Life Lessons that I have learnt through Dancesport Competitions

I hope everyone is safe and well. With a lot more time on my hands now, I have been able to reflect upon my dance competition experience so far this year and write about it. Thank you Richard for encouraging me to write this article and I hope you enjoy!

When I first started learning how to dance, I used to think that Ballroom and Latin American dance was just about learning how to do figures, correct technique and working on performance. This changed as soon as I attended my first ever Dancesport competition earlier this academic year. I did expect that dance competitions would have given so many life lessons as well.

My journey as a Ballroom and Latin dancer has not always been the easiest. When the Leicester Friendly 2019 Competition finally rolled around, my partner and I confidently walked onto the floor for our very first Waltz. I had been practising for months on end beforehand and so I expected to do reasonably well. Even though there were a few timing issues, we maintained good posture throughout and managed to travel reasonably far along the long side. When the time came for the Beginners Waltz recall, we listened carefully for our number. Unfortunately, it was not read out. Crushing disappointment seeped through me as I realised that I had not made a single round in Beginners Waltz; a dance which I had been practising for the last six months. To make matters even worse, we did not end up making any rounds that day. I went home that day feeling defeated. Did this mean I was a bad dancer?

My first time competing in beginners at Leicester Friendly Competition 2019

Shortly after Leicester, I attended Warwick and Nottingham Varsity. Even though I managed to make one or two rounds, I still came back disappointed as other people in my category who probably have far less dance experience than me were placing higher. Just before the Christmas holidays, I admitted to a close friend of mine in tears that I was seriously considering quitting dance because I was not doing as well as I hoped.

Fortunately, I did not end up quitting Dancesport (obviously, since I’m writing this!). To this date, I have had four dance partners, been to six dance competitions (including Blackpool!) and have had some fantastic competitions results (which a few medals hanging from my memo board to prove it!). Most importantly, I have whole-heartedly enjoyed every competition I attended in second semester. This was because to the new mindset I adopted towards competitions. If it were not for the failures during this competition season or the emotional conversations I have had with a few close friends, I would have never learnt this much about myself. So today, I would like to share a few life lessons I have learnt in this first year of competing:

Lesson 1: Learning to dance is about improvement, not perfection (because such a thing does not exist!)

It took me a long time to realise that no matter how much private coaching I received or how much I practised, there was no way I would be able to do every figure perfectly. Of course, working on technique is important but you have to recognise that it takes a very long time to train your body to move a certain way, especially if you have never danced before. Therefore, it is important to learn to be patient with yourself. If you dance 2% better than how you danced last week, this counts as improvement. Remember, learning to dance is always a work in progress and it is very necessarily to celebrate even the smallest improvements.

Our New Yorker at Birmingham Friendly Competition 2020
Our improved New Yorker at Blackpool Inter Varsity Dance Competition 2020

Lesson 2: Don’t compare yourself to others

Much of my upset and anxiety from attending my first few competitions have been to do with comparing myself to other dancers who have beat me despite having less dance experience. I soon realised upon reflection that I should focus on my own dancing. My results have definitely improved because of this. Not comparing yourself to others is easier said than done but I prefer to think about it this way: the only person you can dance better than is yourself. This means that the only goal in dance that you should have is to dance better than you did previously rather than dancing better than anyone else.

Lesson 3: The results from Dancesport competitions don’t define your worth

It is okay to fail and it is okay to make mistakes. Getting disappointing results at dance competitions does not mean that you are a bad dancer. It only means that there is room to improve. In fact, you learn much more about dance, and yourself, when you don’t do so well at a competition. It is important to accept that on the day of the competition things won’t always go your way. You might not be feeling well, have timing issues or completely forget the routine. You are only human; things like this happen.

Now every time the recalls are announced, I silently repeat to myself: “whether or not I make the next round does not determine my worth”. Regardless of what results you get at a competition, there will always be a next time where you have the opportunity to show how much you have improved.

Enjoying the Bristol Friendly Competition 2020

I hope you have enjoyed reading this article and have learnt a few things from it. I, myself, am still in the process of learning about myself through dance. We are all working towards becoming better dancers one step at a time and it is having a positive and realistic mindset is essential for your dance journey. Happy dancing everyone (and stay safe)!