For a while after my last competition my teacher and I danced around the subject of when to move on to the next level. Atanas said he was happy with my performance in both Smooth and Latin—no astonishing first-place victories, but I made some true gains in skills and confidence. Once or twice in those post-competition weeks he alluded to letting me decide when it was time for me to move beyond beginner Bronze level, but he soon changed his tune. “I think we will stay Bronze. The longer you stay Bronze, the better you will be,” he said finally.
He wants me to have a very firm foundation of dance skills before I move on to more challenging levels and I understand his reasoning. Whenever the subject has come up in discussions with my veteran dance friends, most say they wish they had spent more time at Bronze. Even though they have now reached Gold level they often have to go back to review Bronze, something they feel they wouldn’t have to do if they’d persevered longer in honing the basic skills. So, it’s all good…or is it?
At a lesson a week or so ago I was a little tired and when Atanas stopped me yet again to show me precisely how to move my body through a waltz dévelopé, I couldn’t hide my irritation with the drill. My teacher knows me pretty well by now and has learned not to be concerned when he notices a look of impatience. He said, matter-of-factly, “When you get this you will always know exactly where to place your foot, how to shape your body with the music. When it’s time to go to Silver, you will be very good.”
I nodded, although I secretly wanted to have a temper tantrum right there on the ballroom floor. I wanted to scream, “But I’ll never get to Silver, at this rate.” At that moment the promise of Silver level seemed to me like a dessert being withheld by a parent until I finished a particularly unpalatable plateful of liver and onions. I didn’t throw myself to the floor, of course. I’ve had these impatient thoughts many times over the course of my dance journey and know they come from that baby dancer in me who so often balks at challenges.
Like everyone, I’ve faced some trials in my lifetime, but most of these were relatively short-lived; whatever the unpleasantness, it was soon gone. But now I’m choosing to learn something that continually presents new challenges—in fact, each skill gained only opens up the opportunity to try to attain new skills. The whole experience is not so much a course of study as it is a practice. I’ve pondered this notion of dance-as-practice often in these blog posts, pointing out how I feel as if I am always balancing, literally and figuratively, between what I’ve learned and all that I don’t yet know. At times the present-moment focusing required for this endeavor is enlightening and joyous, but at other times it’s simply headache-producing.
So I’m developing coping mechanisms—little sidelines of interest around my dance experience. Lately I’ve become steeped in re-fashioning pre-owned ballroom gowns and creating crystal jewelry. Now, when I’m not dancing, I’m often at home poring over ballroom gown websites, studying Swarovski crystal options and even, at times, eyeing my closet for little-used formal dresses I might experiment with. I don’t have big expectations for the gowns and jewels I end up creating, but this diversion is helping to turn my sometimes hard-to-swallow dance ‘meal’ into a multi-course sensory feast that encompasses far more than just the rigors of dance.