Once upon a time, there was a girl who wasn’t great at much. At least, that’s what she thought. She was decent at some things and pretty good at others. Above average at best. But never quite enough to stand out, reach the top, or be remembered. Then came ballroom.
Dancing brought the girl to life! She started competing and began taking home first and second places right away. People praised her for her beautiful dancing. Her fragile ego swelled and she felt pride. She worked hard to improve her dancing and continued to win. Then after being away from the competition circuit for over a year, the girl returned. Even though she had continued to work hard and improve her dancing, she could not maintain those high results. Each competition put her lower in the rankings. Her ego began to feel exposed and vulnerable. And confused. She was dancing better than ever and felt amazing while doing it! How could she be placing lower than before?
It is at this point in the story that we join the girl, as she and her ego sort out the new reality.
My third competition of 2017 has officially been completed! I still find it hard to believe that I pulled this off. Three competitions in one year?? Amazing. The week leading up to Embassy Ball had me feeling excited and ready to compete. It was weird to feel so positive, but a good weird.
I had two rounds of single dances in the day session and a scholarship round in the evening. The first round was a little shaky. The floor felt rough and uneven. I stumbled and stepped on my dress a couple times in waltz. We collided with another couple during the foxtrot. Still, for it being the first round of the day and having no warm-up with Teacher (he was busy competing with three other students), it went pretty well. I felt better knowing I would get another chance though. I knew I could do better.
I thought my results reflected the less-than-perfect performance too. For that first round, I placed 3rd, 3rd, 3rd and 2nd in waltz, tango, foxtrot and Viennese waltz. Not quite what I’m used to. Teacher was happy though; he said I haven’t come up against the high caliber of dancers that was there that day before and to still place in the top three meant I was holding my own. Ok, but I still wanted another shot. Teacher gave me a couple pointers to think about during the second round.
Strangely, the floor felt fine our second time out. I must have stepped on a rhinestone or something during the first round and that’s why I thought the floor was terrible. In any case, the second round felt amazing! I felt strong, balanced and expressive. I enjoyed myself! The results of the 2nd round were pretty much the same: 3rd, 3rd, 2nd and 2nd. I didn’t care as much as the first round though; I knew I danced my best and that is what mattered. Plus, I was still in the top 3.
By the way, I updated the Videos page with footage from the second round of single dances, if you’re interested.
I had several hours between my 2nd round of single dances and my scholarship, so I went home to see my puppies! I’m sure some of my neighbors looked at me twice when they saw me walking my dogs in full ballroom makeup and a string of rhinestones in my hair.
I texted Teacher on the way back to the hotel. He had been dancing on the floor with one student right after another, so we didn’t get a chance to talk about the single dance rounds or the upcoming scholarship round. I was feeling anxious and disconnected from my partner. I just wanted 5 minutes or so to reconnect and have a little pre-game chat. Teacher was more than willing to oblige and it literally only took about 5 minutes for me to feel better.
It was 5 minutes well spent too because the scholarship round was AWESOME! It was my best dancing of the day and probably my best dancing ever. I was in the zone and loving every moment.
I had the chance to be shaken at the beginning. The couples dancing in the scholarship were to line up in a back room and then we all filed out onto the dancefloor together. I was solo because Teacher was dancing the scholarship round right before mine. So there were 6 couples and then me lined up to walk out on the floor. I could have been intimidated, but, as I lined up with no one next to me, I thought to myself, “fuck it, own this shit.” Teacher commented later that I walked out on the floor by myself like a boss. Have to admit I was proud of myself for that.
I was on Cloud Nine after the scholarship round. It just felt so GOOD. I thought for sure I was in the top 3 again, but also prepared myself to get 4th. There were very good dancers whom I had not competed against before. I didn’t want to be caught unprepared and be disappointed. We finally lined up for the results of the scholarship rounds. I focused on my breathing while I waited to hear our names and number called.
“In 5th place, couple 128…”
I smiled big and walked up to accept my envelope and line up next to the 7th and 6th place couples. 5th? I focused on keeping my face looking happy and grateful, and not at all like I just got punched in the gut. I was confused and disappointed. I just danced the best I’ve ever danced and I placed even lower than in my single dances? Lower than I’ve EVER placed in my 3+ years of competition? What happened? What did I do wrong?
I didn’t do anything wrong. I did dance my best. It felt like an amazing performance and Teacher agreed. Our performance isn’t the only thing determining results though.
There are a hundred variables that are out of my control when it comes to judging, and therefore, the placements will not always reflect how well I danced. I know this, but this year, I’ve really come face to face with it.
At the three competitions I’ve done this year, Ballroom Beach Bash, Desert Classic, and Embassy Ball, my scholarship results were as follows: 2nd by Rule 11 (originally tied for 1st), 3rd, and 5th. I’ve dropped in ranking at each competition. BUT my dancing has improved dramatically at each one!
That conundrum can be hard to process. My demons were on it, of course. “You danced your best and you still weren’t good enough.” “Guess you’re a top dancer only when the ‘real’ top dancers aren’t around.” The problem isn’t in the processing; it’s the fact that I’m trying to correlate two things that don’t always correlate. Even though I know it’s not accurate to do so, my ego is connecting my results to how well I danced.
I had the chance to talk to Teacher about my feelings in the days following the comp. He set me straight. He reminded me that I was dancing against very strong girls and my look isn’t going to sit well with everyone. I was the one who decided to wear a dress that would show off my tattoo. Many of the judges at Embassy had not seen me before and were much more traditional. If they start out not liking how I look, any little mistake will be excuse enough to mark me down.
That’s another challenge of ballroom competition. You usually can’t get feedback about your results from the people who decided those results. It’s not like Dancing with the Stars! So who knows if four girls just danced better than me, or if the judges didn’t like my tattoo, or even if my tattoo distracted them and they looked at it more than they looked at my dancing. Then there is the nepotism possibility. Dancers from certain franchises can be favored by the judges also from those franchises. Maybe it was a combination of all of these things!
Unfortunately, there was no way to know and it made me feel frustrated and lost. I danced my best, so what do I do now? Where should my focus be? I didn’t know what my next move was, or if there was a next move. Luckily, that’s where Teacher comes in. He already had ideas on what we should work on next.
I feel like I’ve entered a new stage in my ballroom dancing. I’ve experienced what it’s like to swim in a bigger pond and it made me feel a lot smaller. But a bigger pond means more room to grow, right?
This adventure continues to deliver on its promises of twists, turns, scary drop-offs and impossible-looking climbs. If the path starts to feel manageable, it doesn’t stay that way for long.
My ego is still licking its wounds a bit. The direct hit to my pride caused me to lose a little faith in myself. I couldn’t help but question if my best just wasn’t good enough. Maybe I’ll never be good enough to be a champion. Maybe I’ve peaked.
My talks with Teacher helped give me some hope in the form of direction. There are still things to work on. I haven’t peaked yet.
The path ahead looks scary. I haven’t ventured this far before and I don’t have a clear idea of which way to go. Teacher will have to be my guide. He has already commented that we should do more exploring of my personality as a ballroom dancer. Styling, expression, and even my dress and hairstyle can be better honed and defined when we figure out who they represent. I’m obviously a ballroom dancer who is more interested in dancing than conforming to tradition, but my message isn’t clear on the dancefloor. I show off my tattoo, but I do it in a pink, sparkly dress. One projects edginess and rebellion while the other projects a soft sweetness. Mixed messages. I get it. The funny thing is, all of those things kinda sum me up.
My homework while Teacher is competing at USDC, aside from regular dance practice, is to think more about my message. Who am I as a dancer? Why do I dance? What story am I telling?
This thought exercise is a little nerve-wracking. I don’t like not having any set right and wrong answers. I also do not fall clearly in a predefined category or box. I’m not the ballroom dancer who looks and plays the part expected by tradition. I also do not want to be the ballroom dancer who rebels or creates conflict just for the sake of doing so. I have great respect for the ballroom world, including its traditions, but I won’t hide part of who I am simply for the sake of those traditions. My dancer identity lies in a gray area somewhere. It can be scary (or terrifying) to explore the depths of your own identity, but as an artist, in both dance and writing, I am also intrigued.
As always, I’ll keep you posted.