Countdown to Calopen – 15 Days: Visiting With an Old “Friend”

Two more weeks! I’m actually feeling ok.

No, really!

I have some nerves, but they’re more anticipatory than sheer anxiety. I think the jaded part of me is waiting for something to go wrong and prevent me from competing. And the logical side recognizes that we’ve been working on silver since before USDC, so I’m about as prepared as I can be for my new level.

I was thinking of posing a question to my fellow competitors. I was curious what the most difficult part of comp prep was for people. Was it memorizing the choreography? Remembering the 15 million little technique things? To smile and breathe when you danced? The mental preparation and working through nerves and fears?

I thought about my most difficult part. There is the self-doubt and lack of trust obviously. The introverted nature that makes it hard to express big emotions. The fear of making a fool of myself.

Those things I continue to work on and, I’m happy to say, make noticeable progress on. But something else came up, a demon who has been living in a dusty, old corner of my brain: the feeling that I don’t really belong.

That is the thought I’m pondering over today. It doesn’t quite have the hold on me that it used to. But it’s still there. Like someone who you may as well call a friend simply because they’ve been hanging around for so long. I imagine us sitting together on a porch in creaky rocking chairs watching a summer thunderstorm roll in. But I digress.

This feeling of not belonging feeds most off of the comparison of my financial status to my fellow competitors’. There are other things that make me not quite fit in, the most obvious being the ink on my body. I’m also not a girly girl. I will leave my apartment without makeup. Hair styling for me is putting my hair up in a ponytail. I’ve never had a manicure or a spray tan (despite people’s best efforts). I don’t even have pierced ears!

But it’s the money that makes me feel most disconnected from the ballroom world. It’s money that keeps me from participating as much as I want. But at the same time, I think my financial restrictions make me push harder and cherish every experience more. Maybe I will only dance for a couple rounds, but I put everything into them because they are all I get. There will be other people on the dancefloor with me at CalOpen, but our journeys to get there will not be the same.

I’ve also been pondering if my sense of not belonging ties to accolades that I don’t have access to, no matter how well I dance, like the Top Student awards that competitions give out. These awards go to the student who earns the most points. You acquire points based on the number of entries and your placement in those entries.  Because of this system, I will never win Top Student until my financial situation drastically changes. The students who win dance well over 100 entries. At CalOpen, I will be dancing exactly 12 dances.

Many people insist these awards are bought, not earned, because all you have to do is enter more events than everyone else. Which requires having more money, not necessarily more dance skill, than everyone else. I tend to agree.

On the other hand, you do still have to dance those entries. I’m feeling pretty tired after my usual 16 dances, so I can imagine I would be ready to collapse after 100!

I know of someone who has won Top Student. She is wealthy and attends many competitions every year. I don’t know her well and what I do know is based on her Facebook posts. I get the impression that she has had people talk about her and her “purchased” awards and she was hurt by it, because she has posted statements about how hard she and her teacher work through all that time on the dancefloor.

Now, my first thought is “yeah but some of us don’t even get the chance to dance that much.” But my second thought is more sympathetic. I don’t want to feel invalidated as a dancer because I can’t afford to take as many lessons or dance as many entries. So I can’t invalidate her efforts because she can afford more.

Still, the fact of the matter is the “Top” awards will go to those with deeper pockets. The built-in exclusion of “ballroom poor” people like me used to mess with my head. My financial status was being tied to my skill as a dancer, which was just wrong and unfair. But I adjusted my focus on other, more personal ambitions and made it my goal to dance my absolute best during my time on the floor, no matter how short that time may be.

I’m coming to realize that I will likely never belong to certain parts of the ballroom world. Even if I do start making more income (and that would be just fine!), I don’t think I would fit in with the wealthier ballroom crowds. I’m a little too rough around the edges, a little too blunt and maybe a bit crass. I would still leave the apartment without makeup and consider my ponytail an updo. That’s me, with or without cash in my pocket!

So as I rock back and forth on my imaginary porch with my old demon friend of not belonging, I have to remind her that we don’t want to belong necessarily! We like ourself as we are, with our tattoos, eclectic taste in music, lack of makeup skills and love of ballroom dancing. That means we won’t fit in everywhere, and that’s ok.

Of course, I still want to feel accepted. But I already am by the people who matter. There is also that drive in me to grow and improve. I want to be able to accept myself as I am but also push to be even better.

It is a delicate balance. I try to use my old friend in a positive way, as motivation to keep working hard to become that amazing dancer I strive to be. Then it doesn’t matter how many coins are in my purse. As long as I strive to prove it to myself, and not worry so much about other people, I think I will be ok.

So back to you! While I convince myself again that I do belong on the dancefloor despite my empty wallet, what do you struggle with most when you prepare for a competition?

Let me know in the comments!


8 thoughts on “Countdown to Calopen – 15 Days: Visiting With an Old “Friend”

  1. BCBallroomdancer says:

    My struggle is in expression–giving myself permission to go ‘all out’ and commit to my styling during my routines. I am pretty good at managing choreography and technique, but when I don’t commit to my styling and expression–that hesitation really shows!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. erinmdrake says:

    Katie, I think more people can relate to this than you think- both pro and ams.

    A huge majority of pros do what we do because we couldn’t afford to live this life growing up. It drives us, motivates us, inspires us to constantly give more of ourselves to our students because we are finally living our dreams. I never ONCE had my hair or make up done. I never had a manicure or a spray tan. My entire comp prep as an amateur came from a $12 bottle of pro-tan spray and $4 press on nails from cvs. I do professional hair and make up now because I HAD to learn. Shelling out the $35 registration fee for amateur open scholarships was a financial strain. We all sacrificed for our love. We all felt it was never enough. That person took more lessons. She has a better dress. Feeling left out only made many of us thirstier for more.

    Now years later I am the pro and I can hear those same echoes from ALL my students. It doesn’t matter what financial situation you are in- dedicating yourself to your (expensive) passion takes sacrifice. I can only imagine though, much like you echoed above, that dancing that one scholarship is so much sweeter and means so much more than 100 single dances. May it drive you to be the best version of yourself.

    Best of luck in two weeks!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Bosch says:

    I’m prepping for my first competition in five weeks, and beyond the practical concerns (OMG what am I going to wear??), my biggest concern is that I don’t know what I don’t know. I mean, I know the figures we will do, I know the areas my instructor keeps kicking my ass over, I know the smiling and poise and all that, but I am afraid that there’s more that I’m not aware of, and I’m fearful of showing up unprepared for any possibility. Despite going to see my studio friends compete, and knowing how the overall structure of the event will run, I am feeling very naïve about the entire experience. I’m just starting to not feel like a total newbie at my studio (after a year and a half) and I’m afraid I’ll be walking in to an event where I’m getting knocked back down again. (Which, yeah, I’m dancing newcomer and social bronze, so it’s definitely a step down at this point, but still.) Any advice for first comp anxiety?


    • TheGirlWithTheTreeTattoo says:

      First, hurray for your first comp!! Second, know and accept that you will never feel fully prepared. And that’s ok! I HATE feeling unprepared, but there is only so much you can do and after that you just have to trust yourself and your teacher. I’m trying to handle my upcoming comp like my very first one by making my only goal to dance my best and enjoy myself. I’ve never competed in silver before so I don’t know what to expect for that level. I’m trying to not put any pressure on myself since it’s like my first time again! Just focus on having fun. If it helps, I broke down what to expect in a day of competing back in October:
      Keep me posted and let me know if there is anything else I can help with!


      • Bosch says:

        It’s that sense of being unprepared that bothers me the most, I think. I’m slightly neurotic and really like to be overprepared for any situation, so not even knowing the kinds of situations to expect and mentally prepare for… that’s probably my biggest hurdle at the moment. I mean, there’s only so many safety pins and protein bars and rolls of duct tape one can pack in a bag. 😉


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