After much agonizing, I finally decided I could handle competing. I think Diane was ready before I was (she wanted to compete at Swing Summit) and I might not even have joined this competition if it weren’t for her.
I’m of two minds when it comes to dance competitions. First, I prefer to approach dance as a means of expressing myself, connecting with a partner and with the music, and really being in the moment. It’s a form of moving art for me. Competing brings dance into the realm of sport, and I don’t necessarily dance to be better than anyone else. It certainly isn’t a sport for me.
In fact, one reason for my long delay in signing up to compete was the fact that I didn’t feel like I was polished enough, ready enough, good enough, perfect enough. I suppose the biggest competitor I’ll ever face is…myself.
My other feeling about dance competitions – or even competitions in general – is that I’m actually too competitive to handle competing. I take it way too seriously, way too personally, and can’t seem to separate my heart from the act of winning and losing. Throughout the eleven years that I played soccer, I always told others I didn’t like competition, just the feel of the game. While this was true in some ways (I loved moving across the field, feeling the touch of the ball, making elegant plays), the underlying meaning of my statement was that I didn’t want to get too caught up in the competition aspect because I simply cared too much. This made for some nerve-wracking games back in the day, and it all returned to me last night. I had trouble social dancing at first because I was so keyed up about competing.
Our approach to dance may be a little different than others’. We really really really believe in connection, which for us is a fourfold layering of signals and responses: I respond to the music, and I respond to my partner. My partner also responds to the music as well as to me. This means that at any possible moment in the dance, there might be four possible impulses balanced against four possible responses, and somehow we must do it at the same time, flowing from the previous moment to the next. Add to this our preferred level of emotional intensity – intense, joyful or passionate, tuned in – our attempt to be active in every part of our bodies, and you have something very different from a repertoire of moves that get mixed up based on the lead’s whim, with the follow more or less following, reacting, responding all along the way.
We started dancing the way we always do, but it wasn’t long before the audience began to hoot, holler, and cheer for other couples. I panicked. What was going on? I tensed up, and I could tell that Diane was trying to be calm about my tension. Should I be doing something more crowd-pleasing, more humourous or risque or….? Diane poured her calm, grounded energy into the dance, kept reminding me with her eyes and body to keep listening to the music. Still the audience cheered the others on. From the corner of my eye I saw shoes and jackets being removed. I imagined some saucy routine taking place right there behind my back, and I felt my presense slipping. Even worse, some of the couples kept dancing right in front of us, right into our space, and at one point I panicked again because I realized the judges probably couldn’t even see us.
I don’t know how it happened, but by the fourth song we had it. A gorgeous song came on, we breathed it in, and we were transformed. Did the crowd see it? I heard someone murmur, “Right on, David,” and I actually felt a shift in everyone’s attention. The laughter had trickled away, our focus and connection had suddenly deepened in response to the music and each other, and the room’s collective breath seemed to be suddenly held.
That moment was beautiful. I felt our dancing reach yet another level beyond steps and moves and patterns – we were pure impulse guided by the music. Later on we traded phrases with the other two couples, and again we struggled with the balance between sincere connection in our dance and ways to please the audience, but in the end our connection and presence came through. In the end, it was really only the act of dancing that mattered.
The audience was given the final vote. I expected a quiet response to our quiet way of dancing with each other. Instead, the cheering was thunderously definite. We had won!