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Those Competition Feels, pt 1

Do any of these sound familiar to you?

"I can't believe _______ made it into finals before me! I know I'm a better dancer than them!"

"I completely embarrassed myself in the competition today"

"My partners in the jack and jill are why I didn't make finals."

I've heard them all, even said one or two of them after various competitions. This post is the first in a three part series on how to work on those competition feels. I want to tackle the feelings that underpin those statements and get at better mindsets that will help you do better next time, and maybe even feel less crappy about it in the moment.

"I can't believe _______ made it into finals before me! I know I'm a better dancer than them!"

First, consider this: what do you mean when you say better dancer? Is it the same thing the judges mean? Are you more musical, or rhythmic, or creative, or clean, or collaborative, or performative, or do you make prettier lines, or are you better at watching your partner, or are you better at making your partner look good or are you better at making great faces? Remember that what you value as a dancer, while probably situated in conversations with certain instructors, does not necessarily reflect the values of every judge.

But wait, let's back up a level higher. Who said the judges are looking for the better dancer? Every judge I've ever spoken with is looking for someone having the better dances in that competition. While humans are horrible at discarding past performance, the judges are doing their best to watch those three prelim dances independent of what they know of you and that other person.

So you know with absolute gut certainty that you are better than that other person but...were you only watching them if they were in another heat? If they were in your heat, how do you know what their dances even looked like? Did you really get a sense for what quality of dances they had? Also, frankly, you might have a decent idea of what your dances look like, but you don't, actually, only you get to watch video. All you know is what it felt like.

But the real problem with thinking that your dancing is better than someone else's and getting confused about why they made it and not you, is it means you're not digging in and finding the thing you need to work on. When you say that I'm a better dancer than that person, you mean, I have nothing to learn from them. But you're absolutely wrong about that. To be honest, I believe we can all learn something from just about anyone, even if it's just taking a beginner's mega enthusiasm and energy levels.

Maybe they keep their cool better than you. Maybe they look like they're having more fun. Maybe their leads are more clean. Maybe their stylings are more integrated and feel more like part of the dance. Maybe they're more rhythmic or hear the music very differently from you in a way that's aesthetically pleasing for judges from a certain generation.

When you get home, watch that prelim video, and watch that person. Don't you dare snark on them: look for what you like in what they're doing. If you can't be that kind on the first pass, look for what they do differently from you. Think about the different possible criteria the judges could be holding in their minds, and see what they're doing well. Compare that to your choices.

In the moment, when that thought first arises, examine it. "Hm! I wonder what made me think that? I know that I value my own ______ skills, something I've always thought of that person as lacking. I wonder if they've been working on it. I wonder if I didn't perform as well today as they did. I wonder what new thing I should work on next."

If your goal is to win competitions, sitting in your defeat and ruminating upon how a worse dancer got put forward doesn't do a whole lot to bring that goal closer. Instead, take the opportunity to think about how you can become an even better version of your own self. Address your weaknesses, and create your next practice plan. Next time: dealing with embarrassment.

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