I thought this post would be coming out next week, but the wait ended early. If you’ve been following along, you know Teacher and I set a go/no-go date by which we would do a final assessment of our Open routines and decide if they would be ready to debut at Desert Classic. I was determined to get them ready, as I’ve grown weary of sitting on the sidelines since my last competition at the end of August. But as Treebeard liked to say, don’t be hasty. Being determined is one thing. Actually being ready is another.
To keep you from shivering too much from anticipation, I’ll just come out with it.
(Bonus points to those who can name the movie references.)
I won’t be competing at Desert Classic.
The fact of the matter is the routines aren’t quite ready. Especially Viennese since we’ve barely touched it since it was first choreographed.
Put mildly, I’m disappointed. Put more honestly, I’m heartbroken. I really believed I’d be able to reach this goal and to be presented a checklist of how I’ve fallen short is disheartening. I feel like I let myself, Teacher and all of you down. I’m the Girl who overcomes all obstacles on her journey to achieving her dreams, right?! Limited private lessons, knee injuries, financial shortages – none of it should have stopped me. But it did this time.
Teacher and I spent most of Wednesday’s lesson talking about whether I was ready or not. I threw in a few mini tantrums for good measure. Even though I knew he was right in his points about the level the routines were presently at and where they needed to be in order to make a good showing at the Open level, I didn’t want to listen because all of the demons were waking up.
If you’ve followed me for awhile, you know I have an issue with being “enough.” One of the oldest demons in my brain is fueled by the thought that I am not good enough and therefore don’t belong where I want to belong. I don’t have enough money, I’m not pretty enough, I’m not feminine enough, I’m not flexible enough, I’m not extroverted enough, I don’t conform enough…all of these have threatened my sense of belonging in the ballroom world.
To date, I’ve proven these ideas to be false. Year after year, I’ve found one way or another to pay for competitions. I’ve proven that you can be yourself and win a World title. I’ve built my business around this idea of staying true to yourself and doing the work, and you’ll succeed. You don’t have to be perfect. You just have to be you.
Well, I’ve been me. I showed up and did the work. I worked so hard to get my body leaner and stronger for Open that I woke up the chondromalasia in my knees that hadn’t said a peep in years. I did my best to balance rest and dance training. Some days, I limped out of the studio, and others, I would stay home instead of going to practice because just walking the dogs was making me hobble. I even signed up for a 90-day program to get my nutrition on point while my knees were healing. My bank account was getting skinny faster than I was, but it would all be worth it when I got to step onto that competition floor again.
I did my best and it wasn’t good enough. That’s what echoed in my head while Teacher tried to explain to me the higher standards and expectations that came with competing in Open. It brought back memories of Embassy Ball 2017 where I thought I had danced my best and placed my worst in my competitive career. I had found my gaps and corrected them, returning to win the World title in 2018.
But the gaps were in my training. My solo practice was unfocused. This time, the “gaps” are my two bad knees. In the lessons and practices I did go to, I was physically limited. I had to mark my steps or go easy in any moves requiring me to lunge or put all of my weight on one bent leg (which are almost all of the moves, of course). My full-out versions of the routines are lacking because I haven’t been able to dance them full out. Even though I know blaming myself for not being able to fully function while injured doesn’t make sense, it feels like my fault anyway.
Embassy Ball is coming up again in a couple months. I really didn’t want it to be my first Open event, but Teacher believes we’ll be more properly prepared by then. Plus it’s local, so it’s silly to skip just because I wanted to be able to do at least one comp before that one. If I compete there, it will be a full year between competitions. That, to be frank, sucks.
My level of frustration peaked this past week, so much so that I cancelled my Friday lesson. I was still too upset to be able to focus, so why waste a lesson? It’s difficult to describe what this frustration feels like, but I’m pretty sure everyone’s experienced it at some point. You do everything you’re supposed to and it still doesn’t work out. You used to be capable of something, but now you’re not for reasons out of your control. You’re told you can become capable again, but have no idea when that will be. You only know when you’ve set yourself back from pushing too hard past a limit that didn’t used to register as a limit.
You know the insult added to these injuries? They’re only bad enough to keep me from what I love doing. I can still go to work, shop for groceries, and clean my kitchen. I just can’t dance.
I’m working really hard to feel gratitude that my knees aren’t worse and the injuries didn’t require surgery, which would have delayed my return to the competition floor even more. It hasn’t quite broken through yet. In a twisted way, I almost think it would have been easier to handle if I did require surgery. Then at least, there would have been a clearer cutoff from dance. With damaged cartilage that would calm down one week and flare up the next, I was just slowed down. I was still dancing to some extent, and so I let myself believe I could still do what I set out to do, as if I was completely healthy.
I took this weekend to rest both my mind and my body. My knees flared up during a long walk with my dogs, but I needed to get out with them for some time in nature (as much as we can get in our little city parks). I haven’t come around to the idea that Embassy is now the next goal, but maybe publishing this post will help. I have a lot of self-blame, guilt and resentment to let go of as well. There’s so much of it that I’m assuming it was building up behind a wall of denial long before Teacher and I discussed whether I was really ready to compete last week.
This sucks, guys, it really does. And I feel compelled to say I’m sorry for letting anyone down who was excited to see me compete again. The consolation prize is I’m still going to Desert to spectate. I know a bunch of you are going to be there to compete and I’m honestly excited to cheer you on! I had so much fun cheering you on at California Open in February. I think it’ll be a great way for me to not focus on myself and support my fellow dancers. I know you all have your own obstacles and I’m so proud of every one of you for not giving up and working your way past each one.
I’ll be honest, I spent some of this weekend wondering if I was still cut out for this. Maybe Silver was as good as I was going to be. If Open was only going to bring more pressure to be others’ version of perfect and the resulting devastation every time I didn’t meet those standards, maybe I didn’t have it in me to be a great dancer, only a good syllabus dancer. Maybe my body was trying to tell me something.
I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, and I certainly didn’t take into account the added challenge of my knee issues or only having one lesson per week. If it was anyone else telling me this story, I would start to get exasperated and finally exclaim, “give yourself a break! You’re only human!”
Isn’t it funny how easily we give grace to others for being human, but rarely to ourselves? Are we all actually aliens masquerading as human, giving each other grace because we think we’re the only superhumans? Although I joke that I’m part Vulcan, I have to accept that I am in fact human. So I’m not going to give up, but I will try to give myself a break.
I’m not sure what that’s going to look like yet. I can’t slow down that much on training if I’m actually going to enter Embassy! Teacher suggested doing more non-dancing solo practices instead of putting pressure on myself to get into the studio every weekend. I guess I’ll start there.