Do you remember those “choose your own adventure” books? I loved those books as a kid! I always wanted to read through every single option to see what would happen. The ending might be the same, but adventures are never about the destination. They’re about the journey.
I’ve been thinking about how many different paths our dance journeys can take, even when the final destination is the same, such as a competition. We often look for a blueprint or a map to show us the way to our goals. A champion title in ballroom, for example. What does one need to do to place them on the path toward a championship?
There are pre-defined paths that others have followed to give them the best chance for success. Books exist in droves on the subject, including this one I reviewed awhile back. These paths are well-traveled because they have gotten people results. That being said, they are not the only paths available. In fact, I often find myself forging my own path because the existing ones don’t fit who I am or my situation.
For example, a tried and true path to success at ballroom competitions includes having costumes custom-designed and made for you. You can ensure the gown or suit fits you perfectly, which will make you look even better on the dance floor. You can also select the colors and style that best suit your body type and the image you want to convey.
The problem with this strategy is custom-made dresses are EXPENSIVE. We’re talking thousands of dollars, even 5 figures. Have you also heard the recommendation to buy a new dress every few competitions? Or buy two dresses, so you can change into a new look for your final scholarship/championship rounds?
For some dancers, spending mere hundreds of dollars is difficult, so to suggest they need to come up with thousands for a costume they’re only supposed to wear a few times is absurd and a little insulting.
Another “must” some will include on the path to success is training with high-level champion dancers turned coaches/judges. I’ve been very lucky to take workshops with high-level dancers and yes, it’s absolutely helpful to hear their insight on various aspects of dance itself as well as competing. Private coachings with these dancers, however, are again $$$$$. Lessons with your own teacher already require a significant investment. In my nine years of ballroom dancing, I’ve been lucky to have had a total of four coachings.
You may hear other appearance-related strategies thrown around as necessary in order to win competitions. Things like having the “right” people do your hair and makeup, getting a spray tan, and even diet and exercise to lose weight.
For someone who doesn’t fit the “ideal” image of a ballroom dancer, being presented with a path like this can feel defeating. Should they give up their dreams because they’re curvy or their hair isn’t easily smoothed? Should they give up their dreams because they can’t afford the “right” makeup artist or dance coach? Of course not!
If you’ve been following me for a few years, then you know I did not follow this path and I still danced away a World Champion in 2018. Before that World Championship, I won almost every competition I entered. Even with a full back tree tattoo on display and a used dress, I won the Best of the Best challenge at my third-ever competition, which earned me an invitation to compete in Best of the Best at Ohio Star Ball. I wasn’t taking a ton of lessons and coachings. At most I took two private lessons a week, and as I already mentioned, coachings were very rare and precious. The dresses I’ve worn were either rented, gifted to me, or bought used. The first dress I bought was used and I wore it for about four years before finally retiring it!
The reality I see is that it really doesn’t matter how expensive your dress is, how fat or thin you are, or how much money you’ve spent on training with the “right” people. What I think it comes down to on the dance floor is your belief and confidence in yourself. Have you trained and prepared to the point that you can walk out on that floor and own it? Do you know like you know that you’ve done your best with the resources you have? Do you love the path that got you to that dance floor because it is yours and it got you to where you wanted to be?
Many of you know how much I struggled for a long time to feel like I belonged in the ballroom world because of my financial limitations and my appearance. I felt “less than” because I couldn’t afford the fancy dresses. Heck, I could barely afford a handful of competition entries! I felt “less than” because I didn’t fit the “look” even before I got my tree tattoo.
What I learned was it was all BS. It didn’t matter if the student next to me on the floor spent thousands of dollars more on her path. It didn’t matter if they took ten lessons a week or had coachings with half the judges on the panel. It didn’t matter if they fit the quintessential ballroom image.
All that mattered was me, my partner, and the dance. All that mattered was I worked hard because I loved this art/sport.
When I focused on what truly mattered to me, I danced more confidently and with more joy. People didn’t care if my dress was used; they were paying attention to the dancer in the dress! And as someone commented to me after I won the World title, the judges couldn’t judge me for my visible tattoo because my dancing was too strong to be overlooked.
I guess what I’m trying to say is this dance journey is YOUR adventure, so YOU get to choose what path to take. Choose the path that best fits you, not the greater population. Maybe you do take the well-traveled path because it turns out it is the best fit for you! But if you ever start feeling “less than” or like the only way forward is to change who you are to something you’re not, stop. Change direction. That isn’t the path for you.
Ballroom is a beautiful art/sport and will challenge you to push past your limits and grow as both a dancer and a human being. But it should never make you feel like you should be anything less than yourself. My books and journals were all written to help you grow and thrive as you discover and connect with that true dancer within you. I want you to be able to dance as YOU on whatever dance floor you step onto.
P.S. – I feel so strongly about this topic that while I was writing, I completely forgot about the water set to boil for dinner! Luckily, only about half of it boiled down.
P.P.S. – You’re doing great. Really.