Welcome to the second episode of Ask the Girl!
If you have a question or topic that you would like me to address, leave it in the comments or contact me directly. I’m excited to hear from you!
Today’s question comes from Kelly, founder of Lady Boss Lifestyle:
When do you know that enough is enough? Is it totally ok to simply dance without a longterm goal of competing? Or do these types of dancers typically just need a great coach to build up their belief that they can trust their passion and set competition goals?
First of all, it is absolutely OK to simply dance! Sometimes I have to take a step back from all of the extra “stuff” that comes with bigger goals like competition and just dance, because that is where the root of my passion lies.
For the most part, ballroom dancers end up in one of three categories: social, performance, or competition.
Social dancers are satisfied with learning the steps and their timing, so they can dance at parties and other events. There is no pressure or need for perfect technique or extremely complicated steps. Social dancers aren’t interested in performing for an audience or testing their skills against other dancers. They just want to dance and have fun!
Performance dancers crave the stage. They love finding that perfect song and learning choreography to go with it. Again, there is less pressure to have perfect technique because the emphasis is on the character and story of the dance. All eyes are on you though! But the point is to entertain your audience, and they don’t know your routine, so no worries if you mess up a step!
Competitive dancers like the challenge of going up against other dancers to see how they fare, and of testing themselves. In competition, everything matters: the steps, the technique, and the performance. And if you mess up while a judge is watching, they will know it! On the other hand, some competitive dancers have told me they feel safer on a competition floor than a stage because of the presence of other couples. All eyes are not necessarily on you during a comp.
So how do you know what is right for you? How did I know that competition was right for me?
As much as I’ve enjoyed “just dancing” at recent social events, I can feel that something is missing. After (hopefully) convincing you to try social ballroom dancing, I can’t help but recognize that my own enthusiasm for it isn’t complete.
I crave more.
When I first started learning ballroom, the dance itself was enough for me. The desire in me burned low and steady, the true passion hadn’t come to life yet, and I was satisfied by the private lessons, group classes and social dances offered by my studio.
But the more I learned and the more I danced, the more I wanted. Ballroom had sparked a passion in me and woken a version of myself that had long lay dormant. A fire grew inside and gave me new life. And in order to keep the fire burning, I needed more fuel.
About seven months after I first started private lessons, I was in my first showcase. On a theater stage, I performed a rumba to the version of “Sweet Dreams” that appears in the movie Sucker Punch:
It was dark and creepy and right up my alley. I was terrified to perform in front of an audience, but I did it and it felt amazing!
I loved the performance experience and would sign up to perform another showcase routine a year after my first one. In between though, I attended a competition as a spectator and a whole other world of possibilities opened up.
It took time, a new teacher and a pay raise before I found myself in a position to enter my first competition. I never looked back.
If dance was just a fun hobby for me, I would have stayed satisfied with simply dancing for the sake of dancing. But it became the path by which I would experience an incredible amount of personal growth. The fire in me that was sparked to life by ballroom grew with each new step and demanded to be fed. It wouldn’t let me stop at the social level.
As much as I love an afternoon or evening out dancing, I have realized I am less satisfied when there is little to no challenge. I just read an article on Stance on Dance by another dancer who discovered her need to feel challenged. Even after she was finally able to support herself doing nothing but dancing, she found that she needed to keep growing and pushing herself by taking on new challenges.
I have found that my passion fire that was sparked by ballroom can’t be fed on the dancing alone. I crave the challenge and resulting growth that I have experienced from competitive ballroom just as much as the dancing. I want everything (the steps, the technique, the performance) to matter, and I can get that higher level of stakes at competition.
It almost sounds scary to imagine a fire inside you that demands to be fed, like you yourself could be consumed by it. But this fire is what propels you forward on your path, like in a steam engine. As the fire grows, you will grow. You will burn off the personas that you have taken on because of fears, insecurities or society’s expectations and, like a phoenix, a truer persona will emerge from the ashes.
And yes, I do think having a great coach is essential to discovering the dancer you are meant to be. My first teacher was far less passionate about my dancing than I was. While I was freaking out over this INCREDIBLE triumph over fear by successfully dancing on stage, it was just another day in the office for him. When I voiced my desire to try competing but fretted that I couldn’t afford it, he sympathized and just continued working on the dances with me, with no talk of the future or specific goals.
When I started with my current teacher, on the other hand, he immediately set a competition goal for me because he wanted me to have something to work toward, even if I wasn’t able to put the money together in time. I did not have the money to make it to our first competition goal, but sensing that Teacher was as invested as I was in my dancing future fueled my fire more and pushed me to work harder. I made it to our second goal.
A word of caution: it can be easy to get caught up in someone else’s enthusiasm, even when it’s for something you’re not interested in. As Teacher encouraged me to aim higher in my competition goals with events like USDC, I would check in with myself when I was alone to see if it really was my passion pushing me in this direction or if I was getting caught up in his. As you develop as a pro-am ballroom dancer, pay close attention to what is fueling your fire, not necessarily your teacher’s.
So when is enough, enough? I would say when you no longer yearn for more. Granted, dance is an art form, and for many artists, there is never enough! Luckily, there is always more to learn and more that can challenge you.
I encourage you to try everything you can, to expose yourself to all possibilities. You may need to try competition or performance before you realize that you really just enjoy the dance and are satisfied with social dancing. Or like me in my current situation, a break from a bigger challenge like competition may show you just how much you crave that challenge. Isn’t it true that often we don’t know how much we value something until it’s gone?
Dancing is such a personal journey, so no one can tell you what is right for you. A good coach will guide you through the possibilities, but only you will know what truly speaks to you and satisfies the fire inside.