It’s funny, I made a list of topics for this 31-day challenge, but have yet to actually follow that list. One post just leads me to another post. But I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that things aren’t going as planned. When do they ever?
Last year, I started a series on my first blog, The Uphill Factor, titled “Express Yourself!” Teacher was starting to bring up the need for more emotional expression from me while I was dancing, and naturally, I wrote about my struggles:
After writing my post yesterday, in which I ended with the most awkward part of ballroom for me – the emotional expression and performance, I went out to celebrate a friend’s birthday. She had picked a bar/restaurant where her friend’s band was playing. Once the band started, we all got up and danced, right up front by the stage. Did I worry about how I looked? Did I think about how I was expressing myself? No, of course not. I just danced!
So why can’t I do that in the studio when I’m dancing ballroom?
Am I just more self-conscious when I’m dancing with a partner? Maybe, but I also go out to salsa clubs to dance and don’t have a problem while dancing with people there.
So what is it about the studio that makes me want to shrink into a dark corner when someone brings up character or emotional expression?
Where do I begin?
I guess the first factor is the dancing itself. I’m not thinking about technique or timing or choreography when I’m rocking out to a band or a DJ in a club. I just move to the music and improvise whatever steps pop into my head. At the salsa club, there are a few more steps and technique to think about. But the steps are mostly basics and I have to just follow whoever I am dancing with; there is no set routine to remember. The technique I think about is mostly reminding myself to keep my core engaged and stay grounded, so I don’t go flying off into another couple when my dance partner leads me into a bunch of quick spins.
At the studio, I’m thinking about the routines that Teacher choreographed, the correct timing, the technique we’ve been focusing on, as well as the other technique that he hasn’t mentioned recently but still needs to be applied. And don’t forget about the arm styling. Oh, and relax and breathe. It’s hard to relax while you’re thinking “head left, chest up, curve your foot here, don’t pop up, stay down, don’t drop your left side, don’t let your right arm go behind you, which hip is pulling?” I’m overwhelmed already, and you want me to smile too?
The hardest part of dancing is making it look easy.
Another factor is my mindset. I care a lot more about how my ballroom dancing looks than my club moves. If I screw up a move in the salsa club, I easily laugh it off because it’s just for fun. There are no greater implications or consequences to missing my salsa partner’s lead or turning the wrong way. I’ve attached more meaning to my ballroom skills. A LOT more meaning. My identity has become attached to ballroom.
I have found that the road to self-discovery is twisted. A truer version of myself was awakened and uncovered with the introduction of ballroom to my life. But now I seem to have put a great deal of pressure on myself to live up to that truer self. I don’t know her that well yet, what is she doesn’t like me? It’s like I have to keep working for her approval or she might leave and I’ll be stuck with the old version of myself. But she’s me, she can’t just leave!
I don’t pretend to understand; I just report what I observe.
Then again, maybe it’s like when you fall and scrape off a few layers of skin on your leg or arm. The new skin exposed is raw and sensitive. I’ve scraped off a lot of layers of fear and insecurities to get to the dancer buried underneath. But maybe she’s still too new for me to feel comfortable exposing her to the ballroom world, where it’s so critical that she’s accepted. So maybe I’m not worried about her approval of me, maybe I’m worried about the ballroom world’s approval of her. Because if she’s rejected, then she gets reburied and the old me takes over, the one who plays it safe so she can’t get rejected.
Obviously, I have a long way to go. I know this awesome dancer who isn’t afraid of expressing herself is inside me, but my demons keep trying to rebury her.
While working on this post, I came across this meme posted on Crystal Stine’s Instagram:
Perfect timing! Because that’s my answer. Small, consistent steps will get me to the ultimate goal. I’ve written this before and I know it is true, but I still need to remind myself: I need to give myself a break. I need to stop expecting myself to get it right the first or second or third time. And I need to stop thinking I’m a failure even if I don’t get it right the first 20 times, as long as I keep trying. Just like Teacher has me focus on only one or two technique aspects at a time, I need to stop trying to do all or nothing. Pick one thing, like keeping my eyes looking forward instead of letting them drift up or down to avoid looking at my audience. Then once that becomes comfortable, add something else. Small, consistent steps. I can do this.
Don’t forget to check out other posts from the 31 Day Writing Challenge!