Do you remember your favorite Elementary School teacher?
The way they made school fun? How safe and cared for it was like to be in their classroom, occasionally even getting special treats to take home at the end of the day…
Some teachers really go the extra mile to make us feel special. And not just in a simple nice way; they’re great listeners, have great advice, and seem to know us so well!
A lot like our dance teachers.
I’ve come to appreciate two things about my dance teachers that are very similar to what I loved about my school teacher:
One: They had faith in me . No matter how I thought I failed, they never seemed to think so. They talked about what I could do to fix my mistakes, and how to stop bad habits. It never seemed to phase them when I did horribly and missed the mark I was aiming for. I remember wondering why. I remember thinking that it drove me crazy that they were never upset with me, when I knew that everything I’d done had been awful.
Two: Their life was set aside for me. Did you ever wonder as a small child if your teacher lived at your school? Like their entire life was just that classroom and the school grounds… ever get shocked by seeing your teacher in the grocery store and realizing they had a life outside of your lessons? Dance teachers are funny like that, too. Even as adults we forget that our teachers are just like us. Normal people. Regular people.
These similarities always strike a chord with me, because I love to see through other people’s eyes. I grew up to understand that the reason my 1 st grade teacher never got upset with me for being slow was that she knew the learning steps I was taking. And how what seemed as a monumental failure to me, she knew was only a drop of water in the ocean. She was drawing me up in that way, guiding me when I didn’t know where we were going.
And when I got old enough to see her as a real person and realize that there was a family and life waiting for her at the end of the day, once she had offered everything she had to teaching me… I saw how much she dedicated, and sacrificed to be there. To listen to me. To support me. To be my friend at a time in life when I had few.
Was Elementary School a drop of water in the ocean?
Yes… and No.
And when I think of it now, I have so much respect for those people who gave up so much of their lives to help me build mine.
The same could be said of our dancing. Is it the sum of our lives? Does it mean the world to us? Do we care to live without it?
And is it our teachers who make it so.
They, too, are putting their lives to the side to teach us. To focus on us. To be there for us.
The only difference is that I never was able to tell my 1 st grade teacher that everything she did for me was so powerful and made such an impact.
I’m so glad that I get to be on even ground with my teachers these days, so that I can tell them what their time means to me.
I can stand next to them in life and know that we both go to the grocery store, fill our cars with gas and do our laundry whenever we can. And I can appreciate that they care enough about my lessons to put so much prep-time towards them, so much thought on my goals and the dancer I want to become to plan those steps that I will fumble up and never get mad at me . Because they know each step is just one drop of water.
I can thank them for that.
If you’re a part of the class of dancers who live for the large floor, sparkling colors and flashy performances, you might go through something like this around an event like Showcase:
The Build Up
You set your goal of being everything you can be. You visualize it. Imagine the music, the storey-telling. Plans are made, excitement is soaring: you look forward to everything about that day (or days) and can’t wait to live in each moment!
Making the steps and the connection feel right is hard, and you may worry that stagnation is creeping in on your piece of art, making it not everything you wished it could be for this occasion, but your partner or teacher tells you it’s going to be alright, that it will all work out. You try not to be nervous.
In the last and final practices of your routines and dramatic finishes, you find those big moments finally making sense! The dips land right, the lifts are smoother than ever before and you finally figured out why that one trouble spot in the routine felt off (and corrected it)! Flying high, you can’t wait to see everyone’s faces as you take your bow and walk off the floor…
This is the part of your event story when you regret that the idea of performing ever even entered your mind and you want to go back on everything you’ve ever said about wanting to get on that floor. Dancers of all levels experience some degree of this emotion before each performance. Even the best can sometimes have it the worst, but no matter who you are, nerves are a part of the dancer lifestyle. The important thing is to remain calm and focus on your work of art! After all, you’ve prepared well. There’s no need to let fears get in your way.
Ahhhhhhhh, the stomach dropping as the music from the rutine before you fades away. The sensation of wanting to run screaming. The embarrassment of being in front of so many people. Being convinced that your routine or show-piece isn’t anywhere good enough for this crowd. Then, deciding to dance for you and your partner and falling into the familiar flow of your chosen music. Getting to the end without breaking anyone’s leg or falling down, and bowing to actual applause! It’s over! Feeling so thankful when you finish with a flourish and everyone is clapping.
So many emotions after its all through! Congratulations from people all throughout the rest of the night, some you don’t even know! Hugs and handshakes from dancers you respect and train beside. Happiness. Joy. Gratitude. Giddiness. The desire to do it again… Everyone laughs with you about how much fun this whole night is and what craziness it took to prepare and pull off! You’re so happy your piece is over and you get to relax and enjoy in a whole new way.
Much as you want to talk about your performance all night and day, your fellow dancers have experienced their own achievements being realized and their own fears faced, some for the first time. You have to come down from your high a bit to listen and support them in theirs. It’s the good-sportsmanship in you, besides; they supported you, too!
After a long and harrowing distance, you’ve achieved a goal, reached a dream, checked something off the list and really accomplished something extraordinary. You feel great, and everyone around you feels great. It’s great. You take a deep breath, as it starts to sink in. It’s over .
The event is in the past. The pictures will immortalize it forever. The videos have already been watched a dozen times in two days. Normal life is pushing in on you with it’s… normal-ness. You miss the lights. The tablecloths. The glamor. Normal life is kind of dull, at least visually. You look around your workplace, but your mind is still glimpsing images of swirling dresses and expanded frames… echoes of catchy quickstep music still replay in your head… You think to yourself that you should have done a quickstep, two… maybe next time. Sigh, but next time seems so far away! You wish fervently that you could have a night like that every weekend! Dazzle the audience every time with your spins and points! Why do events have to be so amazing and then… be over?!
To be perfectly honest, these are feelings every earnest dancer goes through. Whether they dance for a living or just for fun, they have to navigate these emotional peaks and valleys.
Handling these stages might look something like this…
The Build Up : Set a goal that is in your heart. Something you truly desire to work for. Dream with passion and vigor.
The Work : Take this project seriously so as to not waste you or your partner’s time. Be a fervent worker and practice .
The Breakthrough : No matter what, focus on the good. Use the moments when it all comes together to propel you further forward into a better challenge! Always move forward.
The Fear : When you want to quit, say this to yourself: “I’ll quit after.” Works every time.
The Performance : Let go of the people watching, don’t worry about who sees what. Just dance with your partner and love every second of it! This is what you showed up for.
The High : Remember to accept everyone’s words with positivity. Be courteous, thank them, don’t go on and on about how awful you think you were because you’re embarrassed about the attention, just be polite and gracious. Enjoy your personal win!
The Handoff : When your fellow dancers have taken their bows, make sure you give them the same glory they gave you. Tell them what you liked about their dancing, and make their moment in the spotlight as awesome as yours!
The Rest : Once it’s all said and done, you can enjoy the general glamor of the event. Take the time to think about why you love these performance opportunities. Watch the transformation of the dancers around you as they gain in confidence and experience. You were once like them. This is a wonderful way of growing and becoming the dancer you always wanted to be. Rest and appreciate everything around you. Be in the moment!
The Crash : There is only one cure for the depression which follows the end of a big event. One single cure for the sadness, loss of direction and purpose which engulfs a serious dance-lover… Another Build Up, and a new plan for your next performance.
So set up your next plan! A new goal! Don’t let the crash get you, but instead use it as a way to push on towards your next big high… and another great achievement.
You’re in the On-Deck area when you hear the music fade out and clapping sound. You take that deep breath that doesn’t necessarily settle the nerves in your stomach. You straighten your posture, feel the connection to your partner, even if you don’t look at them; you have their hand and they have yours.
You step out onto the floor. The room is called to a silent focus. On you. The judge in your sightline is already watching you. The shimmering skirts rustle around for a moment and come to rest in their places. Each of you has less than two minutes to dance, which could seem like a lifetime, or only a breath, but few precious seconds will determine your placement with the judges. Better make this the best round of the night.
How do you deal with Pressure?
Does it make you upset? Anxious? Frustrated? Fearful?
Why do we face it? Again and again? Why do we walk onto the ballroom floor and stare down our greatest challenges? Even terror?
Why do we come back?
This past July, Our friend Elena faced the competitive floor with both nerve and desire. Entering a competition that is the largest in Arthur Murray, and rivals some of the biggest in the world. She battled dozens of other women in her category, not to mention plenty of internal conflicts with emotions and exhaustion. Why did she do it…?
What did she get in return, other than the obvious victory and honor that came along with winning the Associate Bronze Scholarship and the Top Female Student Award in Associate Bronze?
Upon reflection, she had this to say:
“What did investing in Unique do for me and my dancing? Really, Everything I needed! It humbled and inspired me, grounded and exalted me, energized me when I thought I had nothing left, and only left me wanting more! It is the beauty of competition with the camaraderie of team sports, a chance to meet friends and create mentors, add to the bond in partnerships, and learn things you never could without it: How to appreciate and love everything you and your incredible instructors and amazing coaches have worked towards. Best of all, it’s a chance to dance your heart out, like no one is watching, while making connections with everyone around you!”
Pressure, it seems, didn’t make Elena anxious or fearful enough to prevent her from running headlong into one of the best debut competitions she could have hoped for. No, it has made her Strong. Resilient. Determined.
When you want to succeed at a Competition:
We all get caught up in comparing ourselves to others on the floor, but in order to be our best, sometimes we have to put blinders on. Block out the other competitors, choose to feel like you’re floating on the floor or soaring in the sky, but don’t notice anything about those dancers swirling around with you.
Be your own best friend and remember to do two things for you and your dancing:
- Forgive yourself when you make a mistake, and
- Congratulate yourself on doing a good job.
If you can be honest about your weak spots and still celebrate your tiny victories, you are on the road to greatness! It’s like all those inspirational quotes you might see as you scroll down your newsfeed:
Look in the mirror.
That’s your competition.
Stop competing with others.
Start competing with yourself.
It’s all true. The moment you begin to dance as though you only want to be a bit faster than last round, or slightly smoother than before, you’ve already gone miles beyond the person who’s looking over their shoulder at the dancer they envy and feel is better than them. All of the sudden, there is no other dancer. There is only you and your partner on this floor, spinning, turning, rolling in and back out and landing the dip on the perfect note!
The music is faded out. You present to the audience. Bow and acknowledge your partner. You know everyone saw the difference in your dancing from before. You can hear it in the cheers and clapping. You walk off the floor with a silent knowledge: that you competed with your old self.
And you won.
That’s how you walk on and off a dance floor and Dominate.
The choice you make to compete isn’t really that difficult. Even if you’re only a little curious, it’s worth trying it, just once. If only to experience what it feels like to decide who you’re competing against (yourself), and totally flatten them! Every single time.