What Was Gained, What Was Found
An Unfinished List of What Ballroom Has Given Me
By Patrick Severin
Have you ever noticed that something important ends slowly? Everything has a last day, a time to clean, pack up, and put away. A time to say goodbye. These are quick moments, precious, treasured, but they are only the beginning, the zephyr signalling the approaching storm. You feel the closing in the air, but if it was important, the end will stretch out far past that last farewell hug.
The natural progression of my life has brought me to this moment: the time to wish the ballroom dance team well and head to a new town. Excitement, sorrow, and reflection all brewed in my mind on that last day, but even now, I’m still processing. What follows is an incomplete list of the things that ballroom, and this team, has given me.
I am no natural dancer; my theater teachers of years past nicknamed me “Stiff” because my movements were indeed reminiscent of the walking dead. The awkwardness was largely due to disliking my shape, my size—in my mind, I was very different from how I looked to others. Still, performance is in my blood, and ballroom called to me, despite putting those fears front and center. My teammate Joel, countless times, told me to stand taller, to project myself, and I found that the answer to this discomfort wasn’t obscurity; it was acceptance.
I have had a lot of success in my life and have been guilty of letting that define me. Letting success define you lets the world take your soul. A life well lived will feature failure more often than not. Failing to learn figures, not making call-backs, progressing more slowly than my friends—these things chipped apart my feet of clay, but underneath I found something stronger.
Many, many times I felt I didn’t belong. Broadly, this was self-imposed, and my teammates picked me back up when I’d fallen down.
“Yeah, callbacks can be a crapshoot, dude.”
“The reverse still doesn’t feel quite right, but it’s so much better than before!”
“Ballroom isn’t a sprint; it’s more of a death march.” (I promise, this was far more encouraging in context).
Had this team been less kind, less attentive, I’d not still be in this sport, and I’d be lesser for it. The anxieties haven’t left, but I’ve come far enough to say, and believe, they’re unfounded.
Imagine my surprise when newcomers to the team were asking me questions about figures, technique, arm styling…. I honestly had to wonder if they’d been watching me and, if so, why they’d ask for my advice afterwards. Still, I cherished the opportunity to pass on my lessons, as unactualized as they may have been in my dancing. But I think the biggest impact I had wasn’t explaining the technicalities; it was assisting with the mental processes. I could see frustration, despondency, and isolation far more easily than the others, or perhaps I merely knew how to approach these mental battles. I knew the value that a few simple words of camaraderie, encouragement, or mere recognition could carry. I hope that they were as useful to the recipients as they were to me, repeating simple truths that I sometimes forgot.
That last practice, we sat in a circle and talked about our high and low points of the semester. As I spoke, trying to convey the emotions above in far fewer words, I looked at every face in attendance. I had a story to tell about every one of them. I knew who they were, each one of us the amalgamation of our memories of the past and our vision of the future, each of us on a journey. None of us is perfect, but we’re all striving to be better, and being accepted as a part of that was a feeling I couldn’t find words for. Slowly, I’m coming to terms with the fact that my time with them is over. Slowly, I’m filing away the memories and lessons. Slowly, it’s ending. But then and now, I am not overwhelmed by sadness but by comfort: what was gained, what was found—with these people—are moments that will never leave me.