Why I’ll Never Compete in Another Ballroom Dance Competition Again
To set the record straight, I love ballroom dancing and owe it a lot.
Ballroom dance made me a participant in a world where I’d formerly been only a spectator.
It also provided an emotional outlet at a very stressful time in my life, complete with new friends.
I’d been a ballet dancer my whole life and was always a mover. I love music and dancing socially, but this was going to teach me how to really dance with a partner.
It would give me the ability to “go out and dance.”
As it turned out, the competitive, rather than the social, aspect was presented to me after taking lessons a few months.
Hello competitive ballroom dancing.
Ballroom dance competitions, are elaborate, painful, intimidating, and expensive.
They are exciting, too, but any time you perform, you pay a price. And trust me, you are performing.
For my first competition, the organizers brought us out onto the dance floor so that we could get a feel for it, physically and psychologically. It was vast and vacant. The judges’ table lined one side and the sound system occupied the other.
Chandeliers hung from the ceiling.
The next morning the competitors exploded onto the dance floor.
It was like walking into a Walt Disney movie complete with glitter, lavish costumes, outrageous make-up, and perfect hair, like Cinderella. It was a place of make believe where you left the real world behind. In this fantasy land, everything was beautiful: beautiful smiling people, beautiful dresses, and beautiful dance floors in a beautiful room.
There were even tiaras.
Did I really belong here?
I mean, to walk out on that dance floor in front of all these people wearing a crown? I could feel my body stiffen in anticipation.
Couples had numbers, which the man wore, and were announced as you walked out to compete. While you were marching on, the previous group was marching off, and the next was lining up.
It reminded me of a refined assembly line.
Beauty takes a lot of time and effort. I am not beautiful in the morning, so the road to elegance was tedious. And painful. Beginning with the hair, which must be pulled back until your head resembles a shiny egg, in my case, a red egg.
It was late to bed and early to rise. In other words, exhausting. All I wanted in the morning was my coffee.
Eye liner, mascara, hair spray, high heels and Swarovski crystals were never in the line up. I felt like a cat being forced to take a swim. Once I was ready to hit the dance floor, I was okay, but the process was torture.
My feet were so swollen from walking around in ballroom shoes, that they only fit into sneakers at the end of the weekend. My head ached from having my hair pulled back tightly for hours.
And ballrooms are cold.
The temperature is dancer, and not spectator, friendly. Several hundred dancers move and sweat for hours. Between heats we wrapped ourselves in warm fuzzies in an attempt to stay warm.
The discomfort showed. My nose was red for the entire weekend.
The biggest drawback was my nerves, and although I loved the dancing itself, I hated being on a stage. People were looking at me and judging.
Did I really sign up for this?
My inability to relax resulted in a good deal of the fine tuning, that had been so carefully ingrained in those private lessons, going down the toilet.
And that’s a lot of money down the toilet.
Several brave souls even performed showcases. Think of them as short recitals. You and your teacher on that big empty dance floor alone with the eyes of the judges and every other competitor on you.
Why I succumbed to the pressure to do one the following year, I’ll never know.
Don’t forget the dough
Ballroom dancing alone is expensive. Add a competition and the zeros add up quickly.
First you pay for your regular private lessons. Then you buy extra lessons to get ready for the competition. This is before you’ve even registered.
Let’s start with the registration fee. Then choose the category, smooth, rhythm; and then the level. The number of dances determines the number of heats. The more heats, the bigger the bill.
But wait,we’re just beginning to add the dollar signs here.
Even as a beginner amateur, a women needs at least two ballroom gowns: one for the smooth and one for the rhythm competition. International is another category altogether that I won’t even address here.
Different dance and dress styles also mean different shoes.
On top of this, add the hotel room costs and all the expenses associated with a hotel, food for instance, and you get an idea of the thousands of dollars you can blow on one weekend.
The competitions I attended normally began on a Friday, so this also meant using vacation time. And again, time is money.
Don’t get me wrong, my school’s team spirit was contagious. I loved being a part of the group. There were lots of hugs, kisses, and congratulations. You were sorry to see everyone leave when it was over.
Dancing with a pro, your teacher, is great. You’re learning from someone who has experience and prides themselves on not only dancing well, but teaching well. I loved my teachers. And the lessons.
The trouble is you’re learning steps, not how to follow. The social aspect of dancing takes a big hit on this one.
Also, there are more woman at dances than men.
And the men prefer to dance with the women who can, well, dance. I found myself being corrected. I felt like I was in the Superbowl and had forgotten a play or had made a tactical error in the heat of battle that had cost someone their life.
I never realized how serious dancing could be.
On the plus side, the ballroom experience introduced me to a lot of great people. Several of us are still friends.
But as with any group, people fell away, or moved on. Some of my favorite teachers also moved on. This made it feel less like the family it was supposed to be.
At this point in my life, I had to stick close to home and didn’t travel, so this was my entertainment. It was a wonderful experience and I still know how to dance, but I couldn’t sustain it indefinitely.
Sadly, I don’t know anyone who likes to, or is willing to learn to, ballroom dance.
But wait. Don’t go away.
If all things ballroom are your passion, then all the negatives are worth it. This isn’t a dig. It’s just my experience.
I still love dancing. I watch Dancing with the Stars and am amazed how someone can perform on national television without having a stroke.
I love to cheer my friends on who still compete.
The lesson here is, that for the average person, this is an expensive, painful hobby, and when you make something you started for fun into a competition, you end up spending a lot more time and money than you anticipated.
And sometimes you lose track of the reason you started to begin with.
In my experience, a better approach is to take group lessons and skip the competitions altogether. Group classes are a lot less expensive and you still get the bonus of learning to dance while meeting people with this similar interest.
This means you’ve found a new tribe.
So if you want to be the next Ginger Rogers, Cyd Charisse, Fred Astaire or Patrick Swayze, and you would rather dance and compete than eat or sleep, then the competitive world is for you and it’s a great investment of your time and money.
You will have your vacation destination and social network all in one.
Go for it.
I’ll watch for you on the dance floor.
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