Every once in a while I get into this very weird head place regarding my dancing. Basically, I lose my self-confidence. Objectively, I can tell myself, I’m not a bad dancer. I’ve worked hard on my dancing, and it shows. I’ve overcome numerous bad habits. That little difficulty keeping my balance? Mostly overcome. That problem hunching my shoulders and looking timid all the time? Pretty much gone. I am a good follow, and a creative dancer who loves nothing more than losing herself in the music. Guys have fun dancing with me. I’ve been told that I’m good for their egos because I take what was a mistake on their part and turn it into something cool. I do this without (usually) realizing it, thinking that I’m just following/elaborating on their lead. This is also good for their egos. And yet, there’s that other voice in my head that whispers that I’m not really that good, I’ve just been doing it longer than my partners, that guys don’t really want to dance with me because I’m too old/fat/unattractive/really a bad dancer and they’re too polite to say so, that I don’t really belong here and should just go home and quit pestering people with my requests to dance.
Some nights the first voice wins. I have good dances, and go home tired, satisfied, and happy. Other nights the second voice is louder. On those nights I become more reluctant to ask guys to dance. I start calling it “making boys dance with me” instead of “asking them to dance.” I wait for someone to come ask me, and if no one comes, stay on the sidelines hearing that voice get louder and louder. Sometimes I can break through it and still have a good night. More often, though, I paste a smile on my face, talk to my friends, maybe dance a few times, but leave the dance floor feeling like a failure, and go home tired, dispirited, and unhappy. Those are the bad nights. Everyone gets them. But it’s not easy, particularly when bad night follows bad night, and you start to wonder why you’re there, what’s the point of paying money you can barely afford to attend a dance where mostly you stand around and talk with your friends (which is, you know, lovely, but not the main reason why you come). You tell yourself that it’s just another dry spell, that it will pass, things will get better, but you can’t help thinking that maybe this time they won’t, that you’ve had all the really good dances you’re going to have, that maybe this is the reason why so many dancers fade away after four or five or six years, and maybe your good dancing days have slipped through your fingers and will never come again. (Me? Dramatic? Never!)
There are a few things I’ve found that help you get through a bad streak like this. The first is to not quit dancing. The people who get discouraged and quit are never going to experience the total high you’re going to get one day when you break through to the other side, a better dancer because you kept plugging away, able to have better dances than you ever had before. Those dances are going to come, they really are. You just have to keep coming back until they do. The second thing that can help is going somewhere else to dance. Sometimes part of the problem is that you’ve been dancing too long with the same old people. You know each other too well, and the dances have become, well, a bit boring. Dancing with new partners who’ve never seen you do that really cool swivelly thing before can be really fun. It’s a good reality check too. No matter how much you may discount your own ability, when that Really Good Guy you’re dancing with gives you a big hug at the end of the dance and a compliment, and asks your name and where you’re from, you’ve got to feel good. This one, however, can backfire at you. It’s easy to get lost at an exchange, to fade away to the sidelines with the wallflowers, indistinguishable from other girls who, for whatever reason, aren’t getting many dances. It’s hard to approach total strangers to ask for a dance. Not dancing creates a feedback loop in which guys don’t ask you to dance because they think you’re not interested (or tired or whatever), and things tend to go generally downhill from there. If you’re not careful and proactive about getting your dances, you could come home from an exchange even more discouraged than you were before you went.
The Columbus Lindy Exchange (CBUS5) came so, so close to being a bust for me. I haven’t been feeling good about my dancing for a while now, and it had been so long since I traveled to dance (not since PittStop ’08) that I was extra nervous. This long break from swing events also meant that, when I walked in the doors Friday night, I didn’t recognize most of the people on the dance floor. I spotted leads who had been friends, but whom I hadn’t seen in over a year. When I went over to say hi I realized that they didn’t remember me. I had one bad dance, then two, then three. My dancing confidence sank more and more. When I got lost on the way to the late nite I gave up, and just went home. I would try again tomorrow, I thought. However, Saturday afternoon wasn’t much better. I had exactly one dance, with a guy who’s dancing I had admired. Unfortunately, I had a hard time following his lead. It was like I wasn’t hearing him right, we couldn’t seem to synch up with each other. It was kinda awful. I retreated to a bookstore in the break before the evening dance to try to recover, but couldn’t seem to rally. I seriously considered just giving up on the whole weekend and going home. Then Godiva started texting me, wanting to know where I was, was I ok, when was I going to make it to the dance? That was enough to get me going. I changed into my dancing dress, and headed out.
That was when things turned around. When I got to the dance I still wasn’t feeling good. Godiva gave me a pep talk, but it took me a while to work up the nerve to go ask someone to dance. When I finally did, it was good. We had a lot of fun, laughing and playing with the music. When it was done my partner gave me a big high-five. This cheered me up enough that I asked another guy to dance, and had another good dance. Then a couple of guys asked me to dance, and before I knew it, the dance was over, and I was feeling infinitely better. This time I did not get lost on the way to the late nite, and kept having good dances. It wasn’t until 3am that a developing headache and my increasingly sore feet (I’m still breaking in my new dancing shoes) made me stop. I was very excited for the Sunday afternoon dance, but a combination of waking up very late and discovering that I didn’t really have enough in my bank account to finance another trip to Columbus made me stay home. Instead I stayed home, ran errands with Rosie, went to 6pm Mass, and had dinner at Mom & Dad’s.
So is the dry spell over? I hope so. I won’t know for sure for a little while. Dancing at home again after you’ve been away can be a little bit of a letdown. But I’m feeling better about my dancing than I have for a long time. Maybe this is the start of things getting better.