Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Where's my Confidence?

TL:DR; highlighted portions = tips.

So, I'm not the most confident person in the world.

Just kidding, here's a photo of me breathing fire:
No, really that's me. Check it out.

So, restart, rephrase - I, like everyone else, have a comfort zone. One which I strive to expand by venturing out of. While I don't encourage everyone to lose a few eyebrows in the way I did, I do encourage my friends to do things that may make them a little socially uncomfortable.

Now, there are different kinds of socially uncomfortable. There's the, "Hmm, that girl is really cute, but I don't know how to approach her" uncomfortable and then there's the "I wish this creep would stop hitting on me" uncomfortable (and ironically, the latter situation would probably occur a lot less if more decent guys would get over the former and introduce themselves). Today, I'm mostly going to be talking about the former - the social anxiety that "maybe I don't belong here?"

What's this got to do with dancing? Well, many guys that start ballroom dancing as a means of getting out of their comfort zone (those that were drug to their first lesson by their significant other notwithstanding). It's a great place to meet people and it's a skill you'll have your whole life. And while plenty of people meet someone special in the course of their dancing, I hear a certain phrase uttered very often regarding the "benefits of ballroom":

 "Builds confidence."

And sure, why not? Learning something new is tough, and the accomplishment is enough to make anyone feel good. Show off a little at weddings. Have some newcomers ask you for help. Hit on that cute Silver dancer at the social. Post some fancy facebook photos to awe your lab partners.

Maybe, for some people, ballroom has no negative psychological side-effects whatsoever. Well, I may be an exception to this, because quite frankly, ballroom makes me second-guess myself all the time now.

I suppose this is a good time to mention that these are just some "side-effects" I've experienced lately. I've been competing seriously for about 2 years now, and was dancing a bit more casually for a few years prior to that. And lately, I've noticed some things creeping into my psyche that weren't much around before.

What do I do at ballroom social dances?

This one gets me all the time. The last social dance studio I "belonged" didn't double as a "competitive" studio, but luckily the owner was really cool. He liked the idea of competitive dancers around, so he gave us a pretty sweet deal on practice space (occasionally, we'd teach a social dance class in return). But I had trouble sticking around for the socials. Not because I felt that I was "too good", but because I had a hard time dialing-down the technique. I wasn't having fun sometimes. Ok, a lot of times. And I get really uncomfortable at these events.

That's an important distinction, mind you - the "I'm too good for these people" versus "Man, I wish I could go full-speed". I don't mind dancing with newcomers - I have a lot of fun dancing with someone just starting their ballroom journey, particularly when they're excited and in a good mood. But I've put a lot of time into my dancing, and sometimes, I like to cut it loose. It's hard to go from "Fallaway reverse slip-pivot, Overspin, Tumble-turn, Throwaway" to nothing but box steps off-time for 3 hours straight.

As my dear friend Kevin, who is a top-notch, studio-quality drummer, put it - "You know, I like playing the drums. But if I were stuck in a band with nothing but fourth graders who are just picking up their instruments, I might have a hard time keeping sane." Don't take away that I would call newcomers or strictly-social dancers "fourth graders" - take away that when I sit behind the drums, I still like a challenge now and then. And possibly my favorite beats are a little too complex for this band.
Perhaps not the worst fate

What do I do at social dances of other styles?

I like to swing dance. I like to salsa dance. I like to blues dance. And on rare occasions, often involving hard liquor, I like to break/club/whatever happens dance at a nightclub.

But man, does it terrify me.

Yep. Even as a prominent member of the world's largest swing dance group for years, I still get pretty self-conscious while there. Oh, not when I'm in a pocket of high schoolers that can't stay on-time and there's a camera nearby. It's when I get close to the people that can actually lindy.

Never mind placing at a bunch of local salsa events judged by amateurs that fall for stupid dips and poor technique in the name of flare. I saw the coaches watching and shaking their heads.

Sure, the cute new girl at blues is blushing when she sees I'm looking at her while dancing. But it's the other cute girl that also happens to do this 3 nights a week who I'm worried about.

Ironically, the opposite of the previous fear is no better. I have tasted "glory". Having been "the best" at a few events, knowing what it's like to "really understand" something. It's hard to go back. And more importantly, you know that with every step at a salsa event, you do nothing more than prove your ignorance. Every time I put Latin styling in my Lindy, I know I'm disrespecting the culture of the group that has welcomed me into their social. I actually used to have a lot more fun and confidence at these things before I became intrinsically familiar with a single style, but those days are gone now that I know how deep any one rabbit hole can go. And it's nerve-racking to know that you don't know what you don't know.

In my defense, some people make this one worse. Nothing pisses me off more than this one - 
"Do you swing dance a lot?"
"No, I normally ballroom dance."
"Yeah, I could tell."
SOCIAL DANCERS: Unless the next phrase you utter is:
 - "You have great posture"
 - "Your leads are so clear"
 - "Your timing is spot-on", 
then PISS OFF, ELITIST SNOB. The dude/lady just admitted that they were out of their comfort zone - don't frickin' alienate them. That's rude.

(Ballroom dancers, if you recognize someone has ballet training, you can go with:
  • You turn so smoothly
  • You spot so well
  • You have great posture,
but not "I can tell") 

What do I do at weddings?

Wedding receptions have lately been a source of stress for me. There are 2 names on the invitation, and if neither of them are mine, it ain't my day. That being said, I do know how to dance. And I'm stuck in a room with a dance floor and 2-4 hours of music and a lot of pretty girls. Guess what's gonna happen?

This one kills me. I REALLY want to lay low at these things, but I also want to have fun. I happen to have a rather "silly" set of dance moves when I'm having fun. But then, the criticism comes out. This one shows up at social dances too, but you more likely find it at these not-just-a-dance gatherings. The truly devious self-esteem killer that hurts the most when I'm just being me.


First and foremost, Thumper said it best: SHUT IT DRUNK COUSIN OF THE BRIDE WHO IS IGNORING HIS GIRLFRIEND (too specific?).

Secondly, you're wrong. I like dancing to my fullest potential. It's fun. The more difficult moves are more fun to pull off. And I'm not trying to show off. I'm just dancing, and it so happens that you are impressed and intimidated.

Finally, what if I am? So what? I spend thousands of dollars a year and countless hours and copious amounts of energy to achieve the ability to SHOW OFF. If you could dunk a basketball from the free-throw line, and we were hanging out one day by a court, you'd PROBABLY WANT TO SHOW THAT YOU CAN. And I, for one, would clap.

For the record - what I do at weddings: Try to dance off to the side, stick to moves that aren't terribly flashy, minimize styling (No "pro-grade" New Yorks!), avoid progressive (travelling) dances, and smile/say thank you when people comment. But at open-bar weddings, the story might be SLIGHTLY different.

Am I even getting anywhere?

Sounds kinda nihilistic, especially after going from Bronze to Champ Semifinalist in 2 years. But when I won Novice, I lost in Prechamp. And when I made Champ finals, I knew there were people missing. And even when I see the score sheet that says "Top 12" for USA Dance nationals, I know there are another 12 couples not on that list because they were too busy competing internationally to be bothered with US Nationals.
Wise Words
I hardly ever think, "Dang, I'm so good" (I find I tend to get a big slice of humble pie shortly after that thought). Instead, I think, "how much better can I get by [x]?" Not to say I'm not proud to show off my videos to family and coworkers. But yeah, I am humbled anytime I see my coach or walk into Manhattan Ballroom, because IT'S BEEN DONE. Can it be extraordinary if there's a room full of people who can do it better? I tell myself, "yeah, it's still impressive, right?" - but that doesn't mean I'm impressed. And I'm not sure that's a bad mentality - it certainly keeps me driven - but I do know that it's NOT confidence.

So what?

Where does this leave me? Well, nowhere in particular. I could try to "win" by becoming the best at all things. I could give up and go home. Or I could still go out salsa dancing, ask a girl that's way better to dance with me, and enjoy myself after realizing that it wasn't so hard. I've dug so much out of certain veins of my comfort zone that it became constricted in others. So, I'll continue becoming better at something I love, and understand that wherever there are people, I'll have to still take risks in order to enjoy myself.

Is this being a bit too candid? Possibly. But hey, that's just another step out of my comfort zone.