(Note: The following was originally written for and posted on Facebook. This blog was conceived as a way to save and categorize this and my future rantings of a similar nature. I have reproduced it here nearly exactly as it appeared on Facebook.)
Dance competitions are aggressively unfun for me, and I’m not going to do them anymore – at least for now.
It’s not because I don’t do well at them. I have competed at four national event comps, of which I made finals in two, and placed in one. If we add regional events that’s another two finals and one placement for three attempts. It’s not a bad track record.
And I sort of like what comps do. As a person who is super opinionated about blues, comps are the best existing format for me to show the wider community, “Hey this is what I think blues dancing is; isn’t blues great?” And that’s something I really want to do, because I feel I have a different and interesting set of values than many of my peers.
But whether I succeed or not, the anxiety that comps bring just completely shuts down my ability to enjoy the event. The whole event. Not just finals-o-clock. Here’s a Winter Blues Saturday in the life of Jeff:
I get nervous for prelims. An hour before, I’m tense with a sensation of impending doom. I skip the last class. The actual dancing is an anxious blur. I have no idea where my artistic choices are coming from. I fall back into old habits and bad posture. Songs that should bring me joy bring only panic. I sweat through my shirt in just three songs. That’s prelims.
I then spend the next three hours both hoping I did and didn’t make finals. Because I work hard at this and I want people to say: “great job, Jeff, your version of blues dancing is great.” But also, I just so want this whole ordeal to be over already.
So I make finals, and I’m all happy about it for about an hour. And then I don’t think about it for a bit. And then, about an hour before finals, the anxiety hits. I can feel my stomach churning and twisting, my muscles tensing, and my dancing fall apart. A full hour to go. By the time we reach the competitors meeting, my body physically hurts, and from the way I’m fidgeting it feels like my brain is trying it’s very hardest to evacuate my skin by any means necessary.
Finals are, needless to say, a complete disaster. I watch the music going by, unable to react to it. I’m questioning even my step touches. I do not display my artistic values on any level that I feel positively about, except maybe that I believe blues dancers should pose in place like statues more often. If there was any way I could escape that horrible line and hide in the audience without calling even more attention to myself, I would have dove into that crowd like Derek Jeter sliding into home.
The comp is over. For the next hour, I feel utterly defeated, emotionally drained, and my muscles hurt so much from the tension that I actually can’t walk. The rest of Saturday is me trying to crawl back to a place where I can enjoy dancing again – which thanks to some very lovely people, I can manage with some success by the time late night rolls around.
So at the end of this ordeal, I realize that I just gave up what should have been an amazing night of dancing to the fucking best blues jazz band that side of the Mason Dixon Line to have a three hour public panic attack. And for what? A chance to win a pass to an event I can afford anyways? To feel like a big fish in a small pond?
The real reason I compete is because I want a chance to show the community my artistic values as a dancer. But I don’t think I can realistically use comps to achieve that right now. I’d rather spend my national event time appreciating the amazing caliber of social dance than sweating in my keds about finals. I’m not sure how to communicate those values now. But having an awesome time dancing with friends is one of those values, so I’m going to focus on that for a while.
So blues community, I’m sorry. I’m bowing out of national comps for now. I’ll try and re-examine this situation for the big summer events – Nocturne and such. Thanks for listening and dancing with me.