The Unwinding Begins

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I have to warn you from the beginning that this is less about my dancing and more about the emotions this event stirred up in me.  I am just starting the process of decompressing and I promise that this won’t veer off a cliff into the dark side (well I mostly promise but this is going to be more of a stream of consciousness so who knows where it ends up).  Last year, I had attributed much of what happened to the fact that Z and I were barely on speaking terms going into the event and so it left me feeling alone and isolated.  Having done another, I now know that was only part of the reason.  This event seriously messes with my head and it will take me a long time to fully sort through everything.

Since I am naturally prone to introspection and have a strong desire to find out why things work the way they do, I looked again at something called the “highly sensitive person”.   Given my very logical and somewhat cynical nature, I don’t often put a lot of stock into pop-psychology type things because most of the “are you a ….” tend to have questions that are somewhat vague and easy to answer yes.  And, I also feel that many of us have some inner feelings that we are different or not normal and finding something that may apply gives you that A-Ha moment, “Well no wonder I do X, it is because I’m a Y”.  In that sense, it can become a crutch or an excuse for either not doing something or not looking for ways to improve.

However, the real truth is that this event has a major impact on me and some of what I read about highly sensitive people (and empathic types) really seems to fit here.  First of all, this event throws a lot at you.  There is so much stimulation with the music, the people, the costumes, the noise, the motion and it does get totally overwhelming for me.  Towards the end of the second day, I could really start to feel myself shut down.  Part of that is the introversion because having to be around that many people for that long a period of time just drains my energy.  I try to move to just being a detached observer of things but when I’m not actively engaged in conversation or activity, then there are times when other things take over and I start to reflect the emotions and energy of people around me or I’ll start to make intuitive leaps based on small snippets of conversations I hear.  These might not be entirely real but they become real to me.

For example, I’ll start watching the faces of some of the other students and I’ll see obvious cases of fear or frustration when they make mistakes.  I have an empathic streak in me and so those negative emotions resonate with me because I know how they feel and their fear becomes mine.  Or, I’ll see other cases where male pros are simply dragging their female students through a routine and then I get a little upset with that because if someone is never allowed to try to follow then they never truly get the experience of dancing and then I wonder if it just reflects the pro’s lack of confidence in their student and I naturally flash to times where Z tries to help me in a routine (I always fight her though) and it brings on more self doubt.  Logically, I can now see that it could be the pro is just trying to make the student’s experience as pleasant as possible and by pulling them through, they will feel more successful but, during the event, with all that is going on, I see that and it is just the negative stuff that comes out.

To give you one last example, I often watch or listen to the interactions of the various instructors.  It is amazing at times that Z will be having a conversation with another instructor/owner and they’ll be standing right behind me but since I’m watching the floor, they seem to assume that I can’t hear them.  Really?  I hear and process everything but just don’t react.  The very strong reaction that sometimes rises in me is that a lot of these events are just for the various Famous Franchise people to get together and have a good time and we students are somewhat secondary.  Its like they have to hold our hands through the heats but, once that is over, they’re done and headed for the after party where they can have fun without us.  I know that isn’t true of all, but some project that much stronger than others.

So I get my emotions all jacked up like this and the problem is there is nowhere to go for escape.  Yes, I did go back to my room a lot where I could decompress a bit but it is still different enough that my mind keeps wandering.  I could try to distract myself but it doesn’t work because the room itself just reflects that I’m not home and not in a comfortable place and my mind just continues to race.  I did also do a lot of walking outside around the hotel which was a little better but the problem with that is you are downtown in the third largest city in the US and there are people everywhere.  Not the quiet walk that I need.  I see all those people and I end up focusing on how alone and isolated I am at these events.  What?  How can you possibly feel alone in the third largest city in the US surrounded by all these people?  Told you this thing messed with my head.  No, I realize that while I’m friendly with Z and OwnerGuy, they will never really be “friends” outside of the dance world.  I see how the various instructors interact and you see sides of them that you would never see in the studio when they have to be “on”.  And, I know there are hundreds of other dancers there but the atmosphere isn’t particularly set up for meet and greet and I’m not good at that anyway.  We did have another couple from the studio there and that was nice but the guy was just so mesmerized by the dancing that he wasn’t much use.  I had some nice conversations with his wife though.  (I get some strange vibes from the various wives at the studio – someday I may explore that)  The statue was there as well but she hardly talks so most of the time we sit at the table in silence which just allows my mind to work overtime.

And here’s another thing about this event.  It is also true of showcase.  Yes, I freak out a lot in the studio.  And, when I do, the standard line is to just have fun.  So I get there and I’ve usually reached a point where I’ve done all I can and I’m just ready to get out there and let things happen.  We usually do a run through outside the dance floor which is awkward because it is carpet and you have lots of couples out there.  But, instead of being the “have fun” instructor, Z seems to switch gears into some kind of hyper competitive mode and every mistake I make gets magnified.  She gets short with me and I get a “what happened?” where the only answer is that I just screwed up because I’m doing a routine on carpet with a lot of people around so don’t expect perfection.  That’s when I make the intuitive leap that instructors do compare notes about students and I think there is some kind of bragging rights if you have a student who does well and probably the reverse is true that you get some grief if your student messes up.  So they need you to do well so their friends don’t give them any crap.  And, when I screw up, it means she is going to look bad in front of her friends and so her stress level goes up and the whole “lets have fun” just goes out the window and then I start to mirror that as well.

It also doesn’t help that OwnerGuy adopts a whole new persona at these events.  When he’s not dancing, he is scrutinizing the competitors looking at what students do right and what they do wrong and since they go to a lot of comps, they see a lot of the same students so he starts to look at how far they’ve progressed and so on.  And I think he is subject to the same type of peer pressure.  There are studios that bring lots of students to these events and studios that have very good students there and our little studio can’t compete.  For better or worse, I’m the best they’ve got and one of the few that has even expressed an interest in this.  Whether real or imaginary, I feel all of this when I get out there.  I don’t want to let them down so it puts additional pressure on top of what I’m already feeling.  It doesn’t help when I’m doing a particular dance and I glance out there and see his eyes locked on us and his facial expression makes it clear that we’ve messed something up.  Then, we get off the floor and he pulls Z aside to have a little side bar conversation.  I catch enough to know they are talking about me and what I did wrong.  Trying to hide from me really doesn’t help because my mind just imagines the worse anyway.

There is more but I wanted to give you a taste of what I’m working through in my head right now.  I thought this year would be different because Z and I were in a much better place going into this event but a lot of what happened last year repeated itself and that just lead me to a deeper dive which is what you get here.  So if you ask “did I have fun”.  Well the answer is “yes’ and “no”.  It is a very complex set of emotions that just takes me a long time work through.  Give me some time and I’ll talk about the challenges of being the only amateur male and going up against ladies who are dancing with top notch male pros and ladies who do competitions like this all the time.

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