There are few pursuits that have tested me as emotionally, intellectually and financially as learning and competing in ballroom dance. -- Elizabeth Dickinson
by Elizabeth Dickinson
When I first learned to ballroom dance, I used to say competitions didn't matter, that if I could get good without competing, I would. But another student once said that competitions are like final exams - it's how you know whether you learned the lessons or not.
She didn't say the lessons would encompass so much more than dance itself.
A relative asked me why I needed to compete. "You know you're good," she said. "What does it matter how you place in a competition? Why don't you just dance socially and enjoy yourself?"
While I also love social dancing, for me, it is limited. The lesson of partnership dancing (especially as a "follow") is that you can only do what you are led to do. If a "lead" is limited, than so is the "follow."
Competitive ballroom dancing pushes me to expand my movement vocabulary, to discipline its expression, to collaborate and to step outside my comfort zone in my learning process. As a former professional actor, ballroom is also a way to express certain emotions that have little or no outlet outside art.
Overall, it is pursuit of an excellence I want to own.
Passion is sometimes defined as what you're willing to be tested about. I can honestly say that as a middle-aged adult, there are few pursuits that have tested me as emotionally, intellectually and financially as learning and competing in ballroom dance. (Only running for political office comes close.)
Of course, dancing is also physically demanding. But the physical part is (sometimes) the least of it.
Almost every issue I have ever faced in my life has come up at one point or another during my lessons - trusting myself or others; thinking I'm stupid because I don't understand or can't remember something after multiple repeated explanations; communicating when I'm upset, and especially being kind to myself.
Even Jeff (my almost endlessly patient Lutheran pastor ballroom teacher), said most people wouldn't believe how difficult I find some lessons.
So why do I persevere? Why do I compete?
Under the bright lights on the competition floor, the ability to express physically that combination of movement, relationship and emotion can be achingly beautiful.
As an artist and an athlete, I want to be a carrier of that beauty and athleticism. As a middle-aged woman, I celebrate that I can compete - and compete well.
I work toward and hope for a gold/open national title. To be recognized as the best in any category, even for the transient accomplishment of dance, is still an honor. In some small way, it would be my Olympic moment.
Win or lose, I carry that urge to excellence within me, along with the lessons I learn and relearn along the way.
Elizabeth Dickinson is a life coach and progressive policy advocate. She will be competing at the Grand National Championships in Florida in October 2014 and at the World Pro-Am Championships in California in September 2015. pursueyourpath.com