Doubts and Progress

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So I was reading the latest post by The Girl with the Tree Tattoo. Heck, here’s the link It was about starting her open routines and some lingering doubt which is a topic I’m all too familiar with. I don’t know why but reading that post for some reason makes me want to take a retrospective look at my dance journey leading up to last week. Don’t worry, you’ll get the abridged version because I can’t imagine how much real estate I’d need to tell the whole story. The overall theme is the roller coaster of confidence and some of the things I’ve learned along the way. Not saying I have everything worked out but I seem to be in a good place right now.

I had no dance background at all when I started all those years ago. I also had almost no musical background. I played the clarinet for about a year in elementary school but it got boring so I stopped. I was the brainy kid in the family. The one who got the good grades but wasn’t high on the creative side. And when I walked in to that studio for the first time, I was grossly overweight and really had no confidence to speak of.

One good thing about the Famous Franchise is that they can make dancing seem so easy and that is something you can do. I had all the same excuses people who don’t dance like to make. “I have no rhythm” “I can’t move like that” And many more.

So, you start dancing and you realize that you can do this. And then you can move into a phase of overconfidence. Yeah, I know that may be hard to believe coming from me but I can look back now and see that in myself. You’re one of the top students in the studio and you’re getting some of the special things that come with that and it feeds the ego.

The problem is that ballroom is humbling. I’ve spoke of the journey and destination before but this is really an endless journey. There is always something new to learn. There are always new challenges and things can be improved. Open one door and you just see many others and paths you have to travel to improve. But to know that, you have to take a leap and put yourself in a position to be judged because you will likely never know what you don’t know and the only way to find out is to have some tell you.

My first competition was not a pleasant experience and it lead to a whole other series of consequences and took my dance journey on many twisting paths. On the other hand, all the funky stuff I was feeling is what kicked off the desire to start this so there was good that came from the ashes. In retrospect, it was something I needed to do to start to understand that ballroom is continuous and you never want to stop learning or growing.

Unfortunately, that and some other experiences kind of put me into a very bad place where I became my own harshest judge. Since I was primarily focused on steps, I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t move forward in the Franchise levels until I had earned it. And earning it would mean mastering technique. While that may sound like a reasonable goal, it really wasn’t because my own definitions of “earned it” were unrealistic. It was like I was doing penance for my bad competition (which wasn’t that bad) and not going to be out of purgatory until I convinced myself that I was worthy.

As bad as over confidence is, lack of confidence is worse. I was constantly looking for ways to put myself down. (No fair going through old posts and finding examples. I told you I haven’t gotten all the bugs worked out) I’d be shown new steps and my first response was typically “I can’t do that”. It was a defense mechanism. I mean I couldn’t be criticized if I did it to myself first.

And when you spend all that time figuring out how and why you suck so bad, you fail to notice that you are making progress. The step that you said you can’t do is now easily integrated into your pattern and you’ve actually learned several new ones after that. When you get fixated on the negative feedback, you ignore the really positive comments that you are getting.

The learning process isn’t easy. You see a step or have a technique explained and then you have to figure out how to make your body do the same thing. And it doesn’t always take right away. Your body can be your own worst enemy failing to do what an instructor makes look so easy. And it can be totally frustrating to not be able to hear what they are saying but not be able to translate it to movement. Or to find the right words to explain what just feels “wrong”.

And in moments like that, you can easily forget that you’ve gone through a similar progression many, many times before. It doesn’t make you dumb or a bad dancer. And, sometimes, certain steps or concepts are going to be a little more difficult to pick up. Now, this sounds cliche, but the hardest things to do is keep going and let the process work as bad and awkward as it gets. Sooner than you think, the step is incorporated and you really aren’t even thinking about it anymore. Then, all the fuss over it when you were first learning it seems silly.

I think for me that some of the baggage I carried in the first time still hangs around from time to time. I was never supposed to be a dancer so how can I really be any good. Why would anyone ever want to watch me? I’m not that good. This is honestly why it is still a bit surreal to me when something like last Thursday happens. When someone who’s only seen me dance a few times suddenly starts yelling for me to do a demo and others join in, there is still part of me that is like “don’t you mean some other good dancer”.

This is also going to sound cliche but I’m trying to keep some balance and perspective. Not getting too high or too low. I’m good enough that people in the studio wanted to see me dance. They were willing to wait for group class just to see me do a Viennese Waltz. But I’m still not a finished product (and my never be). There are always things that can be done better or new things to learn. And none of that takes away from what I’ve accomplished.

Yes, I am a ballroom dancer. No, I’m not Derek Hough (who is?) But I’m better than I ever thought I could be. And I can still get better. The road has been rocky and there are probably more bumps ahead but it is still a road worth traveling. About a year ago, my world was rocked a bit and I had to make a decision about my dance journey. I chose to go forward even knowing it meant working with someone who was going to be on a steep learning curve. And last week, we had all eyes on us doing our new Viennese Waltz. That shows how far we’ve come and I know there is much more room to grow. I made the right decision. My dance journey is far from over.

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