I was at a dance lesson a little over a week ago, and Teacher was talking about some of the more intricate details of our open Waltz routine. These were the details that add another layer of quality and performance to the dance.
It had nothing to do with making steps fancier or more complicated. It was about activating the body in the right way at the right time to demonstrate control and awareness. Adding an extra little tick here or extending a stretch a second longer there would also demonstrate musicality and my ability to “play” within the confines of the choreography.
As he talked about one section, I thought of other sections where I knew I could go further, push deeper, or do more to create something that would make the audience go “wow.” This kind of talk excites me. It’s a deep dive into the art of the dance and gives me more opportunity to work my creative muscles.
At the same time though, as I pictured myself adding those intricate layers to my dancing, I felt a twang, like anxiety plucked one of my heartstrings.
I was excited and eager to add the kind of details to my dancing that make me sit on the edge of my seat when I watch a professional performance. And yet, I felt this small but urgent impulse to go back. Go back to silver. Go back to the closed levels. Go back to where everything was more defined and safe.
The impulse was like an urgent whisper out of the shadows. But it was gone as quickly as it came, so I was left with this vague uneasy feeling, peering into the darkness wondering if I actually heard anything. I pushed the feeling aside to focus on my eagerness to learn how to uplevel my dancing in the way Teacher was describing. Later, I figured out what it was and why it popped up.
At some point on their journey (or multiple points, or just always), every artist feels doubt or that feeling of “uh, can I really pull this off?”, whether they’re amateur or professional, super famous or “who?”. As adult ballroom students, I think we come into this experience with some preconceptions that protect us a bit from our doubts (not completely, of course, we all know how often we doubt ourselves!). We didn’t start learning ballroom when we were 4, in fact it was way past the typical age of retirement for a dancer before we ever set foot in a ballroom studio. We don’t have parents setting up partner try-outs for us or reminding us to practice. We don’t have the resources to quit our full-time jobs and train in dancing all day. We compete when we can afford to pay our teachers to compete with us.
So while we’ll work hard to become the best dancers we can be because dancing is what we love to do, we just know that our best will never compare to the best of others who started earlier, train more often, and have more resources. We’ll always fall short when compared to those dancers, and it’s ok because this is our passion and hobby. It’s not like we’re trying to make a career out of it. We knew from the start it was too late for dreams like that. We’re here because we love dancing, and that’s all.
The urgent, sudden whisper that briefly disrupted my thoughts on that dance lesson was my self-doubt, of course. It was triggered because that protective “truth” I accepted at the beginning of my ballroom journey was being challenged. Here we were, working on Open-level routines, which is the highest level you can compete at, whether you’re a professional, amateur or pro-am student. The details and added quality that Teacher was describing were the things that I admire in a performance. Like I said, those are the moments that have me on the edge of my seat. I was being told that I could do these things. I had the ability to bring what I considered professional-level quality to my dancing.
Wait, what? Noooo, I haven’t been dancing all of my life and I only have time to put in a good long practice once a week. I’m about to turn 36. I can’t do a split. I sit in a cubicle five days a week. I didn’t go to school for dance. I’m just a student. An adult student past her dancing prime. Obviously, I shouldn’t be aiming so high.
My answer to my doubt’s ramblings was “why not?” There are a ton of student dancers, younger and older than me, who compete beautifully at the Open level. Why not me? Why is it so hard to believe that I could make my body move like the dancers I admire? I do the work. I have the passion and commitment. Why not me?
The lingering doubt that whispered out of the shadows is rooted in a comparison. My journey doesn’t look like the journey of the dancer I admire, so how can I expect my outcome to be similar?
It was revealing because the thought that I was getting closer to dancing at a level that I have admired was actually scary. Throughout my entire life, I’ve watched dance performances and wanted to be a part of them. So much so that my body would literally lean forward in an effort to be closer to the performance. I wouldn’t realize it until I became conscious of my back aching from the awkward posture. I wished so much to be a dancer, but my doubt and fear were stronger and kept me from taking action. Until ballroom, of course.
It was always a fantasy. I wanted to be that ballerina or that hip hop dancer, but at the same time, knew it was just a fantasy. It would never actually happen. Well yeah, because I didn’t actually do anything about it.
With ballroom, I did do something about it. Still, that doubt lingered, protecting and reassuring my ego that it was too late to make anything of myself that would come close to the fantasies I lived with. So go dance and have fun exploring and growing, but don’t worry about meeting that fantasy. It’ll never happen.
That discussion about those intricate details and adding that extra level of quality to my dancing was one step closer to the fantasy than my ego was prepared for. So the doubt was triggered to pull me back.
I realize that no matter how much I build my confidence, I’ll always have those doubts lingering in the background. The ones that whisper, “Are you sure? We haven’t gone this far before. Maybe we should turn back.” They’re a natural reaction to a new challenge. As I keep training and growing, the point won’t be to eradicate those doubts completely. The point will be to keep pushing forward and digging deep, despite those doubts.
I want to encourage everyone to let go of the preconceptions we came into the studio with, like we’re too old or we started dancing too late. Yes, we started older and later than the dancers we admire and that creates additional challenges for us. But ultimately it doesn’t matter, or rather it shouldn’t matter. Our age or when we started dancing doesn’t need to factor into our decisions about our dance journey. We can go as far as we want. We can dream as big as we want to dream. It doesn’t matter when we started; it matters when we decide to stop.
Oh, now you know I’m making a meme out of that last line. 😉
I hope you all have a great week, dancers! If this post inspired you, please like and share it.