I’ve officially made it back to the competition floor after an entire year and debuted at the Open level in Smooth! It was quite a day at Embassy Ball, full of emotions high and low.
After an anxiety-filled final lesson on Tuesday, it was all I could do to barely focus at work on Wednesday. I planned my week so I would be able to take it easy Wednesday evening. Thursday was the big day.
I didn’t get to bed as early as I wanted, but I actually slept through the night on Wednesday. The night before a big event, I often dream that I’ve overslept and wake myself up several times. Not this time!
I felt pretty good on Thursday morning, a little nervous but mostly excited. I got up around 6am, early enough to be able to take my time doing my hair, taking care of the dogs, eating breakfast, etc. before I had to leave for my makeup appointment at 9am. Even though I was wearing gloves as part of my costume, I kept with my normal comp morning routine and painted my nails while livestreaming on Facebook.
It was going to be a long day. I was only dancing two rounds – a single dance round scheduled for 12:46pm and the Open A scholarship round scheduled for 9:21pm. I lived only about 20 minutes from the hotel luckily, so I would be able to go home in between to chill and take the dogs out again.
I remained feeling excited and eager to dance all the way through my makeup appointment and most of the time leading up to my first round. A few butterflies started up about an hour before my scheduled dance time, but nothing unexpected. As I stood in the on-deck area with Teacher, I was nervous but happy. I was finally getting back on the floor! I was finally getting to compete again!
We walked out on the floor and it was like coming home. I was back where I belonged!
I felt wonderful during that first round. It was far from perfect, but I was enjoying every moment. It was livestreamed as well, if you’d like to take a look. Teacher had some immediate corrections, which poked a few holes in my happy bubble, but he was still proud of my performance and I was definitely proud.
They skipped announcing the single dance awards, which bummed me out a little. I know it takes extra time, but I like hearing my name called and going up to collect my stickers or coupons! There was a table set up outside the ballroom instead where you could find out your results. I waited until mine were available before heading home.
Out of the three couples in my single dance round, I placed 2nd in Waltz and Tango and 3rd in Foxtrot and Viennese.
No one wants to find out they got last place, but given it was my first time ever competing in Open and my first time competing at all in a year, I was still really proud of my performance. I made sure to get my stickers.
I went home to walk the dogs, eat some food and rest before I returned to dance the semifinal of the Open A scholarship. I also iced my knees and put a heating pad on my back. My knees held up well during my dancing, but as I headed home, I could feel them start to ache. At the same time, my back was feeling tight. So I took all the necessary precautions!
Even though I wasn’t dancing until close to 9:30pm, I returned to the hotel around 6:30 to watch some of Teacher’s other students dance their scholarship rounds. I don’t know if it was because the ballroom was more crowded or because too much time had passed since my high on the dance floor or something else, but my mood dropped like it had just climbed over the first hill of a roller coaster. I sat by myself to watch the others dance to give myself space from the crowds.
The blues were making room for more nerves. Once Teacher was done with his other students and it was my turn, I remembered to ask for support again. Doubts were running rampant through my head.
There were 14 couples total in the semifinal of the scholarship. I checked in on Instagram while I was at home and commented that I decided to think of Teacher and myself as the 14th couple, the lucky ones, like Bilbo was for Thorin’s company of dwarves in the Hobbit.
Still, I was distracted with worries over unknowns. What were the others like? Would I be able to hold my own? I also worried about what Teacher would think if I didn’t make it past the semifinal. Would he still be proud of me, or would he be disappointed?
I was open about my worries with Teacher, and because of that, he was able to reassure me that he was already proud of me and would be proud no matter how we placed. I try not to care about the opinions of others and just stay true to myself and my own journey. The one major exception is my teacher’s opinion. I think almost any student would agree that we dance for ourselves, but the last thing we’d want to do is disappoint our teachers.
The time finally came for our scholarship. I held Teacher’s hand and talked to myself, repeating an affirmation statement, as the group before us danced their Viennese (their final dance).
I took a deep breath, picked up my chest and put on my best smile as we walked out on the floor. Fourteen couples were a lot to be on the floor all at once. It felt crowded and even as we selected a spot to start our waltz, two couples were already in our path. I was determined to dance my best and walk off the floor proud of my first go at Open.
The round went pretty well, though due to the nerves, I felt better in the single dances. Still, I knew I danced my best, despite forgetting some choreography and losing my balance in spots. At the end of the round, Teacher again said he was proud of me.
We didn’t make the final. I was trying to hold onto hope that maybe we’d squeak by and I’d get one more chance to perform. No such luck. I realized later that most of the compliments I was getting from people who watched also included comments about how tough the competition in my division was, a good sign that the people who cared about me were trying to prepare/protect me from disappointment they suspected was coming.
Of course, I was disappointed. At the same time, I knew I didn’t have anything real to be disappointed about. I went out there and did it. I danced at the Open level for the first time at one of the toughest competitions of the year and in the largest group I’ve ever competed against. It was kind of like diving into shark-infested waters to try swimming for the first time. I was proud of myself and happy to be back as a competitor.
I ordered video of my scholarship and couldn’t help but watch it as soon as I got home late Thursday night. While I was still carrying that disappointment, I could clearly see why I didn’t make the final. Watching the video, I still think I danced well, but I lacked the confidence and quality the other dancers had. It’s that quality that only comes with experience. I was the obvious rookie on the floor. I didn’t draw much attention from the judges either, at least when they were in view on the video.
What does all this mean for me and my dancing? Simply that I have more work to do! Embassy was only the first competition. Moving up to Open, I essentially became a beginner again, like I graduated high school and started as a new freshman in college.
This is not a bad thing.
Moving up to the next level in competition has to be one of the hardest things to do on our dance journeys because it is like having to start over again. I went from winning a World Champion title to getting only one recall for each of my dances in the semifinal (two for waltz actually). This is only the beginning though. You can’t expect to graduate college on your first day. You have to go through the process of learning and growing first. I also can’t expect to get much attention when I’ve been gone for a year. Last year, when I won the title, Embassy Ball was my 5th competition of the year.
Even though I’ve been working on Open for a year, this is really the beginning. I could let my ego throw a fit about an entire year of hard work meaning nothing if I can’t even make it out of a semifinal. But honestly, I don’t feel the urge. Most of the year, I was only working with Teacher once a week for 45 minutes. Then I injured my knees and lost practice time, both with Teacher and solo. Without feeling bad about it, when I watch my videos, I can see how much more work I need to do to develop the quality that the other dancers showed on the floor. Frankly, for where I’m at, it took a lot of courage to show up and dance with them!
I wish I could have pulled off some “rookie of the year” miracle and make it into the final and even onto the podium. I was competing in closed Silver for two years though, before I won the title. So why would I expect my debut in Open to go any other way than it did?
It went just as it should have. I felt great about getting back on the floor. I was proud of the performance I gave and felt I danced my best. What more can I ask for as a first-timer?
Teacher is off to Florida next week for Nationals (hopefully sans hurricane), so I have some time to recover and process. My knees were sore on Friday, but not awful – maybe a 4 to light 5 on the pain scale. I was also exhausted because I didn’t get to bed until about 12:30am Friday morning and then had to get up at 5am for work. It’s always weird returning to the day job after a competition. People are just going about their day like I didn’t just do something incredibly difficult and amazing.
My mood is still low. A big part of it is just me coming down from the competition high. I’ve written about post-comp blues before. Being out of the game so long, I’m not surprised that they’re hitting me pretty hard. At least it’s a long weekend, so I have extra time to chill at home with my fur babies.
I don’t know when I’ll compete next. I was hoping to do another local competition in October, but dance funds have run dry. I’ll be returning to one lesson a week when Teacher gets back from Nationals until I can recover financially.
In the meantime, it will be me and my friend, The Solo Practice Guide for Ballroom Dancing, working on our own. I have some ideas about incorporating more fitness-focused practice sessions to improve my balance and coordination through the trickier, Open-level moves. That’s the thing I love about the Solo Practice Guide – I can adapt its strategies to whatever I need to accomplish in my solo practice.
The Open chapter of my dance journey has officially begun! Lots of work to do on the road ahead, which looks more like a mountainside to me at the moment than a path, but maybe that’s just because I’m looking at it from a distance. Maybe it will flatten out as I move along. We’ll find out, won’t we?
By the way, if you want to watch the semifinal round: