Entering a dance competition is a leap of faith. Especially the first time. For some people, it gets easier to handle the stresses; for others, it never gets easier. Some of us thrive on the experience while others wither under the pressure.
In the afterglow of a recent West Coast Swing dance event, where tons of Ottawa dancers competed, many made finals, some podiumed, and some did not, some felt elation, some felt deep disappointment, some cried, some laughed, some were on Cloud 9, some felt that the world had collapsed around them, I wanted to write something about Judgement.
There are different types of competitions. In some, you compete against a clock (e.g. a race) or a measuring stick (e.g. javelin). In others – like dance competitions – you are judged. Judging is always subjective to some degree, and to some degree, every judging and scoring system attempts to remove or appear to remove the element of subjectivity. This is impossible.
Entering a dance competition means that you are giving permission to others to judge you. In fact, they are OBLIGATED to judge you – that’s their job. You are giving them permission to judge you in uncontrollable circumstances – the music, your partner, your health, the state of the dance floor, your mood that day, the other competitors on the floor will all affect your performance. The judges will see what they see with their own eyes, and through their own filters, and they will see only a tiny fraction of your dance, and that will affect your score.
In addition, you are putting yourself on display and therefore you will also be judged by others who have neither your permission nor an obligation. They just like to judge.
At some level, everyone who enters a dance competition knows all of these things, but awareness doesn’t lessen the agony of disappointment. Disappointment is relative, too. Consider all of these things that actually happen at every dance competition:
- Competitors get upset if they don’t make Finals
- Competitors who make Finals get upset if their name isn’t called to the podium
- Competitors who make it to the podium get upset if they don’t place First
- Competitors who place First get upset because they placed First.
Say what? Yes, it defies logic, but I personally am guilty of being unhappy with first-place wins myself. Once it was because I destroyed an entire division but it was in the dance style with no “points” awarded (Hustle). Another time it was because – despite a huge win and moving up a level – I was unhappy with (actually embarrassed by) the dances that got me there.
What I’ve learned from all of this irrationality and turmoil is that it’s not the judgement of others that really hurts, it’s our own judgement of self. Often we don’t even realize that we went into competition with a specific expectation of ourselves; it’s only after we’ve disappointed ourselves that we become aware of this.
Even if the judges could see your worthiness as a whole person, they are not there to judge that. They are there to judge the dancing. They cannot consider things like whether you are practically a saint, or if you have overcome great obstacles, or what you contribute (or don’t contribute) to your community, your workplace, your family, or anything else.
That’s why it’s important to properly prepare for a dance competition and to arrive at the competition with some useful armour. Here are my suggestions for both!
- Get a coach. Choose an honest coach who will tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear or what you think you already know.
- Listen to the coach. Follow the coach’s plan.
- Set goals with the coach. You need to have realistic and personal goals and someone to tell you if you’ve met them.
- Practice and commit. You are about to give other people permission to judge you, so do what you can to ensure that they will see you at your best.
- Make your personal goals your own measuring stick. It will take the sting out of external disappointments.
- After the competition, take stock. How do you feel? Why do you feel that way? If you feel great, what is making you feel great that you can carry forward to your next experience? If you feel bad, assess what personal judgement is weighing you down and work on it. If you don’t think you can overcome it any time soon, consider not competing again – or, make it a personal challenge to feel good after your next competition, no matter what the outcome is. Work with the coach to create a plan to do that.
- Don’t go alone! Go with your coach. Go with a group of friends and peers. Surround yourself with people who have been witness to your personal progress and who can reflect that back to you.
- Do the internal work. Know why you’re competing and check in with your coach about whether or not your goals are realistic. Prepare for disappointment AND prepare for winning. Both things take courage to handle with class.
- Stay busy! Go to the competition with non-competition goals – for example, attend workshops with the goal of coming away with new ideas, techniques, or patterns that you’ll be able to work on for the next while. Or go with the goal of getting private training from a special pro. Or go with the goal of having a great time socially, or as a tourist in the host city. Count up all your blessings after the event.
- Make time for whatever gives you peace. If reading a book or having a drink or working out or being outdoors gives you peace, make time for that during the event. Without it, you’ll begin to forget that you’re a human being with a life that far surpasses that competition.