After winning a World title at the Closed Silver level in American Smooth last year, my teacher and I decided to skip Gold and move straight up to the Open division. A whole new world of possibilities opened up as the syllabus became just a starting point for our dancing, instead of the structure that our dancing had to fit into. Open presented the opportunity to be more creative and build routines that were more uniquely me.
As excited as I was to expand my dance horizons, the first few months of Open lessons were rough! I knew, of course, the choreography was going to be more challenging. I would be learning moves that weren’t necessarily defined by the syllabus or that came with fixed timing. We were going to incorporate more tricks into the routines, like runaround turns where I have one leg lifted up in the air. So my physical strength and flexibility would be tested.
There were other challenges that I didn’t expect. For example, I didn’t expect it to take me months to understand and remember the Open Waltz choreography. I’ve always been good at memorizing routines, so I couldn’t understand why this routine refused to stick in my brain. Part of the problem is the routine kept changing. More possibilities mean more drafts. Along with the new moves, I had to learn this new process of building our routines, which included completely changing a section after I spent hours practicing it over the previous weekend.
The rules by which I danced were changing or becoming obsolete. I spent years training my body to have fantastic posture in frame. Chest up, shoulders down, head left, etc. But in Open, my upper body was permitted a much greater range of motion. One Smooth coach describes it as a scale from 1 to 10. You could fold all the way forward (1), bend all the way backward (10), be aligned vertically like in a proper closed frame (5) or be anywhere in between. My muscle memory was firmly set at 5, so when my teacher told me I should bend forward more in a move to make it bigger and more dynamic, I heard alarm bells in my head and my body fought the movement.
I had to start unlearning old rules that didn’t apply anymore. It’s similar to going from Bronze-level American Waltz, where you are required to close your feet, to Silver-level American Waltz, where you pass your feet. Maintaining that 5 in your posture is exactly what you need to do in the Closed levels, but it doesn’t make sense for Open where the idea is to be more creative and expressive in your movement.
Another surprise challenge was feeling like I was a beginner again, even after winning a World Champion title. I suppose it was a little like that feeling when you graduate high school as a senior and then start college as a freshman. Suddenly, you’re the new kid again.
I struggled with fresh waves of self-doubt as I tried to memorize changing choreography and adapt to new ways of doing things. I was a World Champion dancer, but moving into Open made me feel like a newcomer.
As dancers, we always have something new to learn or something old to improve on. The education only stops when we do. The most recent chapter in my dance education has included a lot of lessons I didn’t expect, and I’m sure there are many more to come. It doesn’t mean the old chapters or lessons are thrown out; there is just an added challenge of knowing when they will help and when they will hinder the current learning.
Have you recently entered a new level in your dance education? Please share your experience!