A Review of CalOpen 2020: Leave Your Stress at the Door

My second competition of 2020 is complete! We danced into the wee hours of the night at California Open (at least to me it was the wee hours). I left feeling tired and proud of my performance.

My first heat wasn’t scheduled until about 9pm, so I ended up working a half day for the day job. I figured I may as well keep myself busy and save a bit of vacation time. Of course, concentrating on work was challenging.

If you were waiting for my pre-comp livestream while I painted my nails, I didn’t skip it! It just never broadcasted. I set everything up and hit “go live.” There was an error message at first, but when I clicked through it, it showed that I was live on Facebook. So I went ahead and chatted to the screen while I painted my nails a barely noticeable shimmery pink. Little did I know that nothing was being shown on my Facebook page, even after I selected to save and post the replay video!

So that was an amusing stat to my comp day. The important thing was for me to keep to my routine. Routine is one important tool I use to manage comp day anxiety. So whether or not I was talking to myself or my Facebook audience, it helped me to stick with my livestream/nail-painting ritual.

My makeup appointment was about 3.5 hours before I was scheduled to dance, which meant I had to get to the hotel way early but also meant that I had time to chill in the ballroom after my makeup was done and just take in the scene. That’s another part of my comp day routine. I take my time in immersing myself into the ballroom. Kind of like dipping my toe in the pool and then entering slowly via the stairs in the shallow end instead of cannon balling into the deep end. So I got my face painted, but stayed in my “real world” clothes for another hour while I hung out in the ballroom, ate some dinner, and watched others dance. Then finally, I got into my ballroom dress and started warming up.

I had practice rounds with Teacher the two days before competition day, and I had been feeling incredibly stressed. I actually had been carrying this undercurrent of stress since the Fred Astaire West Coast competition in the middle of January. I try to be as self-aware as I can, so when I’m feeling stress or anxiety, I pause and examine where that stress is coming from. When I can identify the source, it helps me deal with the stress more effectively.

I thought it was coming from my dancing. To jump from one competition to the next in just a few weeks felt too quick to be able to see any improvement. My dancing felt inconsistent; some days, I’d nail a move and other days, I’d trip or stumble. I couldn’t tell if I was making progress. Teacher was confident I was though, and encouraged me to focus on the things I was doing well instead of the things that still needed work.

The night before the competition, I continued pondering why I was feeling so stressed. I knew to focus on the positive. I knew this dance thing was a journey and I was still in the beginning stages of the Open level. I knew I needed to be patient with myself. Inconsistencies would turn consistent with hard work and practice. I knew all this, so why was I still feeling so stressed?

Not being able to pinpoint the source naturally stressed me out more. But the night before the comp, I started thinking about not just dance, but my whole life. I realized I have a lot of shit going on! Day job, business, family, and yes, dance too…whether it was good, bad or neutral, there was a lot of new and/or different happening. Anxious people typically don’t do well with new and different. At least not at first. We need time to process.

It finally dawned on me that maybe it wasn’t my dancing that was stressing me out, because of inconsistency or competing again too soon or whatever. Maybe there wasn’t some deep-rooted unknown trigger trying to torture me from the shadows. Maybe I just had a shitload going on in general, and Life’s stresses were starting to intrude on dance.

That realization was actually a relief. If it was Life intruding on dance and dance itself wasn’t the problem, then all I had to do was focus on dance and nothing else to have a good day at CalOpen.

This mindset shift did the trick. I felt better on comp day, with only the usual butterflies fluttering around inside my stomach. Which was good because soon it would be time to dance!

I was entered in two rounds of single dances and the scholarship. I was dancing in the B age group for the scholarship for the first time. I’m 36, so technically in the B group, but I had wanted to continue dancing in A. I had danced Bronze and Silver in A, so dancing Open in A too had a certain continuity to it that appealed to me. Teacher now has students younger than me though, and one of them was also competing in Open Smooth at CalOpen. So I had to acknowledge my real age and move up to B (with only a little pouting).

Like I talked about in my Facebook livestream at the competition, I gave myself permission to drop my stress at the edge of the dance floor and just enjoy the moment. Anxiety prevented me from connecting with the music at WCDC, so this time, that was my main goal. I wanted to be fully present, connect with the music, and enjoy my dancing.

It’s a common challenge for ProAm dancers. We have full lives outside of our dancing. Ballroom dance is supposed to be our escape or outlet, but sometimes Life can start to intrude and affect our ability to enjoy that escape. We end up carrying our Life stresses into the studio and onto the dance floor with us.

I want you to know that it’s ok to set them down and just dance. Sometimes Life deals us some pretty heavy and serious shit to deal with. It can’t be ignored or neglected. But it is still ok to set it down at the edge of the dance floor without feeling guilty about taking a few moments for yourself. Trust me, whatever you set down will wait for you to be done so it can jump right back on your back! You don’t need to worry about it wandering off.

My performance at CalOpen wasn’t anywhere perfect, but I was successful in my goal. Even Teacher told me my musicality was much better! The nice thing about Open is you’re not restricted to the syllabus. So if you mess up, as long as you keep moving, you can do whatever you want and no one will know the difference!

The knees were holding up ok, but another part of my body was whining for attention. Or more accurately, wheezing.

Very rarely, I get exercise-induced asthma symptoms. The last time they affected me at a competition was back in 2018 at Emerald Ball. They were back this past week during practice rounds and again during the single dance rounds. Luckily, the rounds were not back to back, so I had time to sit down and catch my breath in between. The other unfortunate side effect however is fatigue. It takes a lot of energy to breathe when your lungs aren’t working quite right.

So I was feeling tired by the time our scholarship round came around. It didn’t help that we were dancing after 11pm, so very much past my bedtime! Still, I did my best to rally. I honestly didn’t have any expectations about placements. There were five couples total in the scholarship, and I felt 100% comfortable with the idea that I would be 5th. I was focused on just dancing.

The music came and that’s exactly what I did. Again, it wasn’t perfect. Plenty of wobbles, especially in Tango, but I kept dancing and it felt good.

End results:
2nd out of 2 in single dance round 1
Uncontested in single dance round 2
3rd in the scholarship!

Hey, I didn’t place last in scholarship! That was a pleasant surprise. Even got to take some cash home. I’m ok with that!

The scholarship was also a Best of the Best qualifier. Best of the Best is an event at Ohio Star Ball. In order to participate, you have to enter and win a qualifying event at another competition. The winners of the A, B and C scholarships for each level dance one more dance of their choice, and judges pick who gets invited to compete in Best of the Best.

Leading up to the comp, I reflected on how I won the Best of the Best qualifier at California Open in 2015 in Closed Bronze. Back then, I had no idea what Best of the Best was. Even as I went out on the floor to dance once more with Teacher, I didn’t know why. I just thought it was cool I was getting to dance again.

California Open 2015 – Closed Bronze Best of the Best qualifier

Even though I qualified, I wasn’t able to attend Ohio Star Ball that year. Earlier this week, I thought it would be cool to win the scholarship this time and get a chance to compete for Best of the Best again. Ohio is one of my goals this year anyway! Honestly though, by the time we had awards, I was secretly hoping to not win just because I didn’t know if I had one more dance in me. I would have rallied again if necessary, but at the same time, I was perfectly content to take 3rd and go home to bed. There will be other qualifiers.

Next competition is already set – I’m heading north to the San Francisco Open at the beginning of April. Only a month and half away! I must be crazy. Whether or not I’m crazy, I’m definitely committed (see what I did there), so there’s nothing to do except connect to the music and dance!

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