The final for Dancing with the Stars is today! Has anyone else been watching? I’ve been routing for Nyle DiMarco, the last winner of America’s Next Top Model who happens to be deaf. He seems fearless in his pursuits, and it’s so inspiring. Every time I watch him just go for it, I always think “what the hell is my problem? I need to stop being so scared!”
I’ve lost count of how many times, when I tell someone I dance ballroom, they respond “oh, like on Dancing with the Stars?!” No, not exactly. Not even close.
Although the dances on DWTS are labeled as ballroom dances, like quickstep or waltz or rumba, there isn’t a whole lot of “real” ballroom dancing in them. I believe “flash and trash” is the coined term. Basically, there are often more tricks than actual dance figures to help cover up the inexperience of the contestants. It’s kind of necessary though, the tricks make for more entertaining performances for television. You wouldn’t watch the show if it was a bunch of people doing only boxes and underarm turns in the first week!
There are some things that are very much like the real ballroom experience. Every contestant who lasts at least halfway through the season goes through some kind of transformation. People lose weight, gain confidence, and always learn something about themselves. They always say at the end that they never expected to go through such an amazing experience. And I’m sitting in my living room thinking “oh, you have no idea!”
At the beginning of the season, I like watching DWTS to see how many legitimate dance steps I can spot and to see if I can guess what critiques the judges will give. As the number of contestants shrinks, I watch for the growth and transformation. I love seeing contestants fight through their fears or insecurities and put it all out there on the dance floor. And as I already gave away by the title of this post, I often get teary-eyed.
But why? It’s a reality show, strictly for entertainment. Well, let me keep writing and see what I come up with.
Whenever I watch a dance performance, I always imagine myself in it. I get lost in the physical power and beauty and the pure emotion. The way a dancer becomes one with the music – I can feel a pull from inside myself, aiming me toward the dance. Leaving dance as a young child has always been my one regret, one that I work to make up for with ballroom. I was just too shy and too scared to reach for what I wanted. So maybe I cry from the memory of that regret as I watch others successfully reach past any fears or doubts for that mirrorball trophy.
Maybe I’m just jealous or feeling sorry for myself because I’m not getting to compete or perform. (Bring more cheese, we’ve still got plenty of whine!) I’ve written ad nauseam about how I need a goal to work toward. I miss that adrenalin rush of going all in on the dance floor at a competition and the anticipation and excitement of hearing my name called in the results. I miss that feeling of pride in myself and seeing the same sentiment in Teacher’s face. Every ballroom student wants to make their professional partner happy and proud of them. Sure, you can do that in the studio over time in your lessons, but it isn’t the same as that surge of pride that comes with a real performance.
I see the emotions that run across the faces of the DWTS contestants after they’ve danced and I recognize the joy, the exhilaration and the “holy cow, did I just do that?” I see the disappointment and determination to get it right next time after they get some negative feedback from the judges. I feel for them because I’ve been there! Well, not the feedback part. You don’t get critiques from each judge after your dances at regular ballroom competitions. But I understand the feeling when you work so hard and find out you still messed something up. Some of the tears must be happy tears and sympathy tears as I recall my own triumphs and struggles.
It seems that every time I think I conquer a fear, Life shows up and hands me a new one with a smile. “Oh, your fear glass is empty? Here, let me fill that up for you.” Just like with any dance performance, when I watch DWTS, I picture myself there, in the dance. But even though I know I can dance ballroom better than the contestants, I doubt I could do what they do. It’s that damn emotional expression. All that playing it up for the live audience and the cameras broadcasting to the entire country. Forget it. I can’t even play it up at the studio during a lesson when no one else is there! At least I manage to smile on the competition floor. I still want to be able to express. I still work to be able to produce that visible emotion that draws someone into the dance, just like it does for me when I’m part of the audience. But what if I never can? Maybe I cry for something I fear I’ll never be able to accomplish.
I think there are a few tears of frustration in there too. If I watch a waltz performance on DWTS and then watch my own, the DWTS one will look better or at least be more entertaining. Mine looks boring and amateurish. Despite the several years of hard work and tens of thousands of dollars that I’ve invested to try to release the beautiful and powerful dancer I have trapped inside me, the general public would prefer the “flash and trash” on this reality show. That’s the magic of television! Of course, I don’t dance for the general public, I dance for me. But I also want to dance for them because I crave that connection too. I want to be that dancer who inspires another shy girl to reach for something.
I wish I knew how to explain how much more there is to ballroom when people ask me “oh, like on DWTS?!” I worry that people inspired to try ballroom because of DWTS would be extremely disappointed during their first week in the studio. No dips, flips or crazy lifts to be found. Sorry!
No matter how “flash and trash” the dancing is, DWTS has had some inspirational contestants, my current favorite Nyle included. They serve as a reminder to keep pushing myself to let go of the fear. If they can go on live television and perform after only a few weeks of training, surely I can work up the nerve to express myself after over three years!
Maybe that’s what my goal should be. Work a little bit on my expression in every lesson until I can be playful or intense or romantic or whatever without cringing or shrinking into a ball of embarrassment. If those minor celebrities can do it, I can do it, right?? The answer is Yes!
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go hide in a closet for a few minutes.
*Featured image courtesy of abc.com