Keep The Comments Coming!

My email box done ’bout blown up with all the comments people are posting about shoes, competitions, and dancing in general!  I love it!  I’m so excited that there are others out there in the blogosphere as passionate and excited about dancing, and in particular ballroom dancing, as I.

Thank you, all, for sharing your experiences, perspectives, opinions, and asking questions.  Thank you for being respectful in your communications.  You are giving me great things to think about and it makes me want to also jump into the conversation.

Before I get into the meat of this post, I wanted to fill you all in on a few things.

First, the blog will be getting upgraded sometime in the near future.  My dear friend, Ivonne, has graciously agreed to help me make the blog more professional and personalized.  What this means is that there may be some times where the blog is down while things are getting moved to the new server.  Don’t fret!  It is all in the name of creating a bigger, better, more beautiful blog.

Second, life is unpredictable.  Remember that job offer I had, well, yeah, not so much anymore.  After the acceptance letter and pee test, I got notice that plans had changed with the company at large and I was only one of many people geting similar news.  Also, I got a bad chest cold, and coupled with asthma this means I haven’t danced in over a week and a half.  I’m grateful I never officially quit my current job and they were glad (cheering and hugs ensued) when I notified them that my plans had changed.  They are glad to still have me on staff.  So I’m not destitute, and that is a good thing.

Third, I’d love to delve into the topic of partners.  But that is a juicy subject so I’ll leave that for a later post.  Hopefully I’ll have something to write about after dancing with Ivan, my partner, very soon.

Fourth, let’s talk competitions.

In response to Paragon’s comment (I added the bold letters):

Another line of questions that I’d love to get your take on have to do with first competitions.  My teacher and I had a chat about this tonight and it was a little overwhelming.  I already know the choreography, but it’s all the other details that I’m clueless about–from the issue of number of entries (for me, this will come down to budget), dress rental, getting a tan, to having hair and makeup done.  My teacher is recommending that I do it all.  But, if it were you doing your first competition all over again, what would you do given what you know now?  For the first two levels of bronze (latin) is it really necessary to have your hair and makeup professionally done?  Do I need a blinged-out dress (I love them, I’m just worried about budget) or could I get away with this for now: http://www.discountdance.com/dancewear/style_N7038.html?pid=9369&Shop=Style&SID=328412990 ?  My main concerns are not looking overdone for my level (I’ve never watched pro am in person) and not letting concern about expense eclipse the fun of the competition.

Of course I have thoughts – and I also loved seeing the interactions that took place in the comments of the blog.  I think those who participated had great things to say, great perspective.

As for my reply, if I were going to do my first competition all over again, what would I do given what I know now, I’m not sure I’d have done anything different. Why? I guess because it has kind of been a “learn-as-you-go” type of experience for me.  I’ve learned about the competitions by doing them, seeing how other people show up for them, and also talking with others more experienced than I am.  Also, I have to realize that I only have my experiences – there are others out there to be had, but I didn’t have them.  For instance, I’ve only danced Pro/Am and never been a part of a big studio.  I’ve never done a “studio” competition, only “real world” ones – but even those “real world” ones come in different “flavors” from what I have observed.

I had no idea what I was getting myself into by deciding to do a dance competition.  It was just something my first instructor mentioned would be a good thing to do.  I went into sticker shock when I learned how much getting a dress would cost, and because of my size, I couldn’t buy one off the rack.  So I swallowed the bullet and had one made.  I’m sure some people would have balked at the expense of it all and said no, but for whatever reason, I just decided it was an experience I wanted to have, so I made it happen.

Even so, I didn’t really understand all the ins and outs of a competition, nor the unwritten “rules.”  I kind of knew you needed to wear stage make-up on the ballroom floor, but I had no idea the extremes people go to, nor that you could hire someone to do your hair and make up, nor that the hairstyles should be as stiff as a football helmet.  I watched a video online about how to apply dark eye make-up and fake eyelashes and did my hair myself.

The first competition I did was a World Promotions event.  These competitions are fun and kind of geared toward destinations.  They play fun music, stuff like AC/DC, that you won’t hear at most “standard” ballroom competitions.  World Promotions events are not where the pros go to compete.  It was, as my then-instructor said, a “nice little competition” for a first one.  Some of their events are very large, they have one in Argentina for instance, and I think they can be great, depending on what your goals for competing are.

The second competition I did was a real eye-opener.  It was the San Diego Open.  This was a more “competitive” situation and had pro heats.  I saw how over-the-top some of the costumes and hairstyles could be.  I realized that my bun maybe wasn’t cutting it.  Again, I did my own hair and make-up, but I realized that for future competitions, I’d probably get some more competent help.

The dress you provided a link to, Paragon, would have made you feel out-of-place at this competition – everyone was blinged out.  But I realize that there are a bunch of different types of competitions where a plain dress like that would be appropriate.  It would be important to know before stepping onto the dance floor.  I don’t think there are any rules against it, or anything, but you’d feel out-of-place, I think, in a sea of sparkles at a competition like this one.  One would hope that you’d be judged more on the quality of your dancing than on your outfit, but many times, from what I understand, it is the entire package you present that the judges mark.  It really could affect your placement, so depending on what is important to you, you will have to decide how you will play the game, and also decide which type of competition will suit you best.

I think the only advice I’d give to my competition-naive-self from my perspective after a few competitions under my belt would be to remind myself that I’m creating this experience for myself.  I should do whatever I want that makes me feel best.  If I want to go big, play blinged out, do the hair, get the tan, don the nails, and get my make-up done, then do it.  If I want to play in a low-key arena, that is great too.  I would tell myself just to be clear on what I want and then to go for it with all that I am in the moment.  And, for God’s sake, to just enjoy every second of it!

I think people compete for different reasons.  All of them are valid – from just wanting to look pretty, to showing off, to testing your mettle, to winning an award, they are all great.  Some people want to just do it once before they die and to find the courage to be seen is a huge accomplishment.  Others want to travel.  Or maybe to make friends.  There is a competition to suit every desire.

I know for me doing the competitions was about setting some goals and seeing how close I could come to reaching them.  It was also about demonstrating my progress over time since I’d put in a lot of effort, time, and money to improve.  I also really just enjoy the experience of dancing in public.  It is a little bit exhilarating (and scary) to vie for the attention of onlookers, and to get a judge to see you.

If I were you, I’d start looking into local competitions.  I’d check out their websites and ask others who have participated in them how they liked them.  I’d ask for the honest opinion of other students.  I’d look for videos from the competition in past years on YouTube.  I’d decide if it was something I was interested in doing, or not.

If your instructor brought it up, there could be a number of reasons for that.  You’ll have to use your own discernment to feel out the motivation behind that.  Obviously, your instructor believes in you and thinks you could be successful on some level in a competitive arena.  If your instructor is encouraging you to stretch yourself, set goals, improve, this is all good.  When I signed up for the San Diego competition it brought focus and intensity and motivation to my lessons.  I improved in quantum jumps instead of plodding along with small incremental changes because I had a definite target I was working toward.  Signing up for a competition may light a fire under your butt and push you farther than you ever thought you’d go.

However, make no mistake, competitions are revenue generators, for everyone involved except students.  This is neither good, nor bad, right nor wrong.  I would just want to make sure I wanted to do the competition for me, not because I was being pressured into it.  I think we can all sense when someone has an agenda – it doesn’t feel good.  I suppose that even if I was aware that my instructor or my studio had an agenda (to make money) to get me to dance in a competition, even that would be okay, as long as I actually wanted to participate.

I have loved my experiences dancing in competitions.  It has deepened my passion for dancing and exposed me to a big wide world greater than I see in my daily life.  I’ve made friends, and grown as a person and a dancer because of setting goals and working toward them at competitions.  If you are at all interested, I’d encourage you to explore the possibility of dancing in a competition.  You never have to do another one again if you hate it, and you just might discover some things about yourself or find that you love competing if you at least give it a chance.

There are a lot of things to think about if you are considering competing, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming.  It can be an adventure.  Also, since you are connected to this community, you can interact with others who have competed and ask as many questions as you like.  A lot of life is just getting out there and doing “it” even when you don’t have all the information – we rarely do.  Life is short.  Enjoy it.  If competing is something that intrigues you, why not explore it?

I hope this helps!

Coming Down From An Amazing High…

Hello there!  This is Stefanie writing in italics.  I am excited to share with you a guest blog post from my dear friend, Ivonne, who just competed in her very first ballroom competition!  She did an amazing job, and I am so excited to share her story.  There is something so special about doing something for the first time and it is wonderful to experience it vicariously “for the first time” alongside her.  

And without further ado….Ivonne! (She’s the one not using italics ha ha)

The competition was a little over aweek ago, and I still don’t feel ready to let it go. I’m still savoring every last bit of my experience from that weekend. I was warned that I might crash from the high of the competition, and that it would be totally normal, but I didn’t expect this little wave of sadness now that it is really over. With that sadness has come the realization, though, that I totally want to do it again! And often!

The experience of going to a DanceSport ballroom competition could not have been any more amazing. I couldn’t have wished for it to be better! I wouldn’t have known what to wish for! This was simply perfect: going in there without expectations, not knowing at all what it would be like, free from knowing what it “should” be like, how I “should” stack up against anyone, who is who in the industry and what students they are bringing, how the judges do their thing…I was surprisingly calm about the competition itself. I was not scared about competing. I was not concerned with anyone else’s performance. What I could not shut up about was how excited I was to be there. I am pretty sure everyone thought I was acting like a giddy 16-year-old gushing about a crush.

I can’t even put the events of the day into some kind of order to talk about the day in a way that makes sense to anyone. I barely remember being out on the competition floor and what I did, other than the fact that I enjoyed every second of it, and those minute or minute-and-a-half heats were way too short! Between heats in which we were competing, my partner and I spent the entire time dancing on the practice floor on the other side of the room. Even when others were dancing in dances in which we were not competing, like tango and Vienese waltz, we were back there doing those, too. Just having a good ol’ time! I know that I was a bundle of energy and I had to keep moving to “spend” it. But it was not nervous energy. It was pure happy energy, and I think that it showed all around us.

So how did I do in the competition? Oh yeah, because it was a competition, not just an opportunity to dance all day! Right! Well, I got a lot of first places – mostly first places, actually. And yes, that’s pretty darn cool, but honestly,the placing didn’t even matter to me. I could have gotten all last places and still it wouldn’t have changed a thing for me about this experience.

I was just so happy to be able to dance my heart out, give it the best I could, in the environment in which this is meant to be done, in my”costumes,” with my makeup, and my fancy up-do, surrounded by so many other people who also do this because they get so much joy and happiness from it. It was a great community of people – everyone I met was so positive, and happy, and supportive of one another. Oh my god… I was just in love with life that whole weekend.

I will say this about the placings and the awards. No one told me what we “get” when we place. I thought there were medals or trophies or something like that. But we got stickers. Stickers! Which we were supposed to stick on a certificate.  Like a third-grade achievement chart! That made me laugh because it just seemed so anti-climactic for “winning” anything! But hey, I’ll take it. It was just one more fun thing about the day, to look back on and smile. I am not sure if this is the norm for most competitions.

Incidentally, that pink feather in the photo is a souviner from my dress – the one Stef wrote about in this post,  It fell off on it’s own but I decided to keep it as a reminder of the day.

One other thing that I really appreciated was that we were able to meet the organizers of the event, the judges, and so many of the other dancers competing. Everyone was very approachable and friendly. I loved that part about the weekend. It was helpful to get the kind of feedback I got in conversations with any of these folks, and the amount of encouragement to keep dancing! When people would learn that I’d only been doing this since November 1st, I always got the same reaction, “WHAT?! That’s it?! I wouldn’t believe that! You are so good! Please don’t stop! You’re a natural! WOW!”

Seriously – to hear strangers tell me that, who have no reason to be nice to me, felt really good. I have been hearing it at the studio, but there was always this little lining of doubt… I always think they’re just being nice.

It was so surreal. All of it. One girl in particular which I had the biggest girl-crush on from the first time I saw her dance… I approached her after the evening show and told her how she’d given me something to work toward and what a beautiful dancer she is. Her response? “Really?! Thank you! Oh my god,we have been talking about you and your partner all day! You guys are so cute, and you dance so well together! We love you guys! Please keep dancing!” To which I could only respond, bewildered and giddy: “Really? Oh my god, I’m going to cry. Stop right now.”Hahahahahaha!

Like I said. I am still relishing the happiness I felt that weekend. So much so that it took me two days to remove my false eyelashes because that was the last bit of “magic” that was left from the event.

There will never be a first time at this again, and I am so grateful to have had this experience! There will definitely be a second, third, fourth… oh yeah, I’m hooked.

Okay, Stef here again.  I love the detail about the eyelashes!  Ivonne rocked the competition and had an amazing experience.  I’m so grateful she chose to share it here.  You can see more of Ivonne dancing using the links to YouTube below. 

Open Bronze Cha-Cha – 1st place: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Piw2xZQXfJw

Int. Bronze Salsa – 1st place: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=81wH6GyckSU

Pre-Bronze Rumba – 1st Place: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5GS85WAEWYY

Pre-Bronze Waltz – 1st Place: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2UOVOXm4zUc

Newcomer Foxtrot – 2nd Place: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K-AjfE3GUBQ