Turning the Purpose of Dance into Action

So what’s next for my dance journey?

That was the question of the week as I returned to the studio for my first lesson since the virtual showcase.

Two local competitions have announced they’re proceeding as planned in October, though considering the current restrictions in the counties where they’re held, I wouldn’t be surprised if they end up getting cancelled. Either way, I won’t be going. I’ve decided I’m done competing for the rest of 2020.

What goal do I set then for my dancing?

There is talk of another showcase later in the year. I could also pick a competition in the beginning of 2021 to work toward.

As more of the country opens up, and people continue to be “done” with this pandemic and push to return back to “normal,” there is a natural tendency to pick up where we left off. Select the next dance event to put on the calendar and start preparing.

Is it me or does that feel so 2019?

The 2020 pandemic has been a catalyst for a period of transition and transformation. I’m poised to start a new chapter. But what’s the next chapter for a pro-am dancer?

My dance journey started with social dancing, met my fears of performing on stage with showcases, and found my niche in competitive ballroom. Where does a pro-am dancer go next?

If I was on the professional side, I eventually might retire from my competitive career to open my own studio, travel to coach and perform, become a judge, or even buy a competition. As a student, there isn’t really anywhere to go beyond competitions.

I can branch out, as I started to do in 2019, by competing with an amateur partner. I can decide to leave my student days behind and become a teacher, who may or may not compete as a professional. I can branch out of ballroom and train in other styles of dance like I’ve done intermittently with ballet and hip hop.

This week’s question of “what’s next?” brought up a dilemma that has been on my mind long before the general public had heard of corona viruses. While the dance journey can be lifelong if you want it to be, the journey of the pro-am competitive ballroom dancer reaches a point of limited or diminishing returns when the dancer must decide if it’s worth continuing on what can feel like a dance treadmill.

In the beginning of the competitive journey, you have several mountains to climb in the form of the different levels. For me, they were Bronze, Silver, Gold and Open (albeit we kind of skipped Gold). Depending on the student and the teacher, these levels can take years or only months to move through. The various competitions you attend provide progress checks. Do your Bronze skills still need refining or are you ready to move up to Silver? You have the opportunity to win world and national titles at each level.

The Open level is considered the most advanced because you are permitted to choreograph outside of the restrictions of the ballroom syllabus. Creativity becomes just as important as technical skill. The Open level is also the final level. If you excel at this level, there is no other level to move up to.

You can try your hand at the other styles. There are four styles of ballroom dancing, and you are allowed to compete in all four, all at once if you desire (and can afford it).

Reaching the Open level in American Smooth while on a budget made me start to wonder how many more years I could see myself competing in pro-am. I’m closer to 40 than 30. Do I see myself still living on a shoestring budget when I’m 50 just so I can compete a couple times a year? What about when I’m 60?

Since I still had markers to achieve, like a title in Open, I set aside my pondering for my future self. Then this pandemic showed up and upset the normal order of things. My perspective on my dance journey and Life in general shifted. What I saw as important before didn’t seem like a big deal now.

Now, when I imagine my dance journey if I stuck to pro-am competitions, the further out I go, the more stagnant it begins to feel. As a professional dancer, competing year after year is a means to advancing your career, and building your name as a professional and a teacher. As a pro-am student, after you’ve advanced through the levels and perhaps picked up a few titles, what is the end to the means?

Granted, this question weighs heavier on me because of the financial aspect. The means could be an end in themselves. There’s nothing wrong with simply enjoying being a competitive ballroom dancer and going to competitions year after year for that reason. In that sense, it’s like any other expensive hobby. However, I sacrifice other things in order to pay for my dance journey that I wouldn’t sacrifice for a hobby. I know many of you do the same. So since the beginning, I’ve repeatedly asked myself, “is it worth it?”

About six weeks ago, I wrote about my shifted perspective on dance competitions and how this new chapter of Life was demanding a greater purpose for my dance than going to the next competition. So now the question is what actions or goals will satisfy that demand?

I have time to consider my options. I am enjoying the direction that my training has taken during the pandemic to focus more on harnessing and controlling the physical movement on a more precise level and exploring the creative possibilities that come from that precision. This focus is also improving my strength and flexibility, which helps prevent knee flareups. So there is much to be gained right now from just going to a virtual group class or a private lesson without a show or competition on the horizon.

I believe I’ve asked you this before, and I’m asking again. We’re six months into this pandemic. How has your perspective on your dance journey shifted? How have your dance goals changed, if at all? Are you trying to move forward as normally as possible, or are you throwing the old “normal” handbook out the window and starting fresh?

Looking forward to reading your comments!


5 thoughts on “Turning the Purpose of Dance into Action

  1. Christian says:

    Hello, one of your best postings! This entire year has made me really process and evaluate my entire dance activity and goals. I’m five years into smooth competitions and have competed at the largest comps in America. I’m one year into standard and was getting ready to compete in that style when the virus shut the world down. Your points are excellent about where does a pro/am dancer go in the future. I feel that for the truly passionate dancers/performers it’s hard to categorize as a hobby. It becomes an integral part of who we are and how we identify with others. But, there needs to be a clear goal and realistic plan in place to justify the expense/investment and time commitment! I have also considered becoming a coach because I have a passion for dance and can’t imagine life without being involved in the dance community. But once again the virus has put many studios out of business and people are still extremely leery of returning. Another major concern of mine is that the majority of competitors are in the “compromised” age groups! I’m concerned that one comp that gets hit with virus cases and we could see this entire industry collapse for God only knows how many years?
    Apologies for the rambling reply. Never in our lives could we have seen this coming.
    Thank you for the insightful and thought provoking post.
    Peace and Health


    • TheGirlWithTheTreeTattoo says:

      Thank you for sharing, Christian! No need to apologize. I ramble all the time, haha. It’s been such a crazy year and while it’s given us valuable time to reflect on our dance journeys, the uncertainty of it all makes it extremely difficult to act on that reflection! I’m trying to not get too ahead of myself (another bad habit along woth rambling) and take it one week, maybe one month, at a time. Make some plans but keep them very flexible.
      Stay safe!


  2. richiefamoo says:

    I have propelled foward with my dance journey as I saw it that taking chances is what sculpts my character. Since, the media painted to us that we could drop dead at any moment from the uncurable covid well then how more exciting and adrenaline rushing is life now. So now with these words lets keep pursuing dance, lets keep on changing it up to find the proper algorithms, for godsake lets get paid to play.


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