons were a week apart due to Teacher going to comps or having other scheduling conflicts. And I haven’t been going to the studio to practice. I have all sorts of excuses, including the fact that I’m still doing things at home like the journey to splits challenge. I used to practice before and/or after group class. It worked well for me. But now that I’m not taking group, I find it’s hard to motivate myself to go to just practice on my own. This is why I fail at being a gym member. I’m much more likely to go if there is a class or something where I have other people to support me and hold me accountable. But going by myself to work by myself? I feel like I may as well save the gas and stay at home. This withdrawal coupled with anxiety over USDC and reading online how often others practice or have private lessons has me once again pondering a question my demons obsessively taunt me with: at what point can I call myself a dancer?

Being able to identify myself as a dancer is one of those conundrums that should be so obvious and easy, but the demons in my head twist and complicate it. Deep down inside, underneath all of the negative noise, I believe exists a dancer. My true self. But there is so much noise covering up that image! I listen to people who have made dancing their career or who were dancing before they were walking, and I watch videos or live performances. And I can hear and see that these people are dancers. No question, you can see it in their faces and in their bodies and hear it in their voices. I see and hear joy and passion and complete commitment. In myself, I see those things too but it seems not to the level of intensity that I see in those I would identify as dancers. Because I also see fear and doubt and anxiety in me, and I allow those things to hold me back. And I think, a real dancer wouldn’t let that happen. A real dancer would still go practice.

“A real dancer.” That’s what I wish I was. That’s what I hope my true self is under all that dark noise. I can already guess what my awesome family and friends would say. “What are you talking about?? Of course, you’re a real dancer! Hello, first places!” Where is the line though? Was I a dancer when I was going to clubs in college and making up moves to hip hop and house music? Was I a dancer when I first started ballroom? Or was I just a girl who liked to dance? Some say you have to be born a dancer. Is that the reason I question whether I can identify myself as a dancer? Because I wasn’t born one? I do have family history in my favor. There is a love of dance on both sides, and even some competition experience. So maybe that isn’t the issue.

Are you sure I'm allowed to be here??

Are you sure I’m allowed to be here??

Maybe it’s physical. I don’t have that typical dancer body. I’m awkward and I’ve got a booty! Although I’m working on it, I am not very flexible. I can’t do a split, I can’t lift my leg very high, I don’t have the greatest balance. These things are mainly due to the fact that I haven’t been dancing since I was a baby. My body didn’t get the proper conditioning to be able to do those cool moves that “real dancers” can do. Hell, my knees ache sometimes when it rains! So do I need a different body in order to transition from “girl who likes to dance” to “dancer”? My demons say yes, too bad, so sad. But another part of me pipes up and strongly disagrees, insisting dancers come in all shapes and sizes, and I have yet to hear the rule that you must be able to do a split to call yourself a “dancer.” Ok, so maybe the physical just develops with time and the longer I go down the dancer path, the closer I’ll get to hips that will allow me to do a split.

I think the main issue is my lack of internal validation makes my need for external validation much stronger. I need to feel accepted in the world I’m trying to be a part of. I’m terrified of being rejected from it. I hesitate to declare “I am a ballroom dancer!” because I am afraid of someone in that world overhearing and responding “yeah, right.” Now, the logical part of me knows that would not happen. It knows I have proven my skill, my passion and my commitment, and those I have gotten to know in the ballroom world have been nothing but supportive of my desire to call myself a dancer. The emotional part of me, however, is still lost on stormy seas. If only it would peek over the edge of the boat and see it isn’t lost at all; the demons just covered the boat with a dark shroud and have been howling to hide the fact that land is in sight. Unfortunately,  emotion doesn’t respond too well to logic. So the storms continue. For now.

In the meantime, baby steps. Not too loud now, but I have to try…

I am a dancer.


13 thoughts on “At What Point Can You Call Yourself a “Dancer”?

  1. aggiedancingintherain says:

    I appreciate your honest. I understand your struggle! I am a dancer too, but it’s when we start comparing ourselves to others and doing the people-pleasing dance that it gets sticky. I think ultimately we have to decide what success means to us. What does it mean to YOU to be a dancer? To be good enough? No one else can decide that for you! No one else’s validation of you will ever be enough until you decide to be okay with yourself. It’s truly amazing how that works; I’ve seen it ring true in my life over and over. Keep dancing my friend- and believe that you are enough as you are!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. D_Wall says:

    When I was at my last event, there was a guy who was larger than I ever was and he wasn’t wearing a true dance outfit. While my inner demons were screaming “you don’t belong here” to me, I looked at this guy on the floor and he was smiling and having the time of his life. Does that make him a “dancer”?? To him, the answer is clearly yes.
    I hesitate to give advice as I’ve said and felt many of the same things you described. Unfortunately, all the external validation in the world is unlikely to help because you have to internalize it or the doubts will still be there.
    So don’t whisper. Shout it out.
    YOU ARE A DANCER !!!!!!!!💃🏻

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Connie says:

    I have been doing various types of swing dancing; lindy hop, shag, and balboa for 3.5 years. All within my spare time. My day job I am a data analyst. I took it up when I was 30 and haven’t stopped since.
    I go to different classes and social dancing events every week and run free lindy hop taster classes in my local area. Next week I have 5 evenings dedicated to dancing – 2 teaching, (unpaid), two different social dance evenings. 5 evenings out of 7. That’s pretty hardcore no?
    I also go to international dance festivals – for weekend classes and parties. I have been to 6 so far this year and its only June. I have also competed and been placed or somehow ended up in the finals. I have also danced in a music video and a Channel 4 TV programme, though both unpaid.
    Does this make me a dancer? Or am I not a dancer because I don’t get paid to do it?

    Liked by 1 person

    • TheGirlWithTheTreeTattoo says:

      I’d say you’re a dancer! Since writing this article, I’ve come to the conclusion that part of the dancer identity depends on you owning that identity. I don’t get paid to dance, but it is an essential part of my life. I even started telling people I meet, “I’m a dancer and writer, and my day job is…” when they ask me what I do. What I DO is dance and write. I do something different for money to pay rent, buy food, etc. but that job definitely doesn’t define who I am.
      Thank you for your comment, Connie! Keep on dancing, dancer!


      • Connie says:

        Thanks! I do believe dancing is an essential part of my life, enjoyment and forms a big part of my social life. Even my boyfriend dances. Still, I think my day job and what I choose to spend my free time doing does not define me, just by one thing or another alone. I have multiple hobbies such as travelling, photography, hiking and baking, playing my guitar, which I try to fit in between everything else. The sum of the parts make up the whole.
        I don’t know if I truly believe I am a dancer without someone just telling me I’m a big fraud because I didn’t go to a proper dance school or I wasn’t classically trained e.g. I didn’t go to classes for 8 hours every day for months on end, rather than just in the evenings and weekends.
        But I don’t want to take it that seriously either. I feel like the minute I have to do a ‘job’ I won’t necessarily enjoy it. But when I dance, I chose to be there and I’m only do it for me, my own selfish enjoyment and pursuit to learn. There’s no material gain. In fact its cost me quite a lot of money over the years really.
        I wonder if being paid to do it, having that pressure to perform because I had to, would actually be something I even want.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Barbara says:

    Well, if you think YOU can’t call yourself a dancer, you’re shorting all the rest of us who are way below your level of expertise, ability to compete and/or travel and call ourselves dancers. How’s that for a twist on your thoughts? I took up ballroom dancing, casually, in group lessons at 58 years old. I started private lessons 18 months ago, but can only manage them 3-4 times a month. I haven’t entered any official DanceSport comps, as I don’t have the money, but I do smaller comps. Do I call myself a dancer? Darn right I do!! And I’m proud of myself and every last bit I’ve accomplished.
    I have never had a passion for anything like this before. As probably all of you reading this can say, it has changed my life. I am learning, growing, pushing, failing, rising, excelling and continually trying. Yes, I look at those extraordinary pros and know that no matter what, I could never have danced like that. But, I think differently, I carry myself differently, I listen to music differently and I LOVE TO DANCE. And ya know what? I’m very proud of even competing, let alone getting the first places at my lowly pre-Bronze, pre-Silver level.
    So, please, don’t compare yourself to others. Even the top dancers feel they fall short somewhere. If it walks like a duck etc. so yes, you are a talented, driven, compassionate dancer, as are all the rest of us who keep striving and enjoy this art and are willing to put ourselves out there.

    Liked by 1 person

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