Category Archives: The Biz

Therapy

We say it all the time with students, but it’s equally true on the other side…

…dancing is therapy. And not always the nice kind with hugs and happy places (although it can be). There is something about dance and the teaching that demands – at least if you want to do it really well – total and unflinching honesty.

It sucks. And it is not a pleasant or easy process. Every time I think I’ve got a handle on things, something turns around and smacks me in the face, reminding me that, no, I do not have it all together, and yes, I need to do better.

So, okay. Tomorrow I will do better, at least a little bit. (Tonight I am going to have a glass of wine and go to bed.)

Bring a friend.

Pierre Balmain working on a dress for Ruth Ford. I wish that this was the face I made when trying things on 100% of the time.

So you guys, here is some exciting news – I totally bought a dress! I was just sort of browsing and then I found an AWESOME and PERFECT and sort of WEIRD dress that I love. Added bonus? I got a great deal on it, and the designer is going to add a removable underskirt so it can work as a smooth OR a rhythm dress. Fabulous fabulous fabulous.

(Hey, wait! you say. Aren’t you having a dress made? What is up with that, Imelda Marcos Ballroom Dancer? To which I say, I am totally having a dress made, and it is going to be super awesome and amazing BUT it is my professional competitive dress which means that it is going to be not a lot of fabric? It is not really dancing-with-students appropriate, especially when you bear in mind that some of my students are like, eleven years old. Also a lot of people will change dresses between Rising Star and Open divisions, or even between semis and finals, and it would be nice to have that option. So in addition to my super serious professional amazing dress, I need kid-appropriate dresses that are still fun and awesome and could work on the pro floor too. That’s a high bar! But man, thanks for asking.)Yeah, so anyway, the dress-buying process made me think about all the bad choices you see on a regular basis in the ballroom world. It is unreal how many people wear clothes that do not fit or flatter them, or that do not highlight what they do well, or that emphasize the wrong thing, or that simply do not suit the choreography they are doing AT ALL. Like, on any given Sunday in a competition ballroom the bad choices outweigh the good choices by a landslide.

It also made me think about the amount of hot air that gets blown up your skirt…people will tell you that ALL KINDS OF HIDEOUS CRAP looks great, either because they are terrible at looking at things with their eyes, or because they don’t want to hurt your feelings, or because they would really like to sell you said hideous crap.

Oh my gosh, you look awesome! Wow! This ugly ass gray-green-brown is TOTALLY YOUR COLOR! You’re so pretty! (Give me two thousand dollars, please.)

Which brings me to my main point: my darlings, if you are trying to buy a costume, BRING A FRIEND. It is easy to get flustered or upsold or to think that something looks good when it does NOT.

But not just any friend. You need a very specific kind of friend. I am fabulously lucky in that my friend who is my dress buddy is a dancer, so she knows what will and won’t work on the floor, but she is also a brilliant visual artist, so she has just the best eye.

(Me: “Hey, is this the shape dress I am allowed to wear?” Her: “Dude, no, remember what we said about this shape skirt?” Me: “Ohhhhh right. It was yellow and sparkly, so I got confused.”)

Plus she’s been through the hassle of dealing with her own ballgowns and their associated bullshit, and we have worked on a fair number of dresses together, so we can figure out what dress modifications are and aren’t possible given our current level of dress-fu. (Nor is this her first rodeo; she is good at recognizing danger signs and pulling me out of the line of fire so that I do not, for example, drop four grand on a dress I do not really need.)

Another great thing about her is that she does not filter her reactions to dresses AT ALL. They are right there on the face. So I know if I have put on something wacky and awesome or something just wrong. (The moral of this story is that my friend is the greatest person ever and you are all sad that she is not your friend. I know! That sucks for you! She is a lot of fun!)

SO, when I was trying on dresses yesterday, the lady who reps the design house (who is also a friend of mine, and whom I’ve worked with on many occasions) was doing her job really well, which meant she was telling me how great I looked and how slammin’ my bod was and how every damn dress I put on was fabulous and looked amazing and could be altered to look even MORE amazing.

Which was confusing! I am easily confused by people saying nice things to me! Happily my dress buddy was there and could look over and go ‘eh’ or ‘oh, interesting,’ or ‘take that ridiculous fucking shit off right now’ with her face.

And when I put on the good dress, the dress selling lady was right in there telling me how awesome it was BUT THIS TIME my friend was like, oh, oh yes, this dress is a winner. And I believed my friend, because I knew that she was totally right and that she would not let me look stupid.

Thank you, Ballroom Fairy, and thank you, dress selling lady, but most of all, thank you to my dress buddy, who is the shit.

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An open letter to the workers at my Whole Foods

 

Dear Employees of the Awesome Whole Foods That I Go To:

This Thanksgiving, I am grateful to you, for being open on Thanksgiving Day from early morning to late afternoon. I feel terrible that you don’t have the whole day off, but I am so grateful that you’re there, because otherwise I would be bringing some very random food to Thanksgiving dinner. Like, it would literally be a tin of sardines and some mustard greens and a packet of pine nuts? Which are all perfectly fine on their own or in the correct context, but they don’t really have that down-home holiday feeling I remember from childhood. Come on, kids! Time to carve the Thanksgiving sardines!

Thank you for having random shit like quinoa flour and thank you for labeling the ever-loving crap out of everything so that even though I may spend two hours shopping for not very many things, I know exactly what I am getting.

I wish I didn’t pay you so much money, but, then, I wish it didn’t cost so goddamn much to eat the complicated shit I eat. That’s not really your issue, that’s just a general observation.

I look forward to seeing you on Thursday morning, and I will probably hug at least one of you, so don’t flip out. I just really love Thanksgiving and I am super happy that I am going to have the chance to cook, because this week…it is the shitshow. I have not had a day off in a really long time, and I appreciate that you are working on MY day off. It sucks, I know. You are the best.

Thank you, Whole Foods people – as someone who typically is at work while other people are having fun (because we often ARE other people’s fun), I appreciate it. I hope you are getting paid a whole messy pile of money. Lord knows I’ll be giving your corporate overlords enough of it in about thirty-six hours.

Love,

Against Line of Dance

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Body Policing: keep it to yourself

An infographic always helps

By any account, I am in good physical condition: I am strong, fit, flexible, I have excellent cardiovascular endurance, my blood pressure and cholesterol are in the ideal ranges, and I am lucky enough to not have any health problems (I have funky knees that like to go out of joint but thanks to pilates and strength training, they are stronger and more reliable now than they ever have been).

I have difficulty, like most American women, getting through an entire day without feeling completely shitty about myself and my body. This is not helped by the fact that as a professional dancer, I spend many hours each day in front of a mirror trying to get my body to perform in very specific ways, and comparing my body to the bodies of others.

Over the last three years, I have transitioned from another profession (writing) into dancing and teaching full-time, and as a result, I have had to switch from being essentially a reader and writer to an athlete. I have had to change my eating habits, my exercise requirements, and I have trained many many hours to be able to function as the kind of dancer that I would like to be. I am not at my peak level of performance yet, but I’m working on it.

That transition has altered my body pretty substantially – there is a visible change in my appearance, and especially if someone hasn’t seen me for awhile, that’s the first thing they comment on. I know – I KNOW! – that they are trying to be nice. That they are trying to say, hey, you look great, good for you, mazel tov. But what they’re actually saying is, hey, thanks for better conforming to my culturally-dictated ideals of what you should look like.

Here’s a sampling of the shit I have heard (reproduced here verbatim) in the past week alone:

*     *     *

“You just get prettier and prettier every day. Most people, you know, when they lose weight, they get ugly in the face, and they look all gaunt and thin. But not you. Your face looks so much better than it used to.”

“You are literally half the woman you used to be. Half. Literally.”

“Oh, wow, I didn’t even recognize you. That’s crazy! You are – you look, like, totally different. I mean… (in a whisper) you’ve lost, like, a LOT of weight, right?”

*     *     *

It is pretty typical of the body-policing bullshit I hear on a regular basis.

Clearly my body is public property, and commentary on it is totally fine and normal and everybody has the right to voice their opinions about it to me, without any regard for how I might feel about it, because OBVIOUSLY I must be happy that they are noticing weight loss which is INVARIABLY a good thing. My body is public property not because I am a dancer (although that doesn’t help), but because I am a woman.

And in our culture, women’s bodies are forums for public discussions at all times.

Because being a total badass isn’t enough – you have to be THIN & PRETTY

If that fact is not self-evident to you, then you are either incredibly unobservant or an idiot or both. Think of all the crap that gets said about women in the public sphere – Hillary Clinton, Sonia Sotomayor, Sarah Palin, even adorable Gabby Douglas. Endless shit is said about their wardrobe, their glasses, their hair, their weight. And those aren’t even women whose job it is to be professionally pretty. God help the ladies who have THAT job; an entire industry exists to sell you information about how they are failing or succeeding (but mostly how they’re failing) in their attempts to conform to impossible cultural standards of beauty. Remember Ashley Judd’s response to that? If you don’t, go read it right now; it’s amazing.

These comments? Make me feel like shit. Why?

Because it’s the other side of the Fantasy of Being Thin, the “magical thinking about thinness, which…is not just about becoming small enough to be perceived as more acceptable. It is about becoming an entirely different person – one with far more courage, confidence, and luck than the fat you has. It’s not just, ‘When I’m thin, I’ll look good in a bathing suit’; it’s ‘When I’m thin, I will be the kind of person who struts down the beach in a bikini, making men weep.’ ”

It has fuck-all to do with my abilities as a dancer or my health as a human and EVERYTHING to do with how I look in clothes. This is seriously only about the size of my ass. And that is not your problem. Or your business. See infographic.

SO anthropomorphic(Let me say at this point that this is all about MY experience – brought to you by The Internet, purveyor of self-reflexive commentary. I’m talking about my body and the choices I’ve made about it; not anybody else’s. I subscribe fully to the Underpants Rule: “everyone is the boss of their own underpants so you get to choose for you and other people get to choose from them and it’s not your job to tell other people what to do.” That means that I get to make choices about my life and my body for reasons that seem valid to me and you don’t have to like or agree with them, but, by the same token, if I expect you to respect my choices then I goddamn well better respect yours. So whether you are trying to change your body or you like it how it is or you don’t give half a shit either way, that’s your underpants. Not my business.)

So. I thought the Fantasy of Being Thin was utter bullshit three years ago, and I still think it’s utter bullshit. The problem is, it’s such a powerful cultural trope that if you don’t follow along with it, people get confused. Here’s how the exchange is supposed to go:

Person A: Comments on B’s body and appearance, noting that B is less fat than s/he used to be. (Oh my gosh, you look so great! You must have lost a lot of weight!)

Person B: Thanks A for noticing, agrees that it is wonderful. (Oh, thanks! Yes, I have, thank you – it’s great, I really feel so much better!)

Person A: Asks B how weight loss was achieved, more out of politeness than anything else. (That’s wonderful! What have you been doing?)

Person B: Explains boring details. (Well, I stopped eating carbs/white foods/red meat/bananas/things that start with the letter “k”/entirely. Ohmigosh, it’s really amazing…)

Refusing to engage in this script really fucks with people’s heads. I am not thrilled to death that you are complimenting me for taking up less space. You know what I would be thrilled by? A genuine compliment! People have said to me, hey, you look super fit and you look really strong – that’s awesome! And to them I say, Thank you! It is really cool that you said that, I have been working super hard to achieve the kind of physical performance I want, and I appreciate your noticing it. But you know what I don’t appreciate? The focus on my goddamn WEIGHT.

Someone once said that dancers work as hard as policemen, always alert, always tense, but see, policemen don’t have to be beautiful at the same time.

— George Balanchine

First of all, you know fuck all about how much I weigh. It’s a total mystery to you. You cannot possibly look at me and accurately guess what I weigh. You just can’t.

Furthermore, my weight –

(even if you could tell what it was by looking at me, which you can’t, but let’s assume for one minute that you had a superpower (what a shitty superpower! you could been INVISIBLE!))

– is not a reliable index of ANYTHING. It doesn’t tell you a goddamn thing about my strength, my health, my level of fitness, what I eat or don’t eat, whether I get enough sleep, how my knees feel on any given Sunday. And don’t even try to talk to me about BMI, which is just such bad science that it’s just laughable.

And finally, how the fuck do you know what has caused a change in my appearance? Maybe I have taken up drugs. Or maybe I am seriously ill, or have some really unfortunate health situation that has resulted in a major change in body composition. How do you think I will feel when you congratulate me on that? I just happen to be working on my body’s ever-increasing awesomeness in a super-health conscious way that is predicated on the least insane, most sustainable practices of health I can manage, but again, you DON’T KNOW THAT. I could be engaging in disordered eating, or crazypants fad dieting, or other shit that is profoundly damaging, and here you are telling me what an ace job I’m doing.

In fact, only one person out of the many many many people who have commented on my appearance has asked me about my health. He said, hey, I can’t help noticing that you look different, and I just wanted to ask you if that was something you were deliberately doing, or if it was just a thing, or whatever – regardless, are you happy about it? And I said, honey, thank you for being a sensitive and thoughtful human being! And then I was happy to talk about my situation and what it is all about.

The thing that makes me the most angry is that people, by and large, DO NOT CARE about health or fitness or any of the motivating reasons that I am actually experiencing. The only important thing is that I am wearing a smaller dress size, and that pisses me right the fuck off. Not once has someone said, dude, I have noticed that you are in way better control of your movement, way to fucking go.

(Actually, that’s a lie, my father said that to me but it wasn’t in the context of being less fat, it was in the context of a general observation about my dancing and the context of him being an all-around awesome and supportive person.)

No, the focus is on appearance and appearance only and that sucks out loud. Because dancing is about how what you’ve got inside manifests itself on the outside, how your breath and your spirit and your vitality and your muscles look painted on the canvas of your body. So yeah, it matters what that body looks like, especially in a dance form like ballroom, which has very narrowly-defined ideas of what is and isn’t acceptable. But the body is a MEANS TO AN END, and that end is expression. Shouldn’t we be focusing on that instead of the size of my ass? Tell me about my MOVEMENT, tell me about anything other than my goddamn dress size.

Idealizing the body and wanting to control it go hand-in-hand; it is impossible to say whether one causes the other. A physical ideal gives us the goal of our efforts to control the body, and the myth that total control is possible deceives us into striving for the ideal… In a culture which loves the idea that the body can be controlled, those who cannot control their bodies are seen (and may see themselves) as failures.

— Susan Wendell, “Toward a Feminist Theory of Disability,” Hypatia 4:2 (1989), pp. 104-124

Technique–bodily control–must be mastered only because the body must not stand in the way of the soul’s expression.

— La Merl

No, probably I am stupid for thinking that they are different. And I am certainly stupid for expecting ballroom dancers to be sensitive to any kind of nuance. I mean, for God’s sake. Have you seen the costumes we wear?

Nuance is not really our strong suit.

So what I’m really saying is, I’d like you to think about this before you open your mouth and comment to someone on their physical appearance.

And before you lose your shit and say, but, but, but, people are trying to be NICE, why can’t you just accept a COMPLIMENT, remember this: it’s my fucking body. And just because I am outside my house and wearing clothes does NOT give you the right to police it. You don’t get to decide whether it’s good or bad or better or worse or indifferent, I do. And your opinions on that? Maybe keep them to yourself.

You’re never going to go wrong saying to someone, hey, you look great today! or I love that top, or your hair looks cool! That’s super. Because those statements are not RELATIVE VALUE JUDGEMENTS. What’s a relative value judgement? You look better [than you used to] or what you’re wearing is so much cuter [than you usually look] or your hair looks way better short [because when it was long you looked worse].

You don’t know. You don’t know what kind of a day they’ve had, you don’t know what’s going on in their life, you don’t know how they feel about themselves or their body and, if you’re commenting on a change, you REALLY don’t know what’s caused it. You may think you’re being nice, and helpful, and supportive. But your body politics aren’t necessarily mine, and your projection of what you would or wouldn’t like someone to notice about your appearance doesn’t mean that the shit you’re saying to me isn’t damaging.

And you know what they say about good intentions, and paving.

So before you say something, ask yourself one question: does this person ABSOLUTELY NEED TO KNOW what you are telling them? Because if I have lipstick on my teeth or weird mascara marks, I MAY NOT KNOW THAT. You know what I’m real goddamn clear on? The current size, disposition, and arrangement of my body. Do I need to know that you think my face looks better now than it used to? Nope! Do I need to know that you think I am thinner than I used to be? No, I don’t!

When I’m on the floor, feel free. Feel fucking free to comment all day long about what I’m wearing and whether you think my ass is too big and how hideous my hair looks like that and why I shouldn’t wear yellow. That’s fair game. I’m putting myself out there to be judged – by you, by the goddamn judges, by the audience, by everyone.

But on the street, when I am just wandering around as a normal human? Maybe keep it to yourself.

 

Author’s note:

When I originally wrote this, I included specific details about my height, and weight, and I really wanted to keep those in. But in the end, I decided that they were pretty fucking meaningless without some pictures to accompany them and to make the point that YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT [xxx] LBS LOOKS LIKE. So I pulled that out, and I’m unhappy with that choice, but basically, I value my anonymity more. Sorry. But the same point is well made by two collections of photos, My Body Gallery and the BMI project, both of which strive to point out that our understanding of body image is so warped that we have NO CLUE what women actually look like.

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It’s chickpeas? Shut up.

(presented in no particular order)

*     *     *

So the potential partner definitely blew me off. That’s par for the course. At least this time I actually danced with the dude before the blow off! Although, of course, this being ballroom, I just haven’t gotten a call back for two weeks. That qualifies as a Not Happening in my book.

I really wish DudeBro McLeaderson would’ve had the cojones to just call me and say, listen, you’re great, it’s not gonna work, thanks so much have a nice liiiiiife…

But no. Instead I am going to have to track his lazy ass down and make him actually say it so that there is closure and it’s not weird the next time I see him which will inevitably happen given that the ballroom community has like twelve people in it, half of whom are mad at/screwing/screwing OVER/have been screwed over by the other half.

It’s fine if you don’t want to dance with me. That’s super valid. But don’t be a tool. Just fucking man up and call me.

But then, if you could do that you could probably show up to a rehearsal on time (or at all) which is also not a strength. So that’s a whole thing. Whatever.

*     *     *

I made these weird cookies. I don’t know, I kind of like them. But they’re legit weird. So they were a thing I found on the internet (she said with trepidation) and it seemed like a SUPER GOOD IDEA at the time and I just happened to have 100% of the necessary foo-foo gluten free fancy schmancy ass ingredients in my kitchen. And to the credit of the nice lady who put up all the pretty pictures, they seem like a fantastic idea. THIS IS WHY I WAS SUCKED IN.

Do mine look like this? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA, no.

Right? But, so, yeah. These “cookies” (or whatever, baked good kind of deal) are chickpeas, natural peanut butter, agave syrup, vanilla, and baking powder. You toss all that in a food processor and blend the shit out of it.

So, it turns out I am not really 100% sure how to use my food processor? I bought it once and used it immediately (probably with the benefit of the goddamn instructions, which are now LONG GONE) and so I had to use a lot of trial and error. Mostly error. Because this dough shit is basically cement – at one point there was literally smoke coming out of the motor. This, I thought, was probably not a good sign.

But eventually I figured it out using my ape-brain and opposable thumbs and managed to blend together all the shit into a dough-like substance which was sticky as hell. And in the recipe the internet lady put in chocolate chips but it turned out that all I had were milk chocolate chips which I HATE so I had to find the only dark chocolate in my house which was half a bag of dark chocolate Hershey’s kisses. Right?

So I unwrap some of those bastards and throw them in, thinking (like a dumbass) that if I hit pulse they will get chopped up into chocolate chip type things. Uh, no. That is not how food processors work (see above). Turns out it just blended the shit out of the couple of kisses I did science with and turned the whole chickpea cement kind of chocolatey.

(ALLITERATION! Not just for foods with gluten.)

At which point I said, Fuck this, this whole experiment has ceased to be entertaining plus now I am realizing that I have to clean my goddamn food processor and remembering why I sometimes just give up and buy plastic silverware instead of, you know, doing dishes…. so I slapped those bitches onto a pan and threw a Hershey’s kiss on top of each one, reckoning that even if the cookie things were a total loss, at least I would get a warm Hershey’s kiss out of the operation.

Chocolate chickpea peanut butter goddamn pain in my ass cement cookie things…

And IN THE END, they were actually pretty fucking tasty. For a cement chickpea cookie thing. Don’t get crazy, it’s not foie gras or anything. But still. Fuck food processors and fuck me for occasionally thinking that I can actually do things that I have NO BUSINESS DOING.

*     *     *

I really want this dress from Espen Salberg. Which is stupid, I have no dollars and no business buying a super cute dress but it is calling to me! It is saying BUY ME YOU KNOW YOU WANT TO MAYBE YOU WILL LOOK LIKE THIS COOL CHICA IN THE PICTURE IF YOU DOOOOO….

Espen Salberg Leopard Cowl Dress

Psssht, dress, you crazy. I don’t even have bangs!

*     *     *

Maybe I should get BANGS. I need a haircut, for reals.

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Eggs, baskets

I have a try out set up with a potential competitive partner. I am trying really hard to stay reasonable and sanguine about it but this is the best lead I’ve had in a few years and has potential to really work.

At the same time I know that the disappointment will be even more sharp if this prospect crashes and burns. Everything in my experience tells me that it’s likely to… but here’s to hoping anyway.

I just want to be on the floor so badly. So fingers crossed!

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Bunheads – ABC Family

Guys, are you watching this? You should be watching this. It’s legit. Funny, smart, and awesome.

The trailer (see below) is good marketing and appopriate for the network it’s on (ABC Family), but bullshit; it’s much more of a grown-up tv show. Here’s the opener of the pilot (click on the image to enlarge; WordPress won’t let me do screenwriting formatting properly so I had to paste in an image, blah, sorry):

Awesome. You should watch this. Okay? (Edited to add: is it weird that I think Sutton Foster in this looks exactly like Lauren Graham? I mean, I have long been an Amy Sherman-Palladino fan, but gosh. This is Gilmore Girls: Dance Camp. It’s nice.)

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Doing all the jobs = bad idea

So, dudes, I haven’t written anything for like a week and a half, because I have been totally swamped at the studio. Our management team was gone for some managerial stuff out of town, which meant that running the studio was my job. In the week that they were gone, we had two major events, a visiting coach/judge, staff checkouts and exams, and student checkouts. It was INSANE.

I have learned that I can actually not do 100% of the jobs at the studio AT THE SAME TIME – in addition to running everything, I was in charge of making sure new students were being properly taken care of, shepherding our guest judge, taking a pretty intense round of professional exams for the next level of certifications, and, of course, teaching my own students and preparing them for their checkouts.

I have a bunch of things I want to talk about, but I’m on the road right now for family business and I have a crazy early flight. So I’ll just say this briefly: I am really excited because even though last week was a MESS, I think I have maybe got a mentor in the industry now. I need to set things up with this person a little more formally (and indicate that I will be more than willing to put my ass on a plane to come out and do coaching) but I think it’s a go. Yay!

Also: I am going to order these beauties from England and try them. I don’t know if they can live up to the super high standard of my beloved Ray Rose Blizzards, but I’m excited to try them. How stunning are they??! Ray Rose Drizzle, I ❤ you.

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TANSTAAFL

TANSTAAFL – There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch

I was talking to my personal trainer this morning at the gym and we were comparing notes like we often do: how many clients do you have this week, do you have any breaks to eat, are you working the weekend too, are any of your clients crazy right now, etc. He and I have similar structures in that we both work as employees of larger enterprises which we do not own (he’s at a big national chain of gyms, I’m at a studio) and we see a variety of clients mostly one-on-one. Both of us are paid a percentage (probably about 30% in his case, closer to 15% in mine) of what the client pays as his or her hourly rate, are expected to keep up with various certifications and professional qualifications, and are in what is essentially a service industry.

The big difference, as far as I can see, is the intense emotional component of teaching and participating in ballroom dance. Not to dismiss the fact that people get very attached to their fitness professionals – I am very fond of my trainer, and I was genuinely upset when the girl I worked with before him was promoted to another gym. But there is absolutely no comparison between that and the intense, visceral, and sometimes uncomfortably intimate situation produced in partner dance.

It is certainly the case that for most people who are not professional dancers, the level of personal contact and physical touch experienced through dance really only ever occurs with regularity in situations of sexual intimacy. It doesn’t help that most of the pretending we do in ballroom is about exactly those sorts of relationships – your brain is pretty much set up to get confused.

It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that people feel betrayed when you ask them to pay money for that experience. It feels cold, and transactional, and like you’re getting hustled. (And sometimes you are. Please, please, please – ask so many questions and don’t EVER feel like you can’t say no in a given situation; see the brilliant deconstruction of The Spinning Dancer on this topic.)

I think we, as a profession, do a bad job of explaining what people are paying money for. And I think we do a bad job of educating our clients about how the business works. The sticker shock about the cost of ballroom is common – it’s a crazy expensive pursuit, no question about it. Private lessons aren’t cheap, and pro-am Dancesport competition (as an amateur) is, with the exception of really complicated scuba diving or high-level horse related things or yachting, probably the most expensive sport you can pursue.

I get that. I also get why people think it’s worth it. And let’s be SUPER clear – professionals don’t make much money. Yeah, competitions are expensive, but even top independent comps are hardly money factories, and certainly your teachers aren’t seeing that cash. The time away from the studio in teaching, the wear and tear on your body from dancing with a student, being ‘on call’ the whole time you’re there, the costumes, all that jazz – in a best case scenario, any additional money teachers make is from the extra lessons booked in the run up to a competition. I assure you that it is lo, many tens of dollars.

Stefanie, in a recent post about the cost of ballroom, asked the following:

By looking at the bill [for a competition], as a student, you may then wonder at the cost and ponder why, if you are paying so much, your instructor isn’t a millionaire, already? I mean, most professionals can’t demand $75 or more for less than an hour! That is significantly more than I make as a pharmacist!

Sure! I hear that, no question. But think about it this way – the studio may charge you $75/lesson but if the instructor is not teaching independently, then the studio pays him or her probably somewhere between $12-$20/lesson with the rest of that $75 going to overhead, paying for a receptionist, music licenses, insurance, etc etc etc. If a pro IS teaching independently, then of that $75, $10 or $15 goes to floor fees, more is eaten up in transportation (driving all over town to different studios to teach requires gas which is basically a thousand dollars a gallon these days), advertising (putting your name out there is not free) and the sunken time costs of teaching (editing music for wedding couples or showcases, lesson planning, continuing education under whatever syllabus you teach) that happen on your own time. At the end of the day, you probably aren’t netting a whole lot more than a studio staff teacher, plus you are responsible for generating 100% of your own client base. (Which is why I currently teach in a studio rather than independently; until I have a name, it’s a better deal for me by FAR.)

What totally blows about ballroom is that the price point is SO high and the barriers to entry are SO steep that only a small percentage of folks – those who are in possession of the disposable time and income such that they can pursue ballroom and not have to choose between that and, say, eating – can engage with that world. It sucks. I got into competitive dancing in college, when the entry costs were $30 a semester for as many group classes as I could attend, taught by a not-terrible independent teacher, and the chance to partner up with some other amateur college students and go compete. It cost me very little money, and I had a fabulous time, and I really enjoyed it. I had NO IDEA that the real world of ballroom did not function this way.

But the fundamental tension that pervades a lot of ballroom, in my observation, is the tension between the legitimate expenses of the pursuit and the emotional intimacy it generates. For various reasons, we think that associating meaningful and emotionally intimate experiences with money is transactional and tawdry – I’m not convinced that it is, actually, I just think that’s a cultural prejudice. The hard thing for a lot of people to work out in their heads is: what is this relationship that I have with this other person whose time I pay for, who touches me in a very personal way, who generates (on the floor) some pretty emotionally intense sensations? Are they a friend? A teacher? A paid escort?

We don’t have a great social category for this. I think maybe a combination of therapist + trainer + teacher is the best I can come up with. And there’s no question that good teachers feel great personal regard for their students and care about them deeply; honestly, it is not worth the terrible money if you don’t care about your students. But the relationship is always a little fraught. I think as long as both parties are aware of the potential complicating factors, and why it can sometimes feel a little weird, everything will be fine. (Again, a place where we as an industry need to do a better job of educating our students.)

But it is not always fine; sometimes it’s horrible. Another Emerald Ball story: I was meeting some friends for a drink at the bar, and we needed two seats. There was one open, and one with a lady’s bag in it. My friend goes, excuse me, can we take this seat? and an older lady who was clearly a few drinks into her evening told us very high-handedly that NO, another lady was sitting there and she is coming BACK (in the tone of, and you can go fuck yourself very much). This lady, obviously a pro-am student, was there with another student or two and their instructor, a nice guy who looked like he was maybe 28. He jumped in to manage the situation, pointing out gently that they could all move down a few seats and everything would be Totally. Fine. His tone was placating without being irritating, and I thought, this poor boy, he has been on duty all day and here he is still having to cater to these ladies, I bet he is TIRED.

So when they moved down, I looked over at him and he and I locked eyes and he knew that I knew the situation. I just smiled at him and tried to put a whole lot of, hang in there, tiger, you’re almost done for the day in my look and he soundlessly moved his lips and said, thank you and went back to his students.

Look, that’s not the typical experience of pro-am. But it happens. And for every wonderful student that you have (and there are a lot of them, and I am sure I am preaching to the choir because if you are reading this then you are NOT LIKE THAT HORRIBLE LADY) there are those who require higher maintenance and more managing. It is exhausting, for real. And it sure as shit is not worth the bullshit money you get paid.

All of which is to say: there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch, my friends, and I don’t care which side of the student/teacher fence you’re standing on. The question is, is what you’re getting out of it (in whatever form) worth what you’re paying (in whatever form)? If it is (and for me, right now, it is), you keep doing it. If it isn’t, or the bullshit threshold is too high, go do something else.

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Rejection!

I just got turned down again by another prospective partner. This happens a lot. (Like, a lot a lot. Like, literally a total of zero people want to dance with me professionally. That feels pretty much like shit.*) It sucks every time. At least this time the dude was nice about it (to be fair to him; to be fair to me, he blew me off for like two weeks and then was nice about saying no, which is still an uncool way to go).

When life gives you lemons, draw an angry face on one because it will  totally make you laugh.

It’s better than the time a dude said, sure, let’s set up a tryout and then texted me the morning of said tryout, saying, sorry, but I just now bothered to look for a picture of you on the internets and now that I’ve found one, well, don’t bother driving over… 

Getting rejected is part of the business. You get turned down all the time. Students tell you no, prospective employers tell you no, people booking jobs tell you no. But also sometimes they say yes. I am really hoping that eventually someone in the partnering department will say yes.

At least I am getting better about putting my shit out there. I used to be a seventh grade girl about it, swanning around being hurt that nobody was asking me. Now I straight up proposition people. They still tell me no, but at least now I’m not wasting as much of my time.

Uggggggggghhh, it still feels like crap to be turned down, though.

It’s amazing how this job finds all the things I am super insecure about and then just slams me over the head with them again and again.

I guess it’s cheaper than therapy?

* It might be less than zero, because at least a few people have expressed a desire to NEVER dance with me, even in the case of, e.g., aliens attack the earth and transport me and said person to their alien spacecraft and then blow up the Earth and all its denizens, leaving us as literally the only two ballroom dancers in the universe. Even in that situation: um, yeah, I’m going to just see what my options are? Soooo, no.

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