As promised, I’m returning to share the details of my first post-Beach Bash lesson and my plans for what’s next. I would have normally had my lesson on Friday, the day after we competed (no, I wasn’t going to take the day off), but Teacher asked if I would move to Saturday so he could fit in other students’ lessons he had to cancel on Thursday. No problem, I’ve been there! So I took the opportunity on Friday to go out to a celebratory dinner instead (if I have to take a break, it may as well include delicious food!).
With the celebrating over, I was ready to get back to work. And fighting some demons. The post-comp blues were starting to kick in on Saturday and that meant my focus was turning to the mistakes I made and doubts that I’d ever be able to correct them.
I found myself wavering between a determination to work even harder than I have been and a fear that no matter how hard I worked, I wouldn’t improve. It sounds ridiculous and even Teacher couldn’t help but laugh when I verbalized it, but I have this fear that won’t stop poking me that I’m reaching my “peak.”
There is some evidence, however weak, to support my fear. The main things that I need to work on, i.e. keeping my chest up and forward, and my arm styling, are the things I’ve been working on for the 3+ years I’ve been dancing with Teacher. Over three years, and I still can’t get them right! It’s frustrating because I expect perfection from myself. It’s also frustrating because the main reason I can’t get these things right is my fear and lack of confidence.
Fittingly, Francisco Gella posted this on Facebook on Saturday:
The power is always in the performance not in the award. In the end, if you are taking a dance to compete – whether ballet or contemporary or whatever – it is in the end STILL a performance. The primary purpose of a performance is to create memories and to allow others to feel something deeply. So don’t hold back. Don’t choose perfection over impact. Take a risk. Go big.
My chest caves and my arms look stiff because I’m afraid. I’m afraid to take a risk and go big. Not just a little afraid or uncomfortable. Anxiety-attack afraid. Teacher wanted me to dance the shadow part of our waltz on Saturday, while expressing (or trying to express) joy through my face and arm styling, because that was the emotion I came up with when asked to associate the movement with a feeling. Despite my assertion that the beginning arm styling in my shadow movement was supposed to project joy, I immediately started having chest pains and had to blink back the beginnings of tears.
No matter how many high placements I bring home or how many people praise my dancing, I still have trouble believing I’m good enough. Ok, yes, I’m a “good” dancer. But good is a relative term. A good beginner dancer is not the same as a good advanced dancer. Just because I was good, or even great, at the bronze level, does not mean I’m good or great at the silver level. Ok, yes, I’ve done well at my two silver comps. I don’t plan on stopping at silver though. I want to move into Open. I want to find an amateur partner to compete with too, even compete professionally.
I know the higher up in level I go, the harder it will be. What I’m afraid of is that I won’t be good enough to make it as far as I want to go. My fear is what holds me back, and even though I seem to be able to succeed anyway, at some point, it won’t be enough. I will reach a point when the only way I can grow as a dancer is to take the risk, let go of the fear and go big. So I’m stuck in this repeating loop of being afraid that I won’t be able to let go of the fear in order to become the dancer I want to be. I’m afraid I’ll be too afraid. It’s fun inside my head, right?!
Of course, I’ll always at least try, even if I have to push through an anxiety attack to do it. I danced the shadow portion of the waltz on Saturday and tried to think about how happy dancing makes me when I’m not so afraid. Teacher said I was already looking better.
Looking back over the 3+ years with Teacher, it’s true that I still need to be reminded about keeping my chest up. It’s also true that the number of times I need to be reminded is fewer. My overall frame has improved. My arm styling has improved. I’m dancing silver-level choreography instead of bronze. I have become a better dancer! All of that improvement came despite the fear that still follows me around like a stalker.
Anxiety gets worse when I can’t do anything, like when I have to just sit around and wait for something. So I’ve decided to change up the way I train and give it more structure. My practice time is currently very loose and flexible. I’ll do little bits nearly every day, in between other tasks, and less often, I’ll set aside a larger chunk of time to practice the full dances. I also get to my lessons early so I can practice before we begin.
I don’t think it’s going to be enough to reach the next level and break these fear chains though. I’ve overcome fears to this point through repetition. I keep forcing myself to do something until I build up a tolerance to whatever is triggering anxiety. Then the anxiety isn’t triggered anymore. If you’re in a room full of inflated balloons and someone with a needle, you might jump at the sound of the first balloon being popped. But after awhile, you get used to the loud, sudden pop and it doesn’t bother you as much.
That’s what I need to do. I need to keep exposing myself to anxiety triggers until they don’t bother me. I’ll need Teacher’s help, which means I also need to work harder to drill those technique mistakes out of my body, so we don’t need to keep focusing on them. The other reason my chest caves is I start focusing on something else and my body forgets. The muscle memory isn’t strong enough. Repetition will help me there too.
The next competition goal is the Desert Classic in July. We might even do Smooth and Rhythm, if all the stars align properly. I have a LOT of work to do if I want to be ready to compete in nine dances. I’m not sure yet if it’s feasible, since I can still only afford two lessons a week no matter how lofty my goals are. Teacher and I are still figuring that out. No matter what we decide – one style or two – my plan is to create a solo practice schedule, one that is actually written down. That way, I’ll know what to work on each day, like choreo or technique drills or styling work, and I’ll be able to keep myself more accountable by tracking what I actually complete. Then Teacher and I can work on bigger picture things during the few lessons we have.
I sense that I’m turning a corner in my journey. The road is going to get a little steeper and rockier. If I worked hard before, now is the time to amp it up. If this was Lord of the Rings, it would be the transition from the Fellowship of the Ring to the Two Towers. Tighten the belt again and adjust the straps of your pack. It’s all uphill from here!