Countdown to CalOpen 2020: 2.5 Weeks – The limit does not exist.

It’s only been a week since I competed at the Fred Astaire West Coast Dance Championships and I’m already counting down the final weeks until I do it again! I haven’t even put everything away from the last comp (I’m terrible about unpacking). Is this really happening?

Yep, sure is! Seems like the universe heard me loud and clear when I declared my intentions to dance more in 2020. Not only am I competing again in 2.5 weeks, I’ve already booked my hotel for my third competition in April!

Things are coming together financially too, thankfully. They’re coming together one entry fee at a time, but I find that repeating those small steps can get me pretty far. It also helps to keep me from getting overwhelmed by jumping too far ahead in my planning. I just need to worry about the next two or three steps, not the next 100.

It’s a weird feeling for me to have competitions so close together that I’m having to make plans for more than one at a time. The frequency at which I compete has been erratic at best:

  • 2014 – I did 2 competitions.
  • 2015 – 2
  • 2016 – 1
  • 2017 – 3
  • 2018 – 5
  • 2019 – 1

I’m not exactly earning any frequent competitor points over here. But what’s frequent anyway? I know many dancers have their one competition they enter every year and that’s it. Others do as many events in one year that I’ve done in the last six.

If you’ve followed me for any significant length of time, you know my position on this issue – it doesn’t matter how few or many competitions others enter. It doesn’t help or hurt you, so it’s best to focus on your own journey. Sometimes those other journeys are hard to ignore though, and they can make you feel limited in your own journey.

I’ve questioned myself over and over again this month about my 2020 competition goals. What business do I have setting a goal of 5 competitions this year? It’s actually turned into 7, as the Fred Astaire comp and SF Open aren’t included in my 5. Who the heck do I think I am, living paycheck to paycheck, and working nights and weekends to grow a business around my writing and dancing, to consider it a possibility of competing 7 times in a year? I have too many limits between finances, physical condition, time, energy…

But what if instead of thinking I’m limited, I think of these factors as challenges created by the rules of the game I’m playing.

Do you remember Oregon Trail? All sorts of things could go wrong in that game. You could starve, you could lose all of your stuff trying to cross a river, and anyone could come down with dysentery at any moment. But you didn’t quit. Even if everyone died, you just started over and tried again.

Oregon Trail was full of calculated risks. Do you pay for the ferry or try to cross the river yourself? Do you rest or keep moving? Do you keep trying to shoot squirrels or do you move on and hope there is better hunting down the trail?

If my dance journey is like the Oregon Trail, then my “limits” are just challenges built into my personal version of the game. If they are just challenges, then they can be overcome or circumvented. You have to be creative within the rules of the game.

This creativity within structure idea is one aspect of ballroom that really appeals to me. I love the foundation of predefined steps, timing and technique on which I can build my own artistic expressions. I like the challenge of figuring out how to express who I am as a dancer within a set of rules.

Thinking of everything that makes me halt or stumble on my journey as a challenge that can be overcome with the right amount of effort encourages me to not give up. Perfect example is this past week’s lessons. In the first lesson on Wednesday, which was also the first post-comp lesson, Teacher wanted to move past knowing the timing of my steps to knowing the timing of my body movement.

It doesn’t sound too complicated when I write it down like that, but let me tell you, my brain was either going to explode or melt out of my ears. For some reason, every angle or twist of the body that Teacher suggested was the exact opposite of what I first thought. But of course, when I tried it his way, it felt right. So I was struck with this suspicion that all of my instincts were wrong. How could I express myself as a dancer when I couldn’t even figure out which side was leading when?

I’ve lost count of the times I’ve felt like I hit a wall that I couldn’t get past. “This is it,” I would think. “This is the limit of my dance abilities.”

But every time (at least so far!), I’ve been able to get past what I thought was my limit. So I told my brain to chill and give itself a chance to digest this additional tweak to my dancing matrix. This was just another challenge, not a sign I’ve peaked.

On my second lesson on Friday, I came to the studio feeling out of sorts. I was stuck in my head with too many thoughts. So I requested that we start our lesson with a warm-up dance together. I let Teacher pick the dance. I didn’t care what it was, it didn’t even have to be Smooth. I just knew I needed to get out of my head and into my body if I was going to continue working on this latest challenge.

Teacher chose a Rumba, which suited me fine because it took away pressure to do things “right” in a dance we’ve been training in. The warm-up worked. I was able to feel my body, quiet my mind, and enjoy the dance.

The effect carried through the rest of the lesson. Teacher was impressed with my hip action and showed me how it can be translated in the Smooth dances. I started to hear those coveted clicks in my head as things came together. I was understanding what threatened to melt my brain just a couple days before!

So another challenge starts to be conquered. While I have plenty more work to do before I completely transfer it to the conquered list, it feels good to be reminded again that I haven’t peaked as a dancer and I have yet to reach any true limits.

A bit of straight talk before I sign off. I know many of you deal with financial challenges like I do. We can’t pretend like our resources have no limits and throw money at every competition or dress shop that comes our way. And yes, it sucks to see other dancers in much better financial situations do what seems to be beyond our limits.

First, those other dancers’ financial situations don’t matter. How much money they have or don’t have does not affect you. Keep reminding yourself that so you don’t make yourself feel bad! Second, maybe you think it’s nonsense to consider your dance journey a game like the Oregon Trail with built-in rules and challenges that you can overcome by just getting creative. This is real life; it isn’t a game.

All I can tell you is what I’ve experienced myself. I feel better when I focus on my own dance journey. I feel like I’m beating the odds when everyone tells me how much I’ve improved in four and a half months between competitions and I’ve only been taking one to two lessons a week plus doing my solo practice. I give 110% on the dance floor during my two rounds of a competition because they’re all I have, where some might go easy on the first one or two because they’re just warm-ups. When I’m only dancing two rounds, it’s all or nothing. The warm-up is my brief run-through with Teacher on the practice floor. Actual performance time is precious and deserves me going all in.

Our challenges want us to push past them and they make the eventual victory that much sweeter. If you had all the money in the world and everything about ballroom dancing came easy to you, I suspect you would get pretty bored pretty quickly. Without challenges, there is no growth or improvement.

So until next time, start telling yourself that you have no limits, only challenges. Happy dancing!


2 thoughts on “Countdown to CalOpen 2020: 2.5 Weeks – The limit does not exist.

  1. Mary Swann says:

    I just read this and you’ve touched on the very challenges I’m struggling with this week! You continue to inspire and encourage me through your writing. I guess I don’t have to quit dancing, run off to a different teacher, or give up competing! All current thoughts running around in my head!


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