Recently I was sorting through my internet bookmarks and stumbled across the video from a dance competition I was in last fall. I had no way of knowing while at the competition that it would be my last (knees were not up to the training challenge the way my brain and heart were). As I got off the dance floor, I told my partner that that was the best I’d ever danced. It felt WONDERFUL. It felt like dancing, not a mechanical replication of the movements.
Watch me dance the cha cha with Kurt Popp.
Looking at this footage a year later, I see the joy in my movement. I also see that I was not going to improve much more in my Latin dancing. I danced it the way I wanted to, the way I felt the dances should be done. That is why it had felt so good at the time.
I’d been struggling with Latin for a long time. For me, the dancing itself wasn’t enjoyable (not that I ever let myself think that while I was still training). I loved the technical aspects of the dance: the precision, the need for hour upon hour of repetition to get that tiny little better. That was enjoyable part for me, not the movements themselves. I entered Latin dancing four decades too late. The Latin dance competition style of the 1960s and 1970s is the perfect fit for my dance aesthetic. It had fluid movements and music that spoke to me more. In watching current world champions dance, it doesn’t inspire me to work harder so my dancing could look like theirs. That’s a problem.
Well, that’s a problem if I wanted to continue competing. A realization came to me … Who I was dancing for would lead to which critiques I should listen to and which to ignore. As a competitive dancer who wanted to place well and gain respect on the floor, I needed to listen to those that pointed out where I was deviating from the syllabus. As a HUGE fan of external validation – which is important for a competitor – it felt disconcerting to be marked down for what felt right.
This is not to say that my ballroom dancing career was filled exclusively with this conflict. There were definitely moments like in this video where the love of dance shows through. I also love, love, love the standard dances (Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, Viennese Waltz, and Quickstep). The music speaks to me, and the movements were what my brain considers to be dancing. They are elegant, and they are just as precise as the Latin, but in a way that made my body rejoice. Those were the only dances that I wanted to practice with music going. I would watch the world champions for hours wanting to glide across the floor seemingly effortlessly (and yes, I actively realized it was their dedication to the craft that made it “natural” for them!). That is what I wanted – to be like them.
What lessons did I learn from watching this old footage? First, if the goals you set are at odds with what you think is right, you won’t progress far or fast. Regardless of what we are doing, that holds true. Second, and the hardest thing for to me to grasp and probably the most important, is that my opinion matters. Even though I knew it was not what is currently expected at a competition, watching myself in the Latin dance videos made me smile, and I’m still smiling. Okay, so my feet weren’t always skimming the floor (okay, skimming it at all!), and my knees weren’t always locked, and, and, and … I danced the way I wanted and LOVED it. That does count for a lot, especially now knowing that that was my final performance.
I’d love to hear your stories of when doing everything “wrong” felt unexpectedly right.