A Rough Start to a New Chapter

When I did my review of Embassy Ball, I wrote about feeling like I was starting a new chapter in my dance story. The path was unclear and scary, but also exciting. There was talk of exploring my dancer identity and honing my message. I started new boards on Pinterest, one for ballroom dress inspiration and another for attitude inspiration. My brain was buzzing with ideas and new motivation to uncover more of my true self in dancing as soon as Teacher returned from Nationals (which took place the week following Embassy).

Then Teacher returned from Nationals.

We spent a lot of our first lesson after his return talking about Embassy and goals moving forward. We chatted about the solo practice worksheet I put together with his input (Teacher liked the final product!). We also watched the videos I had from the competition. My ego had sorted itself out and, while I was still a little disappointed in my placement, I couldn’t deny that I did my best dancing at Embassy and it felt great.

The little dancing we did on that first lesson focused on bits of technique that Teacher felt we should refocus on. He said at the next lesson, he wanted to start with me dancing all four Smooth routines on my own so he could watch and see what else might need work. Fine with me! I had just experienced what I thought was my best performance at a competition. Dancing my routines at the studio on my own should be no problem.

The next lesson was nothing short of embarrassing.

Seriously. I feel like I owe everyone an apology for my epic fail.

Maybe it wasn’t an epic fail, but it felt pretty darn close. I couldn’t make it through a single routine.

How’s that for a rude awakening? I think I made it through at least half of each dance, but it wasn’t pretty. Teacher didn’t think it was as bad as I was making it out to be, but another teacher made the harsh observation that maybe I would’ve placed better than 5th at Embassy if I had known my choreo. Ouch. To be fair, he did preface his statement with “can I say something mean?” and I said “shoot.” Straight to the heart.

I got the point. If I had known my routines better, I would have felt even more confident at the comp. Having that extra confidence in my choreo combined with my improved technique would have made me feel more comfortable expressing and styling. It’s a good bet that the girls who beat me at the comp performed better in those areas. So who knows?

Teacher focused on the positives and moving forward as usual. He insisted what we were discovering was a good thing because now we could address it. I was still an excellent follower, which is why I didn’t falter at the comp. Now shoring up my choreo knowledge would help take me to the next level. We were moving into the next chapter; this was just the path we were taking to get there.

I didn’t buy it. I went home upset and frustrated. I felt like I let myself down, not to mention Teacher and everyone who supported me. I should know these routines! We’ve only competed with them THREE times this year!

Ok, I recognize I was being maybe a tad hard on myself, but this was feeding right into my demons’ hands. I felt like the fraud I was always afraid I would be revealed to be. I was supposed to be practicing. I should have been reviewing these routines until I knew them forwards and backwards. What the foxtrot have I been doing? Bullshitting my way through?

I recorded Teacher dancing my steps of each routine and spent over two hours working through each one last Sunday. By that point, I was just plain mad at myself. I wanted to give up a few times during my practice. I was fighting between wanting to prove I wasn’t a fraud and wanting to say ‘fuck it, I’m done with you’ to this girl who clearly didn’t put in the effort before so why should I keep trying to help her (her being me…I know, it’s confusing in my head when the demons get active). I completed my practice though and had a much stronger handle on the routines by the time I went home.

Wednesday was my next lesson. I could dance about 95% of everything on my own (Teacher claimed it was 98%). Huge improvement with just a couple hours of hard work. I was still mad at myself though because the next thing that was revealed was I didn’t know my timing for tango or foxtrot and a few places were fuzzy in waltz. We spent most of the lesson slowly going through the timing of foxtrot.

The demons were having a jolly ‘ol time. Steps and timing? Aren’t those things you learn when you first start dancing? It’s always good to review the basics, no matter how far you advance, but I was feeling more like I flunked out of the advanced class and got placed in a remedial one.

That brings us to today’s (Friday’s) lesson. Teacher had me dance through the routines on my own again to start us off. I still blanked on a few spots, but got through all four, more or less. Next up was tango timing and then we worked on leg action to finish. I was fighting myself the entire time. I couldn’t seem to let go of how disappointed I was in myself. I should have practiced more. I should have reviewed our routines more consistently. I shouldn’t have slacked off no matter what else was going on in my life. I shouldn’t be “wasting” lessons reviewing things I should have had down pat nine months ago.

Shoulda, coulda, woulda. The past is the past, and the solution to silencing my demons is obvious – practice! If I felt like I didn’t do enough before, then I should just start doing enough now. The hardest part is getting out of my own head and not beating myself up so much. Teacher and I have been focusing on other things, like my technique and performance quality. I’ve improved in those areas a lot. So it’s not like I haven’t been working.

If this is the new chapter, it’s off to a rough start. Teacher said to just think of this week as hell week. It was a grind and not fun at all, but I made it through. So now we can move forward. I’m not sure I’ve made it through yet, but maybe another couple hours of choreo review will help.

It’s funny timing that I should introduce the solo practice worksheet and find out the next week that I apparently need to be putting in more practice than I have been. At least I have a guide! I’m trying to shift my mindset and look at the bright side. I’m in the process of writing the full Solo Practice Guide and now I have even more motivation to put theories into action and find out what works and what doesn’t.

Another bright side – this chapter is just starting. The hero always emerges from the dark woods into sunlight at some point. I just gotta dance toward the light! With the correct timing, of course.


12 thoughts on “A Rough Start to a New Chapter

  1. BCBallroomdancer says:

    If it’s any help–you are not alone. I have been working on my gold routines since May. I have a moment where I blank at least once in each of them. I definitely cannot do tango with music and without ‘breaking’ between steps. Foxtrot timing is a demon all it’s own–I haven’t even tried to do it with the music yet and there are moments where my timing is definitely off (especially those slows!). In quickstep, we have now gone through the same sequence 4 times. I *might* be able to do it on my own now…if I finally retained it. I won’t even get into latin…
    You are not a slacker–you are progressing at a normal rate–at least compared with me!
    We all spend time focusing on different things and how our own ways of approaching what we do. Those approaches will change as we develop and evolve. Once upon a time (way back in the ‘bronze’ age), being able to do all the steps in all the routines in time with the music was my main personal practice goal. It was almost all that I did. I still wasn’t able to completely get to 100%. As I progressed and learned new routines, that became a little less important and I focused elsewhere.
    You’re right–its the beginning of a new chapter. Recognize its a change in priority. Change is usually hard–but it gets better 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Barbara says:

    I don’t know if this article and the most recent comment is helpful for me or just totally devastating! On one hand, it makes me realize our struggles with this dance journey are universal, which should help. But as I’m at only a bronze level in Tango and VW and silver in FT and Waltz, I think oh NO! If they’re still struggling with timing, why on earth am I attempting this? This is crazy! Yes, I know that’s how it works, but it is discouraging, isn’t it? But, I guess I will keep trying, as will all improve and reach some of our goals.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Natalie says:

    Dude, I know the feeling… I just shifted from doing Rhythm to Latin, because I had a mock competition and wanted to bring my dancing to the next level… It’s tough to go from “beautiful Cuban Motion” to “Why isn’t your leg straight, gurl?” – and even harder to switch which foot to start on… Thankfully, I’m still in Bronze, so I’m only rewiring a couple years worth of effort…

    The only thing I can think of is to do what I do… (though, for me, it won’t be pretending):

    When you drill the steps on your own, think about it like you have one lesson per week. You don’t want to waste that precious time doing review – so you have to really spend the time making sure you remember your steps, what you need to do, and that you’re putting everything into being your half of the partnership.

    It’ll get better – because as long as you’re passionate about what you’re doing, it doesn’t matter what Past You did or did not do. Past You not doing something actually helps Present You more than it would if Past You did it, because now you have a thing to focus on/think about. It’s better than having no idea what you can do to improve, because then the demons can make up all sorts of dumb lies to get under your skin.

    (This sounds a little hypocritical, but I can honestly tell you one thing: I have never uttered “I can’t” in a dance lesson – I’ll say “it’s going to be a challenge,” or some variant of that… but I have two great assets as a dancer that are probably also my biggest flaws: Unwavering belief in my own abilities to do things (which can be coupled with depression when I think I can’t do something I ought to) and my ability to be an absolute ham when dancing to draw people emotionally into the dance (which I totally use to disguise my technical flaws and mistakes. Hahahaha)

    Liked by 1 person

    • TheGirlWithTheTreeTattoo says:

      Thanks for the encouragement Natalie! Some weeks I do only get one lesson, so I’m always conscious of not “wasting” lesson time with review. That was partly why I was getting so mad at myself because the last two weeks were spent on review that should have been unnecessary. Only thing to do is move forward though!


      • Barbara says:

        I share many things with you, but level of dance and ability isn’t one of them, so I’ve got some basic questions here. When you say “practice”, where do you do that, and how do you do it? My lessons aren’t at an actual studio. Many art centers or other locations make their space available for instructors, and that’s where we have our lessons. I have cleared a space on my basement concrete floor (yes, I know, you don’t have to say anything), as that’s all I can do, and it’s better than nothing. Some figures I can use my kitchen floor, but our house has carpeting in the rest of it.

        I’ve done 3 comps, but they are smaller showcase type, not the full Dancesport state or national events. I’d hoping to try one next year. Thanks everyone! I may not dance like you, but I definitely share that passion for ballroom dance and want to improve.

        Liked by 1 person

        • TheGirlWithTheTreeTattoo says:

          My next Dance Diaries book is going to answer those exact questions Barbara! Did you see the solo practice worksheet? Here is the link: https://thegirlwiththetreetattoo.com/2017/09/08/your-solo-practice-guide-for-ballroom-dancing/
          That may give you some ideas and tips you can use. I do go to my dance studio to practice sometimes but I do a lot at home. I review choreo (a LOT recently) either by just walking through the steps, visualizing in my head or watching videos. I will also do technique drills that don’t require a lot of room. My apartment is mostly carpet so I just dance in bare feet or socks.
          I’m working on some videos to go with the practice worksheet and book so hopefully those will help too!


  4. Barbara says:

    Yes, I got it, but haven’t looked at it it. I’ve been dealing with an injury so I haven’t been able to dance. I’ve also used videos of our practice if I’m lucky enough to have another person that can do it. Otherwise I’ll just record my instructor. It’s nice that you can slow it down to frame by frame to get a good picture. Hmm, dancing on carpet, how do you avoid knee injuries? Or Puppy Attacks! Do you lock your dog up? (That’s not a question asked much is it? Mine will follow me around the house when I practice Fox Trot or Waltz.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • TheGirlWithTheTreeTattoo says:

      Oh I’m sorry to hear about your injury! I stay light on my feet on the carpet. No work on foot pressure and I don’t practice spins. The focus is usually on body action. My dogs used to jump up to try to dance with me, hahaha, but they’re getting used to it so they usually lay down and watch. Sometimes right where I’m trying to move, but then I get to practice floor craft! 😉


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