Kill The Headlights And Put It In Neutral

The competition this past weekend both went exactly as I expected, and also went nothing like I expected. As you can imagine, that has left me feeling rather unsettled about whether I feel good or bad about things. It was fun, to an extent, but not quite as much fun as I was hoping it would be when I first signed up to perform. You see, for me, doing these competitions is not really the primary reason that I am still studying ballroom dancing. I use these as a way to A) push myself to practice, because let’s face it, without a performance looming over my head it’s easy to slide into apathy and avoid practicing; B) gauge how much I’ve improved since I started this journey. This particular competition accomplished point A for me, but didn’t really help me with point B, and I think that’s really what has been bothering me the most. Let me try and explain this…

This wasn’t a huge event by any stretch of the imagination. Sure, in total there were a ton of people signed up to compete, and the festivities stretched out over the entire weekend, but it wasn’t in the same vein as one of those week-long competitions you hear about that everyone takes tons of time off work to travel to and attend. It was also billed as an amateur-only dance event, though there were a lot of people I saw out on the dance floor who I know hold positions as Dance Lords and Ladies at various dance halls I have been to, so I guess ‘amateur’ was more of a suggestion than a rule. Either that, or my definition of what constitutes a professional is wrong… Anyway, as I mentioned earlier we took part in rounds for American Smooth and International Latin. The Latin dances were far more contested than the Smooth ones, though in our age group many of the same people were competing in both. Based on the results, I can either say that we are a lot better at Smooth dances than we are at Latin dances, or just enough of the higher-level dances sat out of the Smooth dances to give us a chance at things. Our results came in as dead last in both of the Latin rounds we did, but we came in second to last in the three-dance Smooth, and our best was a fourth place in the Viennese Waltz (which sounds pretty good, but I think that might have still only been like second-to-last place). I was really hoping to do better in the Viennese Waltz than anything else, but I got smashed into pretty hard by someone in one of the Senior-level age ranges who was on the floor at the same time we Loser1were, and I wasn’t able to recover from that as quickly as I would have liked. I don’t know if that blunder was what caused us to get marked down lower, but I was sad when it happened. I got off easy though in the physical contact department – Sparkledancer took a heel on her big toe during the Samba, and she came off the floor afterward bleeding pretty badly. I saw the carnage afterward, and I think that her Latin shoes are going to be permanently stained from that injury. When I saw her a few days later, most of the top of her toe had bruised to an almost black color, so me getting slammed in the shoulder by someone seems inconsequential compared to that.

What I struggle with is what the results really tell me. Take our last-place Latin results as an example. Does it mean that I am terrible at Latin dances (I mean, obviously I am terrible at Samba, but I thought I could do OK in the others)? Or is it just that we were horribly outclassed during those rounds? After all…

…the duo that got first place in the closed Silver-level Latin rounds we were in…
Loser2 …also took first place in the closed Gold-level Latin rounds…
Loser3  …and if you ran down the list of all the places for the six pairs that made it into the semi-finals, they are pretty much the same in Gold and Silver.
Loser4  So it feels like we were the only ones out on the floor who were competing at Silver that weren’t also competing at Gold. How could we hope to do better than last against people like that?

I still had some fun through everything. Because I was only in a handful of the rounds, I got to sit on the sidelines and watch a lot of what was going on. One of the things that I found that day was that the children’s competitions were pretty hilarious to watch. I’ve never seen small children compete in dancing before (or… anything, really. I try not to be creepy.), but what I gathered from watching is that they must not be taught to worry about grace while dancing – rather they must focus on pure power. They were doing Rumba, and whenever they would do New Yorkers or Hand-to-Hands, their opposite arm would strike out, almost like they were in a karate class trying to punch through a board. It was fascinating. The Loser5funniest set of young kids was a particular group of about four pairs. They all had the same instructor (I saw them in the warm-up area working with her beforehand), and they were all doing the same choreography for each dance style. During the Ballroom rounds, it was like watching synchronized swimmers as they were doing the same figures at the same time out on different parts of the floor. I have no idea why I found that so amusing, but it made me laugh every time I saw them out doing that.

So what’s the big takeaway here? I’ve had lots of discussions with various people about the event and the lessons learned. After the Monday night Latin Technique class, I hung out at the Electric Dance Hall talking with Lord Junior about options for amateur competitions that he has seen in his travels. One of the things I asked him was if he had seen an event where, as an amateur, I could go out and just run heats – which would allow me to be on the floor several times for the same dance style, and also give me a score as feedback. He told me that once you get outside of the franchise world, that’s just not how competitions are done. He also went off on a rant about how some Dance Lords and Ladies will use events like that to milk their students for money, and how he would never do something like that because it felt wrong. His suggestion for both Sparkledancer and I was that if we wanted to keep competing together, we should go back to the beginning, really focus on our technique, switch to doing International Standard and Latin (because that’s what most people compete in), and then we could go to the same competitions year after year. Over the course of many years we would be able to see the improvement in our rankings. It would be a long, slow and arduous process, but he thinks that the better one does at competing, the better they are at dancing in general. I walked away from that conversation sort of feeling bad, like competing really has no point if I only want to do it occasionally as a hobby and not devote massive amounts of time and energy to standing in front of a mirror working on the same things over and over until I am the best at them. He must have sensed my negative feelings about things, because I got a text message from him half an hour later telling me that above all I should just have fun with my dancing. He went on to say (and I quote) “it can get frustrating at times, it never feels good to lose necessarily. You’re young and athletic, and can do this for the rest of life. Just have to make some adjustments that’s all J”

Sir Steven took a different approach. I had thought that when I saw him on Tuesday night, he would want to know about how we felt about the competition, but instead we started right away with working on things for the next time. Sparkledancer and I had discussed briefly with him before the competition about moving back to doing American Rhythm, and so he had us jump into putting together a new routine for Rumba and East Coast Swing. This was really nice – going back to American Rumba really felt like coming home. I don’t know why, but I just feel more natural when doing Rumba with box steps than I do going through the slow International style. It’sLoser6 not because of International’s weird rhythm – starting on a different beat never bothered me, I have no trouble hearing that. No, there’s something more to it than that, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. Going back through East Coast Swing instead of Jive felt the same way. We are lifting the opening section of our Jive routine and using it for East Coast Swing, but it flows more naturally for me as East Coast Swing, even though they are basically the same figures. So I’m kind of excited about this change, even though it means throwing out half our routines and starting over again. After we got done dancing for the evening, then we talked about how things went during the competition. Sir Steven’s thoughts were that this was our first foray into the world outside of a franchise event, so it’s going to feel weird. He thinks we should do another one, likely another small one that is primarily amateur, and see how we feel after that, now that we know what we’re getting ourselves into. He’s going to research some competitions that will happen after the turn of the year, and we’ll pick something that sounds fun and see what happens.

So, that’s that. Time to hang my fourth-place ribbon on the wall and use that to tell me I’ve come a long way in the last couple of years. Next weekend I’ve got tickets to a weekend-long dance party going on in the Dance Kingdom where there are two huge (and formal) social dances Friday and Saturday night with an orchestra providing the soundtrack, with a triple-dose of workshops during the day on Saturday where I might be able to pick up some fun things. Maybe I’ll see you all there if you’ve got tickets too!

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4 Replies to “Kill The Headlights And Put It In Neutral”

  1. I know how you feel with competing against those dancing down … It’s hard and a little frustrating. It’s the way comps are set up over here in the States.
    But, congrats on the 4th place! As my teacher says, there are many, many people who win nothing at all and I should be very happy with whatever I win! 😉 oh teachers …
    Question: did you only dance each dance once? Was there a championship where you danced multiple dances?

    1. This was the kind of competition where you only got to be out once. We did two entries where there were single dance styles, and then two where it was a three-dance. In the senior divisions, they had finals and semifinals for pretty much everything, but we were only in one round where they took the six best and called them back for a final. my guess is that’s because there are so many more seniors that were dancing than there were people in my age group…

  2. I was told to never dance for placements as they aren’t a reliable indicator of how much you’ve improved. It depends on the judges and what they are looking for that day and what they see the brief time they look at you and the competition. Have to look at other things and more importantly how you felt about things. If it felt like an improvement, it was.

    1. I was told that too, but sometimes it’s nice to have outside feedback to say that you were good at one dance style or another, and need to work on foot placement or ankle strength, or other things like that. I had gotten that type of feedback before, and I guess I was just sad that I didn’t get anything like that this time. Ah well, there are other ways to figure out if I’ve managed to improve over time, I guess.

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