Rachel Maslin is a DanceRite pupil and a blogger. Read her account on her dancing journey and a message to her younger self. For more details and dance related / make-up topics, see her blog at Beauty and the Ballroom
I’m now 35 and you’re only 27. Looking to start dancing again, seeing it on the TV watching Strictly and wondering what you would be like now if you would have carried on dancing as a 7 year old in Manchester! 20 years later and as an adult it’s almost more daunting to start a new hobby, in a new class, with new people! Looking back now, I can tell you, there’s ups and downs to this new ‘hobby’ but once you start, you won’t ever want to stop…
You’ll start dancing on a Tuesday night with a school called DanceRite. Mum, Sarah and Sophie will all join…bit of a ‘safety in numbers‘ kind of attempt! Mum laughs about it but she has to give up after a few weeks because of getting home from work too late….and the fact every time Fredric asks the class to turn to the left, she’ll turn to the right…of course she will….Mum just can’t do as she is told! Sarah will stop at the same time as Mum but Sophie will carry on until the start of college which is around September time so until then, you’ll mainly dance the leader’s steps.
Social dances will start off as something you go to but spend the majority of the night sat on a chair through sheer fear of getting up and dancing a Waltz or just a ‘forward, side and close’ all the way up one side of the ballroom, whilst others literally ‘whisk and weave‘ past you, but keep going, keep getting up even for just one or two dances, it’s all practice! You’ll feel like you’re getting in everyone else’s way but the ballroom is meant for everyone…it’s fine!! Social dances do become a lot easier to be at and will eventually become something you’re fine to be first up on the floor at…just getting up and dancing…you’ll get there don’t worry! You probably won’t believe me but you’ll also dance in a few cabaret events at the social nights too!!
Believe it or not, once you start dancing the followers steps upon Sophie’s leaving, you’re actually good enough to take your first exam! Yes…. an exam! Just a Rumba and a Cha cha and you’ll be nervous as hell but the examiner only marks what you show him or her what you can do, not pass judgement on anywhere you ‘forgot it‘ or ‘mucked it up‘. Above all, Vicki will look after you in the room and her constant smile will put you at ease. As will the examiner believe it or not…you go in thinking you’re about to be glared at by some sort of dancing dragon but she’s just a person sat at a desk waiting for you to show her what you’ve learnt….so show her!
A little more up to date on the exam front……you’ve completed medal tests at Social Dance Test, Pre-Bronze, Bronze and with only 3 more dances to take, Silver. All have been passed with High Honours…you can dance well you know!
Private lessons on a Saturday will soon follow and you’ll be sat on the chair in the hall waiting for your teacher to come over….secretly hoping it will be Vicki and not Fredric…looking back, I’m not sure why that was, perhaps because I was just used to her being my teacher in class at that point but there’s nothing to be scared about…he’s a great teacher too and not as scary as he first seems!!! Some lessons will be great, some not so great, mostly through frustration at not being able to do what seems like such an easy step! Sometimes there’s more detail than you first realise.
As for performance…..ha! Do yourself a favour……just get on with it! It’s kind of like ripping off a plaster….the quicker you get on with it, the easier and less painful it will be! Your confidence will grow so don’t be too hard on yourself, but you need to let go and try not to over-think things. When things become a bit much and a sense of being overwhelmed kicks in, don’t be afraid to talk to your teacher about it!! He doesn’t bite…..not that I’ve found yet anyway!
Competitions…now that word will scare you!! Although you’ll never let Fredric forget that time in class when he first asks which age category you would be in….the under or over 35!! (How RUDE!) 🙂
There’s so much to think about with competitions…you’ll need a dress…two dresses in fact, one ballroom and one latin… they’re so expensive though! That will be solved…your dress you wore to the works Christmas party when you worked at Shoosmiths will be absolutely fine! You paid enough for it to never wear it again!! Latin dress will be that simple black dress you have and Julie will sew some red fringe on it and some sequins, to make it stand out! Dresses become a bit of an obsession but don’t get carried away! You’ll get to understand what you like and don’t like, what suits your body shape and how it moves when you dance…..but it’ll take time to understand that so don’t panic if you don’t find the ‘perfect‘ dress! You’ll have some gorgeous dresses…..covered in sequins and crystals….but to start with, just start with what you have and go from there. Other dancers will sell their dresses too…you’ll find that out come to half way through the first competition year!
Tanning…that’s the next hassle! Applying a Fake Bake lotion after never using fake tan before will become the pain in the rear end that you thought it would be! The stress of whether it’s even on your legs really isn’t worth the hassle….start with spray tans earlier! Get over yourself, get naked, get in the tent and get sprayed….sooooooo much easier woman!
Turnout at any dance event is important. Grooming for a dance competition has to be smart. Neat, tidy and importantly, secure hair, some sparkly jewellery and makeup that stands out….bright lipstick and lots of mascara and some false eye lashes are some very basic musts!
Hair up and in a neat bun is easy enough and over the years you will change your hairstyle and sometimes even change back to the simple bun with some added crystals, but please, learn how to not get so stressed when the hair isn’t going how you want it at 6am……there really was no need to break your hair brush by throwing it across your bedroom now was there???
Makeup – this will be the most fun! Eyelashes, meh, you’ll get used to them! Go get an applicator from boots….saves the stress because it makes it so much easier to apply! Your makeup again will change as you progress but bold and bright is the best way…don’t be scared of colour! Just blend….then you won’t look like a clown so don’t worry about it! P.s Eyelashes not going on first time does not spell disaster for the whole day so just chill the hell out ok?!?
A brilliant experience
Your first competition will be a brilliant experience…making the semi finals in both styles after Waltzing and Cha-cha-ing around a packed sports hall floor! So many people, so many gorgeous dresses and so many impressive dancers to watch! Looking back at the videos now I cringe, but then I remind myself of where I am today and the progress I have made…the progress you will make. Progress is key, it’s what any learning experience is about and that’s what you are doing, you are learning how to dance.
Subsequent competitions will be a variety of results…it’ll take 4 competitions to make a final, but that’s ok….when you make that final, you’ll feel amazing…and you’ll have earned it! You’ll gradually learn that you can only control what you do on the day of a competition, you can’t control what the judges do so try not to stress too much and go out and enjoy it. It’s easy for me to say this, yet 8 years later I still have a little freak out every now and again! Always go onto the floor and dance your best…aim to win, but as Fredric will tell you, broaden your acceptance level….so essentially, aim to be the winner, but accept it gracefully if you’re not. As I type this letter I can finally say you do win a competition…..in the Over 35 Silver section….Foxtrot of all dances!! Yes, you hate it to begin with but believe me, Fredric is correct when he tells you that you’ll love it! I do!
Why do you dance?
Results from the competitions will sometimes make you wonder why you do it…why you put the effort into classes and lessons, preparing for the day with tans, makeup, hair, dresses and so on, but the love of dancing will stop you from giving up. You’ll be reminded that it’s too easy to base your ability to dance on the ‘success‘ of the competition. Success can be just going out and dancing because you’ll find that on some occasions there’ll be that many people on the floor that even though you dance your socks off, you’ll be missed by the judges! At other events, you will stand and wait for your number to be called into the next round, only to have it missed to then sit and watch the recalled heat and wonder how you weren’t called back! It’s all experience!
A ‘spare girl’
One competition in between will always hold a tale to tell, Hove, May 2010….you finish your solo dances and have your jacket on watching the other rounds having reached the semi finals again. Randomly, someone will ask Vicki if there is a ‘spare girl’ who can dance Rumba…before you know it, Stu will take your phone, Vicki will take your jacket and Polly will be throwing your latin shoes in your direction! You’re on! …….. Dancing with a total stranger …. in the Silver / Gold section….Rumba….!?!?!? What?? You will be flipping petrified…ain’t gonna lie! You’re Social Dance Test…having only danced Rumba in your exam…a very basic Rumba…6 months earlier….well as the story unfolds, you’ll be recalled into the final! Again, I have a video…cringe-worthy but an experience all the same.
Stu will also start dancing! Your very own dance partner…what more could you ask for?? Shame about the fact you’ll argue and get frustrated with one another but hang in there at least til the Bournemouth Competition….you’ll win the Rumba! 😛
Speaking of dance partners…this will be an interesting one. Dancing the leader role will come in handy as on a couple of occasions you’ll be at a competition and there’ll be someone available to dance with who also doesn’t have a partner…you’ll have so much fun and make a couple of finals! You’ll also have the opportunity to dance (as I say) ‘well above your grade!!’ at around the time of your Bronze stage, you’ll go back to dancing as a follower and dance with someone who is Gold! That’s a part of the journey that suddenly you’ll gain more confidence and abilities as you’ll be thrown into all kinds of steps you didn’t know existed! That too will be lots of fun but come with it’s own frustrations! You want to do these advanced steps and routines but it’s not as simple as that…constant practice will of course help but don’t be so hard on yourself if you can’t ‘get it right‘!
The one thing you can never assume is you’ll stick dancing with the same person. Things happen in life where for some, dancing is the one thing that gets them away from their reality for a little while but for others, it has to take a back seat so as to allow room for whatever else is going on at the time. There’s something learnt or taken from each and every experience so just go with it!
Blackpool – oh my gosh, Blackpool is just another story altogether…it’s hard to say what you’re going to think about your Blackpool experience but suffice is to say you will love it! The grandeur of the Tower Ballroom is a sight to behold. Watching the professional couple demonstrate on the Saturday night…you’ll learn after a couple of years to also not drink too much on the social night as you’ve got to be up early on the Sunday to compete….but that’s another story 😛 I’ve now danced at the Winter Gardens…trust me that is just something else! Dancing in either the Tower Ballroom or the Empress Ballroom is an absolute honour. You’re going to love it!
There are so many other things that you will experience thanks to dance. Attending social events with friends who you have met through having the same ‘hobby’….believe me…the word ‘hobby‘ just really doesn’t cut it anymore! Watching professionals, the best in the world, dance at the Royal Albert Hall…dancing like it’s so easy! Each event that passes will encourage you to keep going, to keep developing and keep trying to be the best dancer that you can be.
Stick at it
So, to those lessons you’ll walk away from feeling like you can’t dance thanks to the frustration of wanting to do it but not quite being able to, to those competitions that you leave feeling like there’s nothing more you could have done yet the judges didn’t put your number onto their notepad, and to those steps that your brain is too tired to process when it’s been a long day…..stick at it…they’ll only make you stronger and more determined in the long run. To those stresses over wanting a new dress (because let’s face it, you didn’t NEED a new dress!), to the false eye lashes, hair pins, freezing cold spray tans and early competition mornings, once you learn to relax a little about this so-called ‘hobby’ of yours, you’ll find more enjoyment, more ability, more control and that’s when the ‘hobby’ will become so much more than that.
It’s now 2017, I’m 35, I’ve been dancing for 8 years…….lots of ups, lots of downs, lots of emotions, but that’s what makes this journey the roller coaster that it is. There’s plenty of exciting times ahead!
As Vicki always says….Dance is a journey, not a destination….remember that.