Confessions of a Real Ballroom Dancer: Why We Compete

It may seem like a contradiction, someone seeking spiritual enlightenment spending time and money on competitive ballroom dancing. In fact it might seem downright sacrilegious to believe in oneness, acceptance and non-judgment and then engage in anything as competitive as ballroom dancing where both looks and ability are the criteria for excellence and acceptance – or so it seems.

I’ve been involved in competitive dancing for almost five years now. I don’t have all of the answers for why anyone would subject themselves to such scrutiny, but for me it is the crucible for my spiritual development and enlightenment. It is the literal classroom in which I am learning who I am and why I’m here.

Let me explain.

I love dancing, but more than that, I love who I am when I’m dancing. It’s the very soul expression of my being, the part I treasure most. It’s easy to want to guard it, protect it from scrutiny or judgment. And that’s the catch – in order for it to live fully, it must be shared.

On the dance floor at a competition, I’m putting myself and what I love on the line. I am vulnerable, exposed to criticism and rejection. If I become fearful of being judged negatively, I will not dance well. In fact, I will try to hide, which will make it impossible to connect or communicate with my partner. I must face the fear and see it for what it is – my own negative judgment about myself.

Being out there in front of the judges and an audience of other dancers reminds me of being in junior high. When I was 13 and my body began to change, I felt very uncomfortable and wore baggy clothes to hide what was happening inside. I was terrified that someone would notice my breasts or be able to tell when I was on my period. For two years, I wanted to be invisible. I didn’t want anyone to see what I was going through. But as I got used to my growing body, I began to relax and appreciate who I was becoming.

It takes time to come into an adult body, but we all have to do it some time. At some point we have to come out of hiding and let down our guard with others. We have to face our fears of being exposed, of being really seen. It all begins with appreciating who we are enough to allow others to appreciate us as well. Going to a dance competition is like letting everyone see my soul, even as I am still seeing it for myself.

I have watched hundreds of dancers on the competition floor and without a doubt, I appreciate most the ones who are authentic and real, shining their personality and their own brand of beauty for everyone to see. It isn’t the technically perfect dancers who attract the most attention; it’s the ones who aren’t afraid to let everyone see who they really are. I admire those kinds of dancers, and I admire those kinds of people.

Sure, I can experience wonderful dancing in our studio at home – I have a wonderful coach, so it happens all of the time. I love working on technique, perfecting, fine tuning, learning to listen and feel and interpret with another human being. But for me, it isn’t enough. It’s like trying to find enlightenment while meditating in a cave. There’s not enough challenge to it. It’s too easy.

But dancing at a competition is more like meditating in the City Market surrounded by crowds, sights, sounds, smells, every type of sensory distraction you can imagine. It’s not an easy place to stay centered or to trust yourself or your partner. Without some awareness, the ego wants to second guess, to doubt and to give in to fear. When we put ourselves in an environment like this, where our heart is on the line – we are exposing some of the most vulnerable aspects of our soul, and that is where the real work of enlightenment begins.

Enlightenment is achieved in action, in pursuit of the deepest, truest, most beautiful parts of who we are. If we really want to grow in our acceptance of who we are. We have to own it. Even under fire, we have to find that still place within where acceptance is already a given. From there, we build enough confidence to let our light shine brighter and brighter with each step. For me, the ultimate goal is to reach the point where my opinion of my dancing, and of who I am, means more to me and holds more weight than any person watching.

And the rhinestones. . .

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