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Driving Home from the Studio

By The Girl with the Tree Tattoo

Anyone else do this? I usually listen to music on my way to the studio, but not on the way home. I find I prefer the quiet while I reflect on the dance lesson I just had.

The drive home seems to be the time my brain needs to fully absorb whatever concept we were working on. Sometimes I wish I could turn right around and go back for a second follow-up lesson because something clicked and I don’t want to wait to see if I can actually execute what I think I finally understand.

Other times, the quiet drive is spent having heart to hearts with my demons. On bad days, when my confidence is really low or I’m feeling especially inferior and “not belonging,” I drive home wondering what I’m doing and why I’m spending all this money on something that I’m not that good at. I try to counter these thoughts by reflecting on the positive moments in the lesson, like the things I did correctly or specific praise from my teacher.

Some of my drives home are spent reflecting on my journey thus far, which, if I’m not careful, means comparing my journey to others. It happens more often when a big local competition is happening, and I’m not able to compete. It happened a lot last year as competitions where I had competed in bronze and hoped to return to in order to compete in silver passed me by.

When I start comparing, I always end up feeling a little left out and sorry for myself. I feel like I’m somehow falling behind everyone else, even though we’re all on our own separate journeys.

As far as the 2016 portion of my journey went, I accomplished a lot while others were going to competitions! I started working on a second dance style, American rhythm. I published two books about ballroom dance!

That’s pretty good, right?

Even though I know it’s reality, it’s still funny to me how rarely things go as planned. They don’t always go worse; sometimes they go better! But usually not in the way you expect. I did not expect to take such a long break from competing (here I am preparing for a competition in April 2017 and my last competition was February 2016). I thought once I got started, I could keep the momentum going. The competitions would be my checkpoints to measure my progress along my ballroom journey.

While those weigh stations were closed to me, however, I had to find other ways to measure. Or perhaps, I thought, adjust my view entirely so I didn’t need to measure progress at all.

That second thought was quickly dismissed; I’m the type of person who needs to know she’s getting somewhere. If I want to just dance, I can go to social dances and stop spending so much money on private lessons every week. I like pushing and challenging myself, and I like having milestones to mark success or progress in my challenges.

Learning silver rhythm was a new challenge for me in 2016. Learning the routines acted as the first milestone, then understanding technique, applying styling, etc. would act as others. But after switching back to smooth for a lesson and working on waltz and foxtrot, I realized another challenge would be not losing what I knew in smooth. We had worked on body movement and foot tracking. That day, I had enjoyed the lesson and felt like I did well, but on the drive home, I was frowning. We had worked on those things before and I thought I had a handle on them. It had been weeks since we last worked on smooth. How did I lose progress so quickly? Was it like when I didn’t stretch for a couple days, and would feel stiff? Use it or lose it?

Times like those are when my demons pop up and tell me I’ll never be good at two styles because I can’t afford enough lessons per week to be able to effectively progress in both styles. Cue the tiny violin.

But it’s my own journey, right? There is no set timeframe for measuring progress in pro-am ballroom because it’s all individual. We aren’t ranked against each other except at each specific competition, and even then it only counts for that one event. I’ll get good at both styles when I get good at both styles!

I do have a long-term goal to compete in nine-dance, the four smooth dances and five rhythm dances. More recently, I’ve returned to focusing on the smooth dances in order to finally compete again. I’d love to be able to do nine-dance at the next competition, but time will tell if I’m able to handle all nine dances and afford paying double what I’ve paid in the past. Who knows, this journey has taken me in unexpected directions. Maybe there is another twist in my future!