To make a long story short
We danced our best ever. We entertained. We dreamed a dream and went after it. We came up a bit short of our mark. We held our heads high and weren’t hurt by our shortcomings. We loved every single minute of it!
When Karen and I first started dancing together, working on this West Coast Swing routine to compete in the Master’s Division (age 50+), we had different objectives. Karen’s was to become a better dancer. Mine was to win the U. S. Open Swing Dance competition. This was over a year and a half ago! It hardly seems that it could have been that long, and to be sure, not everyone takes that long to do this, but that’s how our story goes.
My plan was to learn the routine, choreographed by Lisa D’Amico and then enter as many of the Master’s Tour events as we could. We had a couple of delays in the process before we finally danced it for the first time at America’s Classic Championships in Houston in January 2011. We took 2nd place!
For the next 11 months, we practiced, modified, and improved our performance. We worked on better posture, better styling and better show qualities. When we finally got to Burbank, California for the U. S. Open over Thanksgiving weekend, we were ready. We knew we were at our peak. We had confidence. We were practicing 4 to 5 times a week. We were going out to kick butt and perform at the most prestigious of all swing dance events.
We were nervous, but not afraid. I’d say we were anxious more than anything. The waiting is the worst part of this. Waiting until Saturday to compete in the semi-finals was tough. We tried not to let the butterflies get to us. We got lots of rest and didn’t stay up late. We ate properly. We stayed relaxed.
Then Saturday at 2:00 pm, we were about the 4th couple out of 17 to perform. That’s a lot of people. Most of the events where we had performed only had around 4 couples competing. This one had seventeen! They came out of the woodwork! I didn’t know this, but you don’t have to have any qualifying points or a specific number of events under your belt to enter The Open. As I was told, “That’s why they call it The Open.”
Karen and I walked out, bowed to the judges and audience, and set up at our starting point on the floor. It was just Karen and me, spotlighted on the huge, vacant dance floor. There was a pretty good crowd plus the event was being televised on the internet, so who knows how many people were watching. Needless to say, this was our big moment. Our ‘Fifteen Minutes of Fame’. Well, ‘Two and a Half Minutes of Fame’ in our case.
We danced it like we’ve never danced before. Big smiles. Big open dance frames, projecting toward our audience. I even laughed with delight after completing a particularly difficult section of our dance. Karen’s face lit up and stared me down. I’ve never laughed during a performance before. From that moment on, we just danced and had fun! We were supremely focused, alert and living in the moment. All our hard work had paid off. We weren’t just doing predetermined moves. We weren’t just reminding ourselves to rotate shoulders back, smile, look at each other, look at the audience, counting the numbers in the choreography. We were dancing the song to the music, hitting every music accent, stretching every stretch, and stepping right on rhythm. We were on our marks.
When we hit our closing pose, we knew we had nailed it! We held that pose, spun out of it and bowed to the audience and judges one last time, then ran together off the floor to Lisa, waiting on the side to interview each dancer for GlobalDance.tv. We were out of breath and sweating pretty hard, but we answered a few questions, then headed backstage to recover. We watched the remaining couples dance, and tried to compare our performance to the others that were dancing. We KNEW we would make the final cut. We KNEW we were in the Finals.
Here’s our performance:
Sometime back in August, Karen and I had an epiphany. We had danced well at several events yet we weren’t making it in the top 3 places. We got feedback from the judges and made improvements to our dancing, but still we often missed placing in the top 3. It was during this time that we had a change in mindset. What we did was that we began competing with the other dance couples, but we actually began to judge ourselves against our own previous performances. So while we were disappointed in the outcome, we learned to handle defeat in a different light. We may not have placed in awards, but we knew in our minds how we performed and we knew whether we were satisfied with ourselves or not.
Therefore, when Karen’s husband went down to check on the list posted on the wall of the ballroom at the U.S. Open, we were expecting to compete but prepared for the worst. And that’s exactly what happened. We did not make the final cut. We did not get to dance in the Finals. Out of 17 couples, only 8 made the Finals. One couple was named as Alternates, and that couple wasn’t us either.
I couldn’t believe it! I had already showered and had my dance clothes laid out. Karen had already started doing her hair and putting her makeup on for the evening performances. I put on some jeans and went downstairs to double check. Sure enough, our names were not listed.
I was so disappointed. I couldn’t believe it. I KNEW we had made it. So many people had come up to us and told us how much they enjoyed our routine. So many people had told us how much the liked our lively, up-beat dance routine. It was so different than most Master’s routines in the past. Ours was young, fresh and hip-hop-y. But, we didn’t make it. I was dumb-founded.
I talked it over with Patty, who was such a great comfort and cheerleader. But while I was certainly disappointed, I was not crushed or destroyed. It was strange. It was as though we’d already prepared for this moment due to our past experiences. What kept running through my head was that we were the new kids on the block. We were different. We were not the usual dancers in this category. We brought something new. Maybe we hadn’t paid our dues. Maybe this is how the pro dancers feel when they know they were the best, but still finished in 4th or 5th place simply because they were the new kids. Whatever the case may have been, we sulked and tried to work through the confusion of why we didn’t make it. But that was short-lived.
I called Karen back in her room and we discussed it one more time on the phone. We had done good! We had nothing to be ashamed of. We performed flawlessly. We had performed as good as we’d ever performed. We had done our best. Had we goofed up, or had a bobble, we could have hung our heads and known that we’d blown it. But we didn’t blow it. We had performed our best!
We concluded to not let this setback ruin the weekend. We were surrounded by the best dancers in the world all gathered here to compete. And for this weekend, we were getting recognized as great dancers too. Let’s get back down there, hold our heads high, and go cheer for our fellow competitors. Let’s go enjoy the dance that we love as well as the dancers we love to dance with.
Within an hour, we were back on our feet, back downstairs, clapping, cheering and dancing on the social dance floor again. Bewildered – for sure. Defeated – NO WAY! Even today, three weeks after the U. S. Open, we still feel stronger, more confidant and more skilled as dancers than ever. We are VERY proud of ourselves.
All the hard work, all the hours, all the expenses and all the fears have all been worth it. Today, we are better because we chased our dream. We stand tall. We dance better. We learned even better what it takes to compete, to be in the race and to win. We are very thankful for this year.
I am most thankful for Karen as my partner. Dancing and competing is not easy. Karen made it easy. She’s a hard worker. She is always trying to improve. She practices hard. She spent the time. She and I clicked. I can’t remember ever having a meltdown. We worked through our differences and developed a wonderful dance relationship. Karen was and still is my Best Partner! Thank you, Karen!
I also need to thank Lisa D’Amico for choreographing our routine and coaching us. We took lessons from David Appel, Susan Kirkland, Katrina Branson, Albert Tallier and Damon D’Amico, too. A big thanks to them too.
But most of all, thank you to Patty for always supporting me in achieving this goal. Patty understood the time commitment involved. She trusted me and supported me. I know there were times she’d rather have me home, but she never said a word. She was an angel and I love her more for being my biggest supporter, always encouraging me, always believing in me. Thank you a thousand times, Patty!
I hate to think that I’m not a worthy contender for a 1st Place win. I want to win. But in the end, sometimes a win turns out not to be the true objective. Sure I wanted to win, and I always knew in my mind that I was going to win – that’s how a winner trains. You believe you will win. But in this case, it was not meant to be. In the end, I gained more than I would have ever guessed.
I learn to be a winner, whether you win or not. I learned to be satisfied with excellence no matter how others may judge that. I learned there comes a time to clear the slate and start over again. I learned that when dancing West Coast Swing, I dance for how it makes me feel. I dance for the joy of it. I dance for my own entertainment and while I’m doing that, perhaps I’ll entertain others too. And to think that just ten years ago, I couldn’t even dance! I would never have even tried to get on a dance floor!
It’s a wonderful feeling to fall short of attaining a goal, and still feel good about yourself.
Here’s a link to the U.S. Open Results page, where all the 1st Place winners are posted along with their video performance. I think you’ll agree, this was the best West Coast Swing dancing in the world! Ron and Tyoni Martin, the event directors, sure put on the best show around.