Austin Swing Dance Championships 2015 was the first dance event I ever attended. I remember being blown away by the incredible social dancing competitions and even more amazed by the champions and their workshops. This was the event that motivated me the most to continue learning west coast swing and really work at it to become a better dancer. After not be able to attend ASDC in 2016, coming back in 2017, to the place where it all began, was reminiscent and meaningful to me and my dancer heart.
Because of this incredibly generous college swing scholarship, along with a weekend pass to the event including workshops and social dancing, I also had the opportunity to enter any of the competitions ASDC offered. Comps can get expensive, and I would not have competed as much as I did without the help of this sponsorship. I knew I wanted to compete in the novice jack & jill as well as the novice strictly pro-am. After I conveyed that information to Tracy, she asked me if I wanted to compete in the pro-am jack & jill, which I had never heard of. She explained that it was a mix of novice and intermediate followers that would get randomly paired with one of the champion leaders on staff-- which made sense-- it was a pro-am + jack & jill. I was unsure if I wanted to compete in it at first, but after some mental self-motivation, I agreed to it.
The back story to my hesitation: Back in 2015, I was too afraid to even get out of my seat to dance because of my intimidation of everyone’s superior skill level. I was very new to the west coast and felt sorry for anyone who danced with me. Two years later, after seeing visible positive improvement in my dance, I was no longer as afraid to ask others to dance. I felt confident enough to have more fun on the floor and less “apologetic” for it afterward. Aside from those I’ve gotten comfortable with in my dance community, I’m not one to ask people to dance that I know are above my level, ESPECIALLY all-stars and champions. I’ve yet to break my own anxious barrier to even say hi or even make eye-contact in extreme cases. I’ve always thought that champion/all-star dancers were like celebrities in the dance world. Everyone wants to dance with them and get to know them… if we’re fans-- we watch all their dance videos…we know about their lives without them knowing we exist…. etc. This probably makes it even creepier since the chances are exponentially higher that we will get to interact with these people that we YouTube stalk at some workshop or event we attend rather than meeting a famous actor... So, forcing the interaction with the pros with this jack & jill was nerve-racking.
ANYWAY, they called for followers to check in for the pro-am jack & jill and I could not believe the number of competitors I saw. I must’ve been standing behind a line at least fifty to sixty novice and intermediate followers. I was itching to just casually walk away…. but I didn’t. (Remember when I said I had so much more confidence now? Ha, it’s a work in progress okay…) Watching the five heats before mine was almost worse for my nerves, making me doubt myself going into it. Getting closer to the front, I could tell who I was going to be paired with from where I was in line and where the champion leaders were on the floor. It was going to be Mr. Arjay Centeno.
Thinking back on my very first workshop with Arjay at ASDC 2015, I remembered him talking about how his philosophy on dance was all about the flow of energy sent between you and your partner. Hearing his perspective on dance along with the other pros really resonated with me and made me think about how differently everyone sees dance which translates to their own style and what dance means to them. Walking up to him when my heat was called, I hoped my dance energy would vibe with his and I wouldn’t make a fool of myself. I attempted to shake his hand and introduce myself but he brought me in for a hug instead, which definitely made me lighten up. The music started and my more confident dancer-self decided to break out of its shell. In that moment, I was having such a blast that I didn’t even notice the judges or the audience. It was an awesome minute and forty-five seconds of dancing. I was all smiles as he walked me off the dancefloor. I got to dance with Arjay Centeno, loved it, my weekend was complete in my opinion. I didn’t realize afterwards that I had just danced in the preliminary round. The judges would then pick the follow that danced best with the respective pro on the floor and put them in the final round. I had zero expectations when I looked at the posted list, but there was my name, right next to Arjay’s to dance the next day. Sure enough, my excited/nervous persona took over once again, but I was very happy nonetheless.
The next day, they had us line up with our pros outside the ballroom. Arjay met me there and I got to talk to him. Which is a big deal to me. Like I said, they’re like dance celebrities. It helped to see that they’re just normal people that socialize with everyone. SO Arjay, if you’re reading this, thank you for talking to me and being so nice.
Our finals dances were just as fun as the prelim dance. It was even more exciting having my friends cheer me on during it all. As soon as the music played, the dance magic happened and I let my insecurities go to fully enjoy the dances. After Arjay walked me off the floor, I was on dancer’s cloud nine. Arjay made me feel like I did great even when I looked back at the video of the dance afterwards and realized my free-styling looked more like spazzing rather than jamming...
I was glad to have had the opportunity to get more dances with Arjay, the results weren’t important. The experience itself was enough for me.
I would have never had this experience if it weren’t for the sponsorship that granted me the chance to participate in this competition and ASDC in general. I am grateful beyond words. I learned that dancing with a pro shouldn’t be something to have nervous-breakdown about, and that having fun with it is the most important part. I will certainly be working on taking my star-struck, don’t-look-at-me, I’m-not-worthy stance on interacting with amazing dancers to a respectful admiration and maybe even gain the courage to ask for a dance every now and then.
ASDC 2017 was fantastic, and my first pro-am jack & jill made it that much better.