The Purpose of Dance

If you follow me on social media, you got a sneak peek of today’s blog post. Yesterday, I asked if my fellow dancers were planning on returning to their regularly scheduled dance life as soon as it was feasible, or if they felt like they were entering a different chapter of their dance story. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Pre-pandemic, my dance life was focused on competition. 2020 was set up to be my most ambitious competition season yet. Four and a half months later, I’m asking myself whether that focus is still true.

The pandemic has marked a transition time for me. It started before things shut down actually. I was leaving the dance studio where I had trained for nearly eight years to join Teacher at his new studio. I was prepping to debut as a pro-am student in American Rhythm and as part of an amateur couple in American Smooth. Then a spunky little member of the coronavirus family decided to make other plans.

Plans changed, but the transition continued. Just in a different way. I grieved like so many others over the loss of our old reality. What I did next was less common: I said goodbye.

Now, pre-pandemic life feels like another lifetime, like thinking back to being in high school. I am such a different person now than I was back then. If I ever went to a reunion, I don’t think anyone would recognize me. In just four and a half months of sheltering in place, I’ve gone through yet another change.

The old reality identity has been shed to reveal a new reality me. Unfortunately, when you make a transition in Life, there is no clear entrance to the new chapter with a greeter ready to hand you a map and a guidebook. There is a period when you are releasing the old, but you don’t have a firm grasp on the new yet, which can make you feel lost and out of control.

Going through this period recently had me worrying that I had lost my passion for dance. I wasn’t eager to jump back into competing. I didn’t feel the urge to take more than one lesson a week. I was ok missing out on all of the great online workshops. Did saying goodbye to pre-pandemic life include saying goodbye to dance?

The answer was no, and then came another question. Considering it could be another year or longer until I feel it’s safe to compete again, am I going to spend that year just waiting around for that unknown future competition date and taking my once-a-week lessons? Or is this new chapter an opportunity to explore other ways to continue my dance journey? What are those other ways?

Maybe sheltering at home for four and a half months has just given me too much time to think and reflect, but when I thought about picking up where I left off with my competition goals, it just didn’t excite me the way it did before the virus came to town. The current reality me was looking for something different, which then had me asking myself what competing meant to me before.

Ballroom dance competitions provided the challenge I wanted to push myself as a dancer. They were clear checkpoints along my journey to assess my progress. I loved that performing at a competition required all aspects of my dancing to be on point. I loved the mix of athleticism and artistry. And yes, I enjoyed the actual competitive element. Receiving that external validation via good placements was the cherry on top of everything else.

Maybe it’s a side effect from not having to appear a certain way for anyone in the past several months (my dogs don’t seem to care what I wear or if I put on makeup), but the importance of external validation has plummeted for me. I think about spending months preparing to dance at a competition for a few minutes and having someone else tell me if I was good or not, and I’m like “why?” And then what? Prepare for the next event where someone else decides if I’m good or not?

So if/when I compete again, dancing for the results is definitely out. I’ve spent too long working in yoga pants and still producing great results to continue believing I need to show up in a way someone else approves of in order to be successful.

I started to also question my use of competitions as goals or checkpoints along the dance journey. Each competition just led to another competition. I did move up levels as I competed. That was valid and rewarding progress to track via competition. But what was it leading to ultimately? I couldn’t see myself competing in pro-am for the rest of my life.

Like I said, this pandemic has given me a LOT of time to think and reflect on my dance journey. 😉

One conclusion I’ve come to recently is the current reality me needs to dance for a greater purpose. Dance is a way to connect with people and to connect with myself on a deeper level. Dance is a way to communicate and share an idea or message. Dance is a way to inspire and motivate.

I’ve been on this path already. For years, I’ve shared my dance journey through this blog and my books in an effort to inspire and motivate. I believe this transition period is just leading me to the next level. When I prepare for a performance in the future, it will include thinking about what I want that performance to mean for me or my audience.

It’s another way of asking “why am I dancing?” Am I dancing to win XYZ competition? Am I dancing to boost my self-confidence? Am I dancing to raise awareness about a particular issue in the world? Am I dancing to bring joy to others?

So many possible reasons to dance. Maybe I don’t see myself competing for the rest of my life, but I could spend my remaining days exploring all of those reasons.

Have these strange times altered your reasons for dancing?

11 thoughts on “The Purpose of Dance

  1. Barbara Caridad Ferrer says:

    “ So if/when I compete again, dancing for the results is definitely out. I’ve spent too long working in yoga pants and still producing great results to continue believing I need to show up in a way someone else approves of in order to be successful.”

    I’ve already done this once— after my return to the floor from the injury. At the same time, however, I did find myself somewhat falling back into the old habits of wanting that external validation and wanting to do better against my peers. (Once a competitor, always a competitor.) However, it wasn’t anywhere near as intense as it was when I was first competing. At the end of the day, competition was truly about how I’d danced and how I felt.

    So if/when I go back, I suspect it’ll be even more so about the joy of it for me. The self-satisfaction.

    In the meantime, my attention has been far more focused on my writing which has been good for me. All the external distractions, including dancing, were in large part a massive procrastination from facing some writing realities.

    Balance is an issue for me and I’m constantly searching for ways to bring that into my life.

  2. lisaplummersavas says:

    Such a relevant topic, Katie – I’ve also been asking myself a lot of these questions lately. My training hasn’t stopped since the quarantine began, however, I’ve noticed that my motivation to practice hasn’t been nearly as strong at home as it used to be at my old studio. Pre-pandemic, my dancing life was all about preparing for comps and learning my new Open routines, while the past four and a half months have been hyper-focused on refining my technique, building more ankle strength and cross-training to create a stronger, more resilient body able to handle all the demands of training full-time and competing again at some point down the line. I guess you could say I feel like I’m working “deeper” than I was pre-virus, but like you, I’m not all that excited about joining the online classes and sometimes feel like just letting myself “freestyle” around my living room is better for my soul. I dance because I have to (it seriously is a compulsion!), but lately I’ve been questioning why I put myself through all of this (including being sore pretty much all of the time) – do I really need the external validation that much? Or do I just want to be the best dancer I can possibly be before I’m too old to do it full-throttle any more, just to prove to myself that I can really do it? I admit that I’m a competitive person with an ego, and that that’s okay. So in many ways, this downtime has been really important, if only for the fact that I’ve had more time to look inward and be brutally honest with myself. Anyway, thank you for your wonderful, thoughtful post!

    • TheGirlWithTheTreeTattoo says:

      This pandemic has been giving us unexpected silver linings! The chance to slow down, the opportunity to go deeper, like you said. I’ve been doing similar work, focusing more on my physical fitness than dance-specific practice. And all the yeses to freestyling in your living room! I’ve come across a few Instagram profiles of ladies who do just that and share it. They’re #lifegoals. 😁

  3. Babs says:

    It seems like the two Barbaras are in agreement with you on this! As I started dancing so late in life and it was an incredible struggle (I had no experience, am NOT graceful, don’t have a natural aptitude etc.) any growth was a major accomplishment. So while I was nervous when I started competing, as it is like nothing I’ve ever done, I’ve always been thrilled with not falling down. Seriously. The day before and the last 30 minutes, the competitive juices ramp up, as does my fear/nervousness. But I know how much it took me just to get to this point so any success at all (like not falling) is my affirmation.

    I’d say that you’ve gained a good perspective, maturity and balance in your life now. Of course I want to do well when I compete, but it’s more to show others that I’ve improved and that my instructor deserves my best. But only a couple of people know how hard I’ve worked and what a struggle I’ve had with my emotional and physical health to just get out there. I’ve had others say they love watching me dance. That really surprised me, but I realized, that my happiness in dancing shows. For an old broad, I do pretty well and it’s so much FUN! I think those emotions come through because I don’t have that super strong drive to win. (But don’t bother me in the last 30 minutes before I get on the floor, then it IS shark time LOL).

    I was just saying to my husband that I won’t be renewing my membership at the art center, as I don’t know when I’ll dance again. I hope I will be, but I’ll just push that aside for a while.

    • TheGirlWithTheTreeTattoo says:

      I don’t think it’s a bad thing to let go of your membership and still retain hope you will dance again. Letting go opens you up to more possibilities for dance to show up, rather than just that particular way. And I think you need to give yourself more credit. I’ve loved the dance videos you’ve shared online! Your joy definitely shines through and I’ve always seen a grace in your movement. I think the grace comes out naturally with the joy actually because I’ve heard a LOT of ladies insist they aren’t graceful and then I see them dance and don’t understand what they were talking about because they float across the floor, haha!

      • Babs says:

        Thanks “Girl”, I guess I’ve learned to fake that gracefulness. I AM trying to remind myself to maintain the posture and movements that I used in dancing. They can only help me. I got that from one of your previous comments. Ironically, I just got an email from the Art Center that they’re re-opening, but there’s no mention of dancing. But I don’t see them allowing lessons for a long time.

        I’ll try balancing those two things, which seem to be in opposition to each other. Yes, hope for dancing, but wait to move forward until everything comes together.

  4. Nikki M says:

    I never had the opportunity to compete in ballroom dance, so nothing for me to miss there.

    What I miss is the opportunity to meet new people and connect, it doesn’t seem to happen as much online for me.

    thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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