Way back in 2015, when The Girl with the Tree Tattoo blog was still in the Newcomer division, I wrote an article for another dance website about partnering. I listed trust as one of three key factors for a successful dance partnership. Trust is a funny thing. It is like a house of cards, built up slowly over time, but one wrong move can make the entire structure collapse. It’s very fragile, and at the same time, holds very strong influence over us. We are willing to give so much of ourselves to those we trust without question.
In ballroom dancing, you have to trust your partner. You have to trust in their ability to dance and lead or follow (depending on your role). On a more emotional level, you have to trust them to respect you as you allow them into your personal space. The physical contact required for ballroom dancing (another key factor) can make you feel extremely vulnerable. It takes trust to ease that feeling and make you feel comfortable enough to dance well.
Ballroom dancing also requires trust in yourself.
Trusting yourself can prove to be an even greater challenge than learning to trust your partner. How many times has your teacher asked “did you feel the difference?” during a lesson? You danced a sequence and your teacher gave a tidbit of advice or a suggestion for a small change. Then you danced again and your teacher is beaming as they ask you to confirm you felt the improvement.
For years, I felt like this was a question with a right and a wrong answer. Obviously, I was supposed to feel the difference, so if I didn’t or I wasn’t sure what I felt, I must have been wrong. Granted, in the early days of my ballroom journey, I wasn’t tuned into my body finely enough to always feel the difference. But another big part of the reason I didn’t feel a difference is I didn’t believe I could.
It’s not a bad thing to question yourself sometimes. It keeps your ego in check and helps you catch yourself before you make a mistake. But constant questioning and self-doubting leads to paralysis. You can’t dance if you can’t move.
It’s normal to feel a lot of doubt when you first start learning something new. As your knowledge and skill grow, so should your confidence. The growth rates are not always equal though. While knowledge and skill growth rates are usually pretty steady, confidence can be all over the place. There are good days when you feel like a champion and bad days when you can’t seem to do a simple underarm turn.
Trusting and believing in yourself is the magic elixir that can transform a terrible, no good, very bad “I suck at dancing” day into an ok, “I’ll get it next time” day. What do you do if you can’t silence that self-doubt demon though?
Like everything else in dance, it takes practice.
One thing I started doing with that dreaded “did you feel the difference” question was saying “yes” any time I had an inkling that I felt a change. Instead of questioning what I felt or assuming it was wrong, I practiced trusting it and asserting that trust by actually saying “yes” out loud.
Maybe it was a small difference, maybe it was the wrong difference. Regardless, if I didn’t practice trusting myself, it was never going to happen. Telling my body “it’s ok, I will believe what you tell me you feel,” also seemed to make me more aware of subtle changes, which reinforced that I was correct to trust.
I also practiced accepting that it was ok to tell Teacher that I did not feel a difference. That opened up a more detailed discussion about how the technique tweak was intended to affect my movement, which led to a greater understanding on my part. So the next time I danced, I honestly did feel a difference!
I know it can sound a little cheesy – just trust yourself and you’ll succeed! I know from personal experience and from witnessing others that it works. If you believe you can do something, you are more likely to succeed in doing it.
If it helps, I believe in you. I know that whatever you’re struggling with in your dancing, you can do it if you trust yourself. You just need to get out of your head, where all those inner demons are wringing their hands and pulling at their hair, crying, “no, you could get it wrong!” Don’t listen to them. Listen to me, and trust yourself. You can push past this latest roadblock, and you know what? It’s ok to not get it right this time. You’ll get it right the next time.
Happy dancing, dancers!