Dancing With Just Me

Week 7 of staying home has passed, and we’ve entered a new month. Some areas of the country have given up the quarantine life and made attempts to resume some sort of “normal.” The state I live in maintains its stay-at-home order with no specific expiration date. A ballroom competition just a couple states over announced it will proceed as planned in June. At the same time, a week-long dance camp scheduled for the same month in a neighboring state announced it was cancelling its in-person events and pivoting to an online platform.

Our current reality is full of discontinuity. For every argument, there is another to counter it and a third to counter both. It can be difficult to know who or what to believe or trust. Not to mention there is still a virus spreading and mutating around the world with widely varying effects and side effects.

What’s a ballroom dancer to do?

It feels appropriate that May is Mental Health Awareness month. We need to be conscious of our mental health now more than ever. We’ve had nearly two months to build up a whole lot of fear, stress and/or desperation and most of us are not equipped to deal with such emotions for such a long time.

I realized early on in my own quarantine that I had to limit how much information I took in about the pandemic. I wanted to stay informed, but the more I watched or read, the more depressed and/or anxious I felt. Especially as the information got more and more polarized. So I check in with the news maybe every other day and I rarely click on links to videos or articles posted on social media.

My relationship with ballroom dance has shifted as well. While I seemed to be a prime candidate for dancing on my own during the multitude of online classes and workshops available, I haven’t had much interest or desire. I’ve taken a few group classes with Teacher, but I haven’t felt the urge to jump onto others, even those taught by champion-level dancers from whom you’d never get the opportunity to learn otherwise.

My dance journey has taken an inward turn. Solo practice resembling pre-pandemic practice has been spotty at best. I do it when I feel the desire, which is considerably less than when I had a proper dance studio to practice in. What I feel more inclined to do is move when a song inspires me to do so and to exercise so my movements can better match what I see in my head when I hear the song.

It’s like I’m returning to a pre-ballroom state when I didn’t know or care about technique; I just wanted to dance. I flung my body around to the music I heard and didn’t care how it looked to others. I cared how it felt in my own body.

Ballroom opened my eyes to new ways of moving my body and moving my body with a partner. It also made me aware of “right” and “wrong” ways of dancing, and I started to care how my dancing looked to others. It taught me a syllabus of steps and the proper technique for executing those steps. The predefined steps and technique gave me a foundation to build strength and confidence in myself as a dancer. They also gave me a place to hide when I was afraid that I would be rejected if I expressed my true self and just felt the music.

Moving into Open signaled it was time for two worlds to collide – me as a purely improvisational, in-the-moment dancer and me as a technically-adept ballroom dancer. The struggle was real.

Then in swoops the pandemic and shuts everything down. No private lessons, no partner practice and no competitions. No teacher to please or judges to impress. No pressure to get everything right. Heck, no space to be able to get everything right (I kept hitting the TV when I tried to stretch my arm out as instructed during my last group class).

All I have is me.

So the freestyler and the world champion ballroom dancer in me are exploring their craft together. The freestyler is reminding the ballroom champion what it’s like to not worry about “right and wrong” and the ballroom champion is showing the freestyler new possible movements when technique is applied. All without any external pressure to progress at a certain speed or in a certain direction.

I’m sure there will be a lot of rust to shake off when I finally return to dancing with someone other than myself. There will be plenty to relearn that I forgot because I didn’t focus on my routines or partner technique. I believe there will also be improvement in the areas that I was struggling with before the virus came to town. Not because I worked on my dancing during this time, but because I danced.

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