Dancing through Disappointment
Guest post by Katie Flashner
As a competitive ballroom dancer who started seriously training when I was 29 years old, my dance journey probably doesn’t share a whole lot in common with yours. Nevertheless, I want to share a story with you because I believe you’ll be able to relate, regardless of your dance style.
One trait I’m sure we share as dancers is we are some of the most self-critical creatures on the planet. To some extent, we have to be. When we’re in class or practicing on our own, we have to be aware of the tiniest flaws in our technique because we know they can have a big effect on how our dancing looks and feels. We’re trained to look in the mirror and judge ourselves, so that we can improve.
We’re also subject to outside judgement, whether from a coach, a director, or a judge at a competition. Someone else with more experience and expertise tells us how close we are to achieving the perfection we strive for. It’s easy for our fragile egos to start connecting that external validation to our self-worth because how many of us are trained to also identify our good qualities when we look in the mirror?
I’ve been competing since 2014 and always did well. Even at my first competition, I took home first and second placements in my events. I was always critical of myself and lived with depression and anxiety before I ever stepped into a ballroom dance studio, so this external validation that I was good at what I loved doing and the praise I received because of it was new to my ego.
Through dancing, I faced deep-set fears, found relief from my depression, and developed a stronger sense of self-worth. I loved ballroom dancing and I was good at it! At the same time, without really being aware of it, my new positive feelings about myself were being built upon my placements at competitions. You can probably guess what happens next.
In 2017, I was on a streak, but in the wrong direction. At every competition, I placed lower than the one before it. I ended the season with a 5th place at the world championships, and I was shocked and devastated. I spent the last three years winning every event I entered and now this? The kicker was I felt like I had given my best performance ever at that competition, but I still didn’t even make the podium. Talk about a blow to the ego.
I cried, I sulked, I got angry at myself, and I yelled at my teacher for “lying” to me all those years when he said I was a great dancer.
Maybe you’re not a competitor, but I’m sure you’ve experienced that feeling of crushing disappointment at some point in your dancing career. It can devastate you if you let it. And I did.
Thankfully, it didn’t last forever. After a couple weeks, I pulled myself together and got back into training mode. I wanted to fix whatever needed to be fixed, so I didn’t have to face that kind of disappointment again. Over the next few months, I worked hard on a lot of different aspects of my dancing, but ultimately, it was a mindset shift that made the biggest difference and got me back in the winner’s circle in 2018.
One of the judges at the world championships also owned a local studio, and I reached out to her for any feedback she could offer after seeing me dance. One of her comments was that I seemed to be looking for the judges’ reactions and approval instead of showing confidence in my movement, regardless of who was watching. This triggered the shift in me.
Of course, I would try to catch a judge’s eye as I danced. Multiple couples dance at the same time at ballroom competitions, and the judges only have a few seconds to watch and score everyone. You have to get their attention. But it didn’t occur to me that I was sending the message “approval needed” while I was doing it.
I realized I had been dancing for the judges and forgetting myself, my partner and the general audience. Even as I was performing, I was relying on them to let me know I was doing a good job. Well, no more. I had spent a year stressed out about my placements, and I was done. From this point forward, I was dancing for myself.
This reclaiming of my dancing worked wonders. As I mentioned, I found myself back in the winner’s circle in 2018. But more importantly, I was enjoying myself so much more. I performed for the joy of it and for those beautiful moments of connection with my dance partner and the audience. That’s my reason for dancing anyway. It makes me happy! And when I dance at a competition, I’m able to pass that joy along to those watching. That’s what feeds my ego now and makes me feel fulfilled.
If you’re struggling with moving past a disappointment as you read this, my advice is to focus on why you dance and what dance does for you beyond the external validations. Tune into your passion for it and let that fill you up. Then turn on some music and let that passion move you. And next time you look at yourself in the mirror, don’t forget to note what you’re doing well along with your notes for improvement.
I wish you all happy dancing!
Guest post by : Katie Flashner, a.k.a. The Girl with the Tree Tattoo, Katie is a ballroom dancer and blogger. Her mission is to inspire and motivate her fellow ballroom dancers to become the performers they are born to be instead of the ones that others want them to be.
Katie has been studying ballroom dance since 2012 and has successfully competed as an amateur ballroom dancer since 2014. Since starting her blog in 2015, Katie has welcomed over 1,600 followers who value her openness and willingness to share the good, the bad, and the awkward of her journey while shedding light on the rarely addressed mental and emotional aspects of being a ballroom dancer.
In addition to writing on her blog, Katie regularly contributes articles to FloDance and Sheer Dance magazine. She has also been featured on DanceBeat, Dancesport Place, Dance Comp Review, and Dance Advantage. Her best-selling digital book series, Dance Diaries, received over 4 stars in Amazon reviews.
Katie lives in Orange County, California with her two dogs and has just released her latest work, The Solo Practice Guide for Ballroom Dancing.