I had a lot of reasons to feel stressed leading up to Ballroom Beach Bash. We had worked on our Standard routines for only a couple weeks at most. Tango was basically self-taught because we got the choreography the week before the comp, and then I was at a conference for 5 days. Because of that, my last lesson with Teacher was an entire week before the competition. When I went to the studio after returning from my conference for one last solo practice, I could barely remember any of the Standard choreography I had worked on so hard every evening after my meetings were over. And Smooth? We hadn’t touched that style since we competed at The Royal Ball. I felt unprepared and I felt disconnected from Teacher after being away.
It turned out that the fears causing my stress were unfounded, mainly because I acted on them.
First, I reconnected with Teacher. It was disturbing to feel like I was going to a competition to dance by myself. Just a quick phone conversation to review the game plan for kicking butt was all I needed to feel like I wasn’t showing up on the dance floor alone.
Day 1 was Smooth day. I was planning to arrive at the comp a couple hours before I was scheduled to dance, so that left time for us to go through our Smooth routines and wake up that muscle memory. I felt nervous, but after seeing so many familiar faces around the ballroom and meeting another reader (shout out to Jesslyn!), the nerves were giving way to excitement. I was ready to get on the floor!
I was dancing three rounds – a round of single dances, a championship round, and a scholarship round. The first round of single dances was “ok.” Teacher had some notes for me. The championship round was MUCH better. That’s how I should be dancing! Awards were announced and I learned I won 1st place! Ok, so it was 1st place out of 2, but still.
Finally, we danced the scholarship round. This round is for the money, literally. It was going well until Foxtrot. I don’t know what happened. Maybe I mixed up my American with my International. Maybe I was tired. In any case, scholarship didn’t feel as good as the championship round. I kept apologizing to Teacher; I felt like I had let him down. When it was time to line up for the scholarship awards, I managed my expectations. There were 6 couples total. I thought maybe I landed 4th. I was relieved when others were announced for 5th and 6th and pleasantly surprised when someone else was also called for 4th. Cool, I got 3rd! But someone else was called for 3rd, and again for 2nd. Wait, what?!
Teacher was already hugging and congratulating me after they called another couple for 2nd place, but it didn’t fully register until I heard our names called for 1st. 1st! I was shocked and giddy at the same time. After they took a photo, we were asked for an interview (the comp was interviewing all of the winners). You can watch it here. Every time one of my readers tells me I helped or inspired them through my writing, I want to reach 10 more. So I fully admit I didn’t miss the opportunity to promote the blog and its message.
I want to give a shout-out to everyone who was in the ballroom and cheered for me, and/or congratulated me afterward. Also to those who commented on my posts throughout the day on Facebook. Thank you so much for your support and your friendship. When I felt disconnected and alone just the day before, it was incredible to receive so much from so many.
Winning that Smooth scholarship also made me feel redeemed in a way. After a disappointing comp season in 2017, I picked up my ego and got to work. You all know how much I doubled down on my solo practice. I was determined to come back in 2018 strong, and while placements certainly don’t mean everything, this one felt like a sign of redemption. I was back and better than ever!
On Day 2, I was still riding a small high from winning on Day 1. The day started with me getting up at 4am because I was dancing earlier than on Day 1. Unlike The Royal Ball, I actually slept through the night, so I woke up feeling good to go, except for a knot in my back but nothing a heating pad and some aspercreme couldn’t handle. I arrived at the comp a couple hours before my first round, so again, I had time to warm up and review things with Teacher. Our warmup didn’t go great. I kept forgetting steps and I wasn’t following well. I was full of nervous energy (literally jumping up and down at one point) and I tried to channel that into enthusiasm. I could do this!
The enthusiasm died down as my first heat drew closer. We were diving straight into Standard with my first dance being a Quickstep. Normally, the order is Waltz, Tango, Viennese Waltz, Foxtrot, Quickstep, but my Quickstep was grouped into a different round for some reason. So I danced Quickstep, had a brief break, and then danced the other four single dances in a row. I started to feel a little sick in the on-deck area while I waited for that first heat to be called.
Oh boy, those single dances were a little messy. I messed up the steps in every dance, except Viennese which is just reverse turns, change steps and natural turns. I was apologizing to Teacher after every bow. Even in Viennese, I couldn’t get my frame right so my neck felt strained. It was cramping to the point I was praying for the song to end. Still, for my very first time competing in Standard, a couple mistakes per dance isn’t too bad! My concern was how could I improve for the next round?
Teacher said the problem was I wasn’t connecting to him to allow him to lead me through the steps I didn’t know. I either needed to have the routines memorized or I needed to stop trying to remember the next step and just let him lead it. Well, I wasn’t going to memorize the routines any better in the hour we had until the championship round. But I also didn’t know how to turn my brain off. The foundation of my confidence is in knowing my steps, so if I didn’t know my steps, what was I left with?
I’m getting better at taking action to get myself out of these little freak-outs. Teacher kept emphasizing the connection was lacking, so in the break we had, we focused on that. I was still nervous, but didn’t feel sick walking out for the championship round. And huzzah, it felt better!
The scholarship round felt better still, despite the fact that my neck kept cramping up from my attempts to extend my head. Even while I’m writing this, my neck still feels stiff and sore. Thank goodness for my microwavable neck pillow!
Awards time came and again, I wasn’t expecting much out of the scholarship round. It was my first time after all! I was happy that each round felt better than the one before it, and since there were only 3 couples in the scholarship round, I still would be taking home some money! I lost my composure when someone else was called for 3rd place. I couldn’t help but turn to Teacher with my mouth hanging open in shock. We placed 2nd!
Even though it didn’t go as smoothly as Smooth day, I would say my debut in Standard was a success. Some things definitely need improving before the next comp (Emerald Ball in just a few weeks!), but I feel like I came out and held my own.
I give credit to those who compete in multiple styles. My body was sore by the end of Day 2, especially my neck! Strengthening my frame below the neck is going to be a priority for me. I hated that feeling of my neck seizing up in the middle of my dancing. I couldn’t enjoy myself! I carry so much tension in my neck to begin with, so it’s primed to cramp up when the muscles are engaged. If I improve the support my body provides below the neck, it won’t need to engage as much. At least that’s my theory.
I can’t believe I’m scheduled to compete again in a few weeks. My tax refund is dwindling fast! It’s ok though, I’m spending that money doing what I love! It’s going to be spent after Emerald though, and I already have another comp in mind. Time to put on my financial wizard hat!