Editorial: We can't all be winners all the time. Carol has entertained us with her meteoric rise from ballroom novice to Supadance champion. Her words have given confidence and belief to numerous dancers who thought they couldn't do it and inspiration to all. But it's much harder to share your story when it is an unhappy one and so it's with great thanks that I publish Carol's latest edition. Carol is now such a central part of life at Wright Rhythm and has achieved so much over the last few years and one competition can't change that, but sometimes it can feel like it. Fortunately qualifiers and non-qualifiers alike we are one family at Wright Rhtyhm and must all continue to support each other as we always do.
Published Sunday October 26 2008, by Carol Elsbury
They Think It's All Over....It Is Now!
I said to Steve (long suffering husband, dance partner and newly qualified Latin Competitor) that all my stories seem the same. I get entered into some competition, don’t feel able to do it, everyone is fantastically supportive and helpful, I scrape through and feel marvellous. Be careful what you wish for, it may come true. And I wish with all my heart that this story could be exactly the same… but it isn’t. Nevertheless I still feel I need to write it down so that maybe, just maybe, someone else in my position will know they aren’t alone if they feel as “lost” as I do now.
Unless you have been involved in this whole rollercoaster you won’t really realise how important “qualifying” is ~ it isn’t just one weekend in Blackpool, it shapes what you do from late October one year until early April the next. (Please note: I do still have some sense of proportion and realise that no-one actually died, the world still goes on turning and there are a million things worse but for the last 24 hours ~ and probably some time to come ~ I am struggling to come to terms with it!) Very few people who know me outside of the dance world know that I even do it. Those who do remain stunned, given my track record, but it has become a very important part of who I am to me. When I am losing the will to live at work (after sixteen years a certain element of “sameiness” is bound to creep in!) I spend my lunch hour browsing “Chrisanne” or “DSI” or other clubs’ websites. On my way to and from work I never listen to the radio, just endless dance cd’s ~ running over my routines and thinking about ways to improve. It is, for the most part, a sort of “Walter Mitty” existence (that shows my age!) that is my very own obsession.
So ~ there is this part of you (well me anyway) that sort of thought that if you qualified last year, and then you worked hard all year, you stood a chance of qualifying again. Ahh, but that would only work if a) everyone else who qualified spent the last year sitting on their bums, stuffing chocolate down their throats and didn’t bother to go to lessons and b) no other dancers moved up into the next age group and therefore increased the competition. Not going to happen, is it?! Secondly you are faced with the very well meaning comments from those around you. “Of course you’ll be alright!” they say (non-dancers) “You qualified last year didn’t you?” And then from your dancing colleagues, “If you dance as well as you can, you shouldn’t have any problems.” I did, in all fairness, spend a lot of time trying to explain that actually I wasn’t guaranteed to qualify as the competition was fierce but to be honest what did I expect them to say? “Well, its borderline ~ you’re not that good are you?” which wouldn’t have been helpful either so basically it’s a no win situation!
My partner, and six foot security blanket, Lee managed to twist the bottom of his spine in a very nasty lift and therefore could only dance for himself and not with any of his existing partners, including me. “Is that your excuse?” I hear you say. Nope ~ because I was allocated to Pete who, quite frankly, women have been known to trample other women and small children to reach in the partnering stakes. I had injured the muscle between my 8th and 9th rib the previous week. “Ahh, so that’s it then!” you exclaim. Nope because there were more people with injuries dancing on that floor than people who were fit! The amount of people in my age group were either the first or second highest of the day. “Finally ~ that’s it!” you cry (nearing desperation). Nope, didn’t stop my friends qualifying did it? There is one reason why I didn’t qualify ~ there were at least 12 other people out there who wiped the floor with me!
As you know the ballroom always comes first and the Waltz seemed fine. I remembered the routine, tried to keep my head up and my smile fixed (small tip, if your cheeks don’t hurt you ain’t smiling!) and my (not insubstantial) “tail” tucked under me. Paula and Gilli said “Well done” when I came off ~ and the world seemed sunny. We were called on for the Tango and I assumed what I hopefully thought was a suitable head position, ditched the aching cheeks and tried to look “haughty”. First side seemed more or less ok and then, well I actually don’t recall any more until we came off. I then went to see Bec (who needs no introduction). “Waltz was lovely,” she said “and the tango was, well, a tango.” Ahh. Right then, best I give it my all next time round if I got a call-back! I did and again the Waltz seemed to go well and then back for the second tango. I would like to tell you how it was. Truth is I remember nothing except small flashbacks i.e. trying to throw out my head at what obviously was the wrong point until I completely lost it and whispered “I don’t know where I am!” to poor old Pete. I knew from the moment I was asked to prepare for the dance off, and then wasn’t called, that I was officially OUT. I am sure, like all dance schools, there are rules for appropriate behaviour when you find you haven’t been successful. Little things like throwing yourself on the floor and howling aren’t going to make you popular so I decided to “suck it up” and deal with it. When Mark announced the results, Number 23 (forever my unlucky number) wasn’t called. I duly “sucked it up” and when to genuinely congratulate my colleagues who had qualified. I won’t ever, however, forget watching them congregate in the middle of the floor, recalling that feeling of camaraderie and total elation I had felt the previous year and knowing, that for the next seven months, I would feel like an outsider looking in on some special party to which you haven’t been invited.
“Right then,” said Paula, marshalling me and Steve together. “Go out there and try your hardest to qualify in Latin ~ stranger things have happened!” and I knew the last part was aimed at me because it is no secret that latin and I are uneasy bedfellows. So I did. I can truly say I danced the best Rumba and Cha Cha I was able to and didn’t get called back. And strangely that was far easier to deal with than the ballroom fiasco had been.
So that left my Steve. His very loving voice quietly said in my ear “I don’t want to qualify in Latin because it won’t be fair to you”. And that was it. I lost my control and tears poured down my face. “Don’t you b****y dare!” I whispered through clenched teeth. “You go out there and try your hardest because I WANT you to qualify!” And so my other (and infinitely better) half went out there with a big smile and danced his heart out. You may recall, through some fluke, the results of the Men 35-49 were the last results to be called. And he was in! “104, Steve Elsbury of Wright Rhythm ~ congratulations you are going to Blackpool!” He said afterwards that he couldn’t look at me as he went up because if I had been crying he couldn’t have gone. See ~ I might have failed to qualify but I won because he married me! I managed to keep it together ~ finding it harder by the minute especially when people were so kind but couldn’t face Paula & Gilli or Mark because I knew that would be beyond me. You do feel you have let people down, I let myself down by failing to dance the tango in any recognisable form, but hey ~ even if I had have danced it well I may still have failed to qualify.
We bundled everything into the car and I decided to drive home via, I might add, the petrol station where everything made of chocolate or containing salt was purchased in large volumes for the journey home. Steve, wisely, kept quiet as I alternately ate crisps, nuts, and chocolate in a continual stream whilst babbling that I knew I wasn’t cut out for competitions and was giving up or, five minutes later, was going to return next year as a changed woman. From his point of view he just went with the flow. Well, you would have to be some kind of fool to argue with a woman driving with one hand in a bag of peanuts at 70 miles in the rain wouldn’t you?!
The malaise lasted right through Monday (yesterday as I write this) and I actually managed to spend 90% of the day in bed, grazing on the leftovers from Sunday night and watching daytime television. Wisely I had booked the day off work ~ it is a long day even when you are on a high from the adrenalin rush success brings but as it happened it was even wiser not to inflict this maudlin wreck on my workplace.
Towards the end of the evening I reviewed the situation. I read somewhere that the measure of how much you love something is only truly clear when you fail. It is easy to love something when you succeed. I knew it would be difficult to return to the studio and actually grow increasingly difficult as the excitement grew. But what was the alternative? And then I began to think of all the support that each competitor has, be it a mother or father or partner that doesn’t dance. They attend and watch and encourage without the slightest possibility of ever being part of it ~ except they are. And then I looked at Steve. He had obviously failed to spend the day jumping around chanting “I’m going to Blackpool” and had been very careful about what he said to me. Hmmm. “You know when you dance the sliding doors,” I said. “Yes,” he replied. “Well you stick your neck out and don’t extend with a straight back.” “Show me!“ he said. And there we were. I may have been unable to do it myself but I knew what looked right. And I have the feeling that I am going to turn into one of the worst “Dance mothers/wives” you have ever met. “You want fame?” I said, “well fame costs, and this is where you start paying!” So, for however difficult it all was and still will be, I know have my purpose back in supporting my husband and all my other friends at the studio ~ only don’t worry, only Steve will get the dancing tuition, the others will make do with my cooking! And in the interim period (a mere seven months) I will continue to take lessons, try to lose weight, and focus on next year.
On a lighter and final note, what STILL makes this hobby so wonderful for me, was a voice I heard during the medallist dance (or maybe the Waltz) from Mark at Dance Express. “Go on Carol & Pete!” as we danced past their side of the room. And what more can you ask for or do you need than the kindness of strangers?