When Your Swan Song Was More of an Ugly Duckling: Reflecting on My Last Competition

It’s officially been two years since my last ballroom competition, the 2020 California Open. To be honest, it was not the performance I wanted to go out on. But how was I to know that a global pandemic was about to turn Life as we know it upside down?

CalOpen was my second competition of 2020. The Fred Astaire West Coast Dance Championships was my first, only a few weeks prior. I had a rough start to the comp season. My anxiety was intense at WCDC, to the point that I didn’t realize I was dancing Waltz off-time until I watched the video later. CalOpen arrived quickly and was unusual because my first heat wasn’t until after 9pm, a.k.a. after my bedtime!

I had been feeling stressed in the days leading up to the event, but managed to shift my mindset before I stepped onto the floor. My goal was to be fully present so I could connect with the music and enjoy my dancing. I felt like I was successful in that respect, but there was plenty of room for improvement in my dancing. I rewatched the videos from the scholarship round today. Waltz was “ok.” Tango was a disaster of missteps. Foxtrot, we and another couple kept getting in each other’s way. Viennese was again “ok.”

I was also experiencing symptoms that I later learned were the result of undiagnosed asthma. I was having trouble catching my breath and feeling extremely fatigued after just the single dances. I still achieved my goal though! I was more present in my dancing than at WCDC. So I was satisfied with my performance. At least when I thought there would be another competition in April.

There was no competition for me in April or any month since. When I decided I was going to leave California, I hoped I could compete one more time, as my California chapter swan song. It didn’t work out that way.

I did get to perform with Teacher a couple times since the pandemic changed the world. First, outside in a park, as dancing Scarecrows for a virtual showcase. Then, I played “Pop” as part of a group number set to Cell Block Tango that was performed for both a virtual showcase and a live one.

Both were fun (except for the fact that I had a panic attack at the live showcase), but I’m a competitive dancer at heart. I love being on that competition floor where everything matters. Technique, choreography, styling, mindset – it all comes together as you dance full out with your body, heart and soul.

Competitions are also great mile markers to check your progress and determine what to focus on next. CalOpen 2020 signaled to me that I was making progress but there was a lot more to do. I wanted to reach what I felt at Embassy Ball 2018 – that perfect balance between feeling grounded and completely free at the same time, the releasing of all expectations placed on my shoulders by others, and the sheer joy of being able to let my inner dancer shine out for all to see. I knew I could get there at the Open level. I just needed time to train and practice.

That time was taken away. Then the page turned and a new chapter of my life began.

It’s disappointing to look back and see that CalOpen 2020 was my last competitive performance. It was ok that the dances were “ok” because they were still works-in-progress! They shouldn’t have been relabeled as finals, but that’s what they ended up being – my final dances of pre-pandemic life and of the last chapter of my personal life.

I see this as a reminder that Life doesn’t always tie things neatly in a bow for us. We don’t always get the closure we want or need. I would have loved to have one more chance on the floor before I moved. I was making tremendous progress in connecting with my body and understanding the nuances of my movement after training resumed post-lockdown. I didn’t have the chance to show the ballroom world that progress though. I didn’t get my swan song. I didn’t get a final performance with Teacher before I moved to the opposite corner of the country.

I feel like I should feel cheated for not getting that last dance, but I don’t. Moving to Maine was the best thing I could have ever done for myself. I’ve never been happier day-to-day in my entire life than I am now. I’m still disappointed and a little sad. I also feel like I let Teacher down somehow by not performing better, now that I know that would end up being our last event. Then again, how would that knowledge have made my dancing any better? I went out and danced my best, like I always did. I also knew that there was a better best to come. I just didn’t expect it to be two years later and still not have reached my next mile marker.

I sometimes wonder where I would be on my dance journey if I had stayed. Would I have reached that feeling of nirvana I had been seeking to recapture by now? Or would the stress of living somewhere I did not belong and could not afford kept me from it?

I’ll never know, but like the goal I set for CalOpen, all I can do is be as present as I can where I am now. Today, I went to Zumba and then took my dogs for a walk through the woods. I made lunch, cleaned bathrooms, and did laundry. I sat down to write this post. Not exactly the life I imagined for my inner dancer, but I can tell she is happy nonetheless. That CalOpen performance may have been a final performance, but it was not the final performance.

I’ll be back on that dance floor again.

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