…Actually, that’s not really a secret. I remember at my first competition looking around at the tacky & garish rhinestone-encrusted costumes; seeing the over-the-top makeup, painfully clenched smiles and straining poses as some hideous parody of beautification. I wondered to myself: what has THIS got to do with…ANYTHING?!
Turns out that first impressions were misleading.
Conformity, Professionalism & Fake Tan
You need only to look at my dreadlocks to know that I’m not a massive fan of conformity. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I’m a rebel, but I have always feared becoming “just a number”. So I try to stand out from the crowd: some ways are more unsubtle than others.
Then I came into contact with the real world and learned over the years that individualism isn’t always a blessing. If you’re not careful then you’ll start making trouble for yourself. Work colleagues and bosses like you to have personality, to have traits that make you interesting…they don’t like someone who disrespects the rules, unwritten or otherwise. Finding the right balance in a professional workplace setting was a tight learning curve for me.
DanceSport is all about conformity, too. Its more than doing the steps and routines: its about how you do them that counts. The judges are well-trained, perceptive and professional – but that doesn’t mean they don’t base decisions on impressions. If you don’t look at first glance like finalist material…then you’re probably not going to get to the final.
The fake tan, glitter and makeup are there to make sure that you can be seen across a crowded and dimly lit dancefloor. And to make sure you look good at that distance. I don’t like wearing makeup in my day-to-day life; when it comes to tanning I can see the whole ‘pale is interesting’ argument. But at competitions I stick to the uniform. The dreadlocks, attitude and makeup are all kept respectful to the conventions, still serving as the individualism that will get me noticed.
Everything about a competitive dancer is supposed to ooze confidence. Confidence is the trait of a winner. It comes through in your exquisitely held posture, your expression and your movements. When self-assurance is applied, slip-ups are harder to spot and easier to excuse. On the other hand, a tense person draws attention to their errors, and is rarely aesthetically pleasing to view.
A competitive dancer should be careful of appearing too arrogant, that isn’t so nice to see. Acting like you think you’ve got what it takes, that’s perfect.
I’ve learned that it is absolutely amazing what you get away with if you convey steady assurance, and how much less criticism hurts if you take it with good posture. Job interviews, networking events and discussions: I reckon that the thoughts going through my head on the dancefloor (“Shoulders down, head straight, eyes up”) should be going through my head in the workplace.
An outsider is not supposed to see the cues given by the leader to his follower. It comes from a subtle movement – a change in body weight, a twist of the hips, a slight raising of the arm. When the follower knows the cue and the move that’s all it takes to initiate it. Something as trivial as putting your weight onto the wrong foot can stall the dancing completely.
I learned through DanceSport just how little effort you need to send a really strong signal to another person. This doesn’t just apply to getting them to turn under your arm or step to the left, either. Emotions and feelings are transmitted with equal subtlety. Just by dancing with a person I can tell if he’s stressed, if he’s unwell or if he’s happy. He doesn’t need to tell me; trying to convince me otherwise is equally unnecessary: the truth is always well sign-posted.
I try to keep my attitude prior to and during competitions as positive as possible, knowing that even your emotions can and do have a knock-on effect in other people. In leadership roles you have to be mindful of what you’re projecting, but the same is true of any situation that involves communication and emotions. Be careful about the image you wish to showcase to the world.
“Having a DancePartner is like being in a marriage,” one (or maybe in fact many) seasoned ballroom dancer was heard to say. It involves two people, with opposite roles, getting judged at competitions as a unit. With such abstract concepts as compatibility, style and chemistry coming into play its not hard to see how partnerships can become strained, especially ones that take competitions seriously. Working together 1-on-1 with anybody for an extended period of time poses challenges and pitfalls: what you see going wrong in dance partnerships certainly isn’t unique to DanceSport…
As with all human interactions, a successful partnership involves cooperation, compromise, empathy and respect. It is also something I realised that I could never take for granted. Circumstances are always changing, after all: someone may get an injury, or be ill on the day where the class is taught an important technical point. One person struggles with the moves that their partner loves. A important deadline is placed right before a planned competition date.
What you need to be doing is adapting to the changing circumstances, and always trying to improve the partnership. Communication channels can always be strengthened. The boundaries of cooperation and compromise aren’t necessarily static or eternal. Friendships, business partnerships, relationships, actual marriages: they shouldn’t be taken for granted or left as is. Working to improve them should never cease.