As a teacher, it is sometimes easy to acquire “teacheritis,” the propensity to see things only as a teacher and fail to look through the eyes of a dancer, student, artist, athlete, or any of the other roles that comprise a ballroom professional. I remember, some time ago, looking at one of my students who was an avid competitor and asking candidly, “why do you compete?” Her response was simple, “It gives me a goal and I feel I get 2-3 times as much out of my lessons when we are preparing for competition.” I had heard this from other professionals and experienced this myself, but to hear it from my own student was profound.
Goal-setting is an integral part of any successful process in learning or in creativity. In ballroom dancing, competition is the primary way in which goals are set and achieved. Imagine a soccer team or football team that just did drills but never played against one another. Imagine a group of musicians who practiced together but never played their works in public performance. Their growth as athletes and artists, would fall utterly short of its potential.
“But I’m not a competitive person!” Well, most pro-am ballroom competitors I know are not incredibly competitive by nature. Many well-accomplished dancers I know would swear that their greatest success and joy came when they stopped caring about how they stacked up against others on the floor. Still others use the competition as a reason to get dressed up in beautiful, larger-than-life attire, hair, and makeup. As coach Pat Traymore once said, “Ballroom Dancing is a Class Act.”
For those who dance for release, art, athleticism, personal development, and/or healing, competitive dancing is ideal. On the competitive floor there is no ceiling to what you can do (within the structure of the movement, of course). Competitors can pour themselves into their dancing in ways that would be utterly inappropriate on the social dance floor. The excess of stretch, speed and volume of movement are highly encouraged. The more the merrier!
Ballroom competition is our craft/sport/art/activity’s primary method of goal-setting, focus, and execution. It provides a great deal of pleasure for those who participate, often being held in luxurious hotel ballrooms and providing a means of escape and relaxation at the same time as doing something about which participants are passionate. In recent years, more and more competitors bring their children and families, who provide support and encouragement while enjoying the atmosphere and amenities associated with the experience. If you are new to ballroom dancing, I highly recomment talking to your teacher about competition. I know very few students who have only done one competition 😉