What Does Success Look Like?

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As I was leaving the studio on Wednesday night, the new instructor (if she makes it past Hilde’s six weeks, I’ll give her an official name), wanted to know if she could ask me a question.  I guess Z had given her some homework to ask various students this question.  Not entirely sure what the point is.  I have some guesses but I don’t know how she benefits by asking this particular question.  So, have I teased you long enough about this question?  I did give it away in the title, which you may have guessed by now.  I don’t actually remember the exact question, but it was something like this:

“What would you want your dancing to look like to consider it successful?”

First of all, you should know that I HATE having to answer questions off the top of my head.  HATE it with the passion of a thousand white hot suns!  It goes against my very nature which demands time to think over any of a thousand different possible answers and still not be able to settle on the absolutely correct one.  What I should have told her is to send the question to me via email and, in about a week, I’d email back a very long and well thought out post to answer the question.

Of course, that’s not going to happen.  Just to get off on a little side conversation here (because you know I NEVER do that), this is part of my general problem with how learning ballroom goes.  Too many times, I get exposed to one thing, get to do it for one trial and then get asked the dreadful question “how did that feel?”  To which I really want to answer “I have no freaking idea because I need to do something more than once to really understand whether it is truly different from what I’ve been doing”.  Even to say whether I like a particular step or not, it takes time to get into it and feel my way through it to see whether it fits me.  Ask me after the first time, and all you’re going to get is “meh” unless it just speaks to me right away and very few things do that.  Look, I’m a deep thinking introvert and I need time to process things.

Anyway, to get back to the main story.  (Just to let you know, this is what sometimes happens when I compose a post without a lot of prior thought.  My mind jumps from thing to thing and you are kind of getting a glimpse of that right now)  OK, enough with the distractions, on with the story.

Well, what does success look like?  First of all, I hate watching myself dance.  Remember the white hot sun line from paragraph 3 (surely you haven’t forgotten by now).  Multiply that by a zillion and you’ll get how much I HATE watching myself dance.  How am I supposed to know what success looks like when all I can ever see is my flaws.  I look at videos of professionals with their ramrod straight posture and huge, wide, strong frames and I could say – well, if I looked like THAT, it would be success.  Of course, that is a fool’s errand since professionals do this for a living and I don’t and I can’t hold myself to that standard.

So what does a good amateur look like?  How the hell am I supposed to know?  I get feedback from people when I dance.  At the last Showcase, the owner of another studio told me I looked really good out there.  Does that mean something?  I’ve had coaches and judges tell me they like what I’m doing.  (Of course, they still find things I could be doing better).  People in the studio enjoy watching me.  So what does that all mean?  How do I capture this in a coherent message to explain what successful dancing looks like?   And by now you are probably shaking your head at how what appears to be a simple question has totally tied my brain in knots.

Oh, and all of these thoughts were rushing through my head while I was figuring out how to answer the particular question.  I thought of any number of self-deprecating and witty comebacks but I figured that wouldn’t help the new instructor at all and she may not know me well enough to truly appreciate my sense of humor.  I’ve discovered that I have a way of presenting things where it can appear to some that I’m serious when I’m really joking.  So I couldn’t just toss off a witty one liner and move on.

So, after blankly staring and stammering about what a good question that was (which is a lie because I thought it was a TERRIBLE freaking question), I told her that I really couldn’t say what it looked like.  To me, a dance is a success based on how it feels.  When you do a routine, you are tying together a series of individual steps into one giant pattern.  It should feel like one seamless dance without any awkwardness when transitioning from one step to the next.  I didn’t get into how there shouldn’t be any awkwardness in the lead/follow either but that would be another component of it.

She dutifully took notes and will obviously at some point show them to Z to provide objective evidence that she completed her homework project.  I still come back to why this is necessary.  At one level, I could understand it in that an instructor needs to know what the student wants to make sure they are working towards a common goal.  (Trust me, I know that very well)  But if the goal is measurable or tangible, then how do you go forward.  If I say I want something to feel like a dance, how do you translate that to something that can easily be worked on.  See this is probably very easy for those who are strongly goal oriented (like Z) but for me it is a struggle.

Of course, in writing this, I just had an epiphany.  What I could have told her is that I want the dance to look like the dances are supposed to look.  This would be about capturing the look and feel of each dance since they are all different.  OK, it is probably only slightly more tangible than my first response but it would work to give an instructor something to work with.  Take something like Waltz and Fox Trot.  There are many steps that cross both dances but they look different because the timing is different and the dances are different.  You want people with some dance knowledge to walk by and say “nice Waltz” when you are actually doing a Waltz.  So you want people to be able to see the difference.  See, I told you that if she had just given me the question and time, I could have given her a much better answer.   Sigh – introvert problems.

Oh, and Hilde just sent me a text message inviting me to go out to the other dance location.  Since I had cancelled my lessons with Kid T for yesterday and today, I am free and we’ve booked a dance date for the Cha-Cha lesson and open dance after.  If I do this too many more times, I’ll have to come up with a snappy name for this place.  Maybe the Thespian can give me some advice on how he comes up with names for all the different venues he attends (and how he keeps them straight).  Like FT Diva said, this feels a little like cheating on the Famous Franchise, especially given that I had cancelled a lesson there for tonight and now I’ll be at a different studio but I cancelled the lesson before Hilde’s invite, so that makes it OK.  Looking forward to it.



  1. That’s definitely a question I would have had to get back to them on! It’s tough! But if it’s not asked under stressful “give me an answer NOW!” circumstances, it could be fun to think about. I think it’s a common visualization practice actually, like imagining yourself winning the big game you’re about to play or something like that. I wonder what other people said! I may try to answer the question myself on my blog. 🙂

  2. I would have turned into a smart ass and said, “when I look better than you.” You don’t ask questions like that without letting a person think on it.
    I also know about cheating. I have two studios, too. The thing is, it can be rejuvenating to your dance to go somewhere else for a change.

  3. If after I go to a new dance studio I can’t think of a good name that ‘fits’ the personality of the venue, I will look up the name of the studio in a thesaurus and pick a synonym to use that sounds cool. That’s the secret. 🙂

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