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06 November 2014

Ballroom milestones

The ultimate milestone would be to dance like these two!

Competitive ballroom dancing, being quite a structured activity, has a natural progression about it. Dancers getting into this hobby experience many of the same breakthroughs or turning points in their careers. I was thinking about some of my own recent milestones and remembered all the steps that came before, and how they each gave me a sense of accomplishment that I was actually progressing and improving. Here are some big ones that most collegiate dancers will have to look forward to, in the rough order that I experienced them:

1. Your first pair of shoes
You most likely don't really know what you're looking for and without some able guidance, you might pick something weird or ill fitting, but yes! It's your first pair of real dance shoes! They're so shiny! (One practice later...) Omg they are all dirty already. =(
*Newcomers, please note: It is a BAD idea to buy 3" Latin sandals as your first pair of shoes, even if you are used to walking in high heels. Trust me, proper Latin technique is not quite the same as walking. Stick to 2-2.5"! 

2. Your first competition
Chances are that you're not 100% sure of what you're doing or what's going on, and you are a bundle of nerves and excitement. Nothing quite like the thrill of competition! You're in awe of all the higher level dancers and motivated to improve.

3. Your first final 
Some lucky people make finals very early on, and for some other dancers it takes a bit longer to get the hang of this whole ballroom dancing thing. Have no fear - in ballroom dancing, discipline and hard work can often trump natural talent. One of my favorite aspects of ballroom is that anyone can learn how to dance, and dance well. Hard work makes that first ribbon all the more glorious.

4. Breaking into silver
When you advance into the silver category, you are officially not a beginner anymore. You have an understanding of basic timing and how figures go together. You begin to focus on improving technique and exploring more complicated figures.

5. Your first private lesson
You're ready to move from figure-based group classes to more personalized and focused training. (Hold onto your hats, people, it only gets more expensive from here.) But with the help of your coach, you'll improve quickly and with a sound structure.

6. Your first costume
Time to kick it up a notch for competition and feel all legit and stuff in those snazzy Latin pants or shiny dress. Gone are the days of trying to find something off the rack that will be appropriate. Once you start competing in a costume, you pretty much don't go back. Feel like a real dancer yet?

7. Breaking up with your first real partner
...and the subsequent partner search. Breaking up is hard to do, but partners who stay together for more than a couple years tend to be the exception, not the rule. Life happens. If you've considered options thoroughly and it's not gonna work, it's better off for both parties to end it and move on. Cherish your first real partnership and the things you achieved together, and make sure to go forward with the lessons you learned from your partner. Coming out of each partnership, you learn a lot about what works for you, what you're willing to put up with, and what you're not willing to compromise on.

8. Breaking into open 
This is the big one. Finishing syllabus and starting to dance in the open categories signifies that you've made it to the major leagues. Now you get to explore your dance 'personality' through unique choreography and styling. The gap between gold and novice/pre-champ is usually pretty big, so you'll need to work that much harder to make those callbacks and wrangle a spot in the final. Getting to open comes along with a whole host of other little milestones too - more about that in a later post.

There are a couple little milestones along the way too, like getting your first tan or maybe getting your hair/makeup professionally for the first time. Or maybe stoning your own dress (and having it come out badly...that might just be me.) Another good one might be feeling comfortable social dancing for the first time. Oh! and starting to follow the professional circuit, i.e. learning all the pros' names. I also just had a dress made for myself for the first time so I'm excited to write about that soon.

What are your favorite ballroom milestones?

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