INSIDE THE MIND OF A PRO-AM BALLROOM DANCE COMPETITOR
Sometimes, to a complete beginner, our dance studios can seem a bit intimidating, especially with all those trophies around.
However, the majority of our students are actually completely new to dance, and we wanted to share their experiences. We selected a student from our youngest dance studio, Dance With Me Glen Rock, to share their experience from beginner to pro-am ballroom dance competitor. We present to you, Victoria Buchner, a passionate student at Dance With Me Glen Rock who takes us behind the scenes of her preparation and experience of Summer Invitational 2015.
While many may think that to dance competitively one has to go through years and years of practice and experience, Victoria tells us about her 18 month journey as a dancer under a budget.
Read about Victoria’s dedication, hard work, and love of ballroom dancing below. Take it away Victoria!
“Initially when I was asked to write a blog post about my dance experience at Dance With Me USA, I wasn’t exactly sure what direction I wanted to take it in. There are so many aspects of ballroom dancing— from the actual dance lessons to dance fashion, and everything in between. Eventually I decided that I wanted to do a combination of several things, so I chose to share my road to one Dance With Me’s DanceSport competitions, Summer Invitational 2015. I wanted to make it functional for those who may be interested in doing a dance competition, want to get a behind the scenes look at how everything comes together, or are just casual fans of performing arts and DanceSport.
To give a brief summary about myself, I majored in Italian and minored in Psychology and Linguistics from Montclair State University. My first employment opportunity after college was a part-time Paraprofessional position at Jefferson Elementary School in Hawthorne, NJ, working with students that have a behavioral and/or learning disability. This included working with autistic, emotionally disturbed, or learning impaired children with no behavioral problems. A completely non-dance related job and life outside of my dance hobby– just like most amateur ballroom dance students. I just recently switched jobs and am now a full-time keyholder at a Capezio retail store called Center Stage Dance Supplies in Wyckoff, NJ, which seems to be a little more up my alley.
I’ve always been involved, in some capacity, in the fine and performing arts but my journey with Dance With Me began just a short year and a half ago. What I love most is that, at the dance studio, I get to be ME. Not a contained, “normal” side of me, but me to its fullest weirdest, dorkiest, happiest extent. To top it off, I’m accepted and applauded for it here, as opposed to previous years and moments of being verbally and cyber bullied. Society doesn’t always appreciate and value respect, morals, tradition, and family as much as it used to, which is what I dealt with growing up and part of the reason I was made fun of. At Dance With Me, however, these values are first priority.
It is also noteworthy to point out that dance, although the strongest passion that I have, does not come easily to me, nor have I had prior training in, other than a few years of basic tap, jazz, and ballet when I was 4-7 years old. There is a lot of hard work and hidden tears that go into the making of who I am as a dancer. Almost everything I do is not good enough. Not even a compliment from Maksim Chmerkovskiy can deter me from being disappointed, but the best part was that he totally understood how I felt. Sometimes though, my hard work does pay off and my dancing is acceptable by my toughest critic, myself.
I THINK ALL BALLROOM DANCE STUDENTS CAN RELATE TO BEING SELF-CONSCIOUS AND THEIR OWN WORST CRITIC.
So how do I prepare for a ballroom dance competition like Summer Invitational?
The majority of my lessons are based on American Rhythm style because that is what I am currently competing in. I have occasional lessons on American Smooth, because it presents a good learning base and some key dance fundamentals, such as good posture. For me, currently living on a very small, and frankly sad budget, every second of my lesson counts. I can only afford to be at the studio once a week, unless a showcase or competition is coming up. Approximately 5 days a week the cocktail table is pushed off into another room, and I spend time practicing what I have learned. When I am at the studio, my instructor & dance partner, Misha Fatyanov, and I are two very strong perfectionists with a lot of positive energy, spending every second working hard with or without coaches, in the hopes of making me a competitive and performance-worthy dancer. I treat it like my second job.
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT!
One fun part about preparing for an event is getting to choose your “look.” Dance fashion is a whole different ball game. For this particular event, I bought my dress at Shall We Dance Designs (Nutley, NJ), my Aida shoes from WorldTone (NYC), and my earrings from Claire’s (nearest mall). It’s important to tan before a competition because it makes your body look more toned and keeps you from appearing sickly white under the bright lights. St. Tropez Self Tan Dark Bronzing Mousse from Sephora (nearest mall) is the brand I have been using. I apply one coat with the St. Tropez mitt every night, 4 nights before I will be competing. I also always make sure that my nails match my dress and that my nails are long enough to create beautiful lines since my hands are so tiny. The day of the event, I make sure I always have my hair & makeup professionally done by the wonderful people that Dance With Me has hired for the event.
When I arrive at the event, I try to eat as healthy as possible. The things that will give me the best results when I compete are grilled chicken, steak, eggs, minimal cheese, vegetables, potatoes, pastas, and breads. I snack on bananas, Hershey kisses, and drink water in between my heats. It’s important to eat healthy but not undergo a crazy diet to look better in your dress. You’ll actually end up wearing yourself down and not performing to your fullest potential. You need the protein and carbohydrates to give you energy. It’s also the one weekend that I don’t drink coffee… I know… sacrifices need to be made.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that I have stage fright and performance anxiety, just like everyone else. So many people come up to me and say, “I could never do what you do.” Truthfully, years ago I couldn’t even imagine myself doing something this cool. It’s been years in the making– the cracking of that shell and blossoming into this confident person that I am today. I don’t think stage fright and performance anxiety are things that ever truly go away, but if you listen to your body you can find ways to subdue the amount of stress that you undergo. For me, I need to be completely prepared with my dance steps and have an instructor/partner that I can not only trust, but be able to let my guard down with. I need to stare at videos of the professionals dancing on Dancing With the Stars to draw inspiration and visualize the podium in my head. It takes some deep breathing and the will to go out there, because I absolutely want to be out there. The hardest part of the competition is overcoming that initial mental hurdle; everything else is a piece of cake.
The competitors are strong, hardworking, beautiful individuals, but I never compete against them. I always compete against myself, trying to be better than my last dance. This particular competition was certainly not an easy one and I would like to congratulate all the participants for putting everything that they had out on that dance floor. It was a pleasure to be there amongst all of you and I can’t wait to meet up once again at another Dance With Me event!
My journey with Dance With Me comprises some of the most thrilling and rewarding moments I’ve ever experienced. This place gives me the confidence to take on the world with all my might. I need to take this moment to thank ALL of the staff, instructors, and fellow students of these 6 studios, my best friend Amanda Rose Antonucci, and my parents Fred & Mary Buchner, and of course my spice-of-life dog, Aurora, for all of the support and opportunities you have granted me. I am sincerely grateful for all that you do and have done for me. It never goes unnoticed.
TO THOSE WHO ARE READING THIS: ALWAYS BELIEVE IN YOURSELF. DARE TO BE DIFFERENT. DANCE!<3
What did you think of Victoria’s journey to the ballroom dance competition floor? How do you relate to her story? Does it inspire you to try to learn to dance?