“I happen to be a ballroom student.”

“Actually, I take ballroom lessons.”

“Just to warn you, I’m still just a student.”

These are a few phrases I’ve found myself uttering more than once since I began this journey: at work, in meeting people, even at dance socials. A couple months ago, I was out with several friends from the studio for dinner before some dancing. I was having a great time laughing and joking with those at my end of the table, with the conversation constantly bouncing back to dancing from wherever it wandered. At some point during this, I referred to us as “dancers.”

My friend and fellow student went quiet. She leaned towards me, voice hushed, and asked, “Can we do that? Can we call ourselves…dancers?”

I laughed at the joke she meant it to be, and with mock gravity I analyzed my claim. I had been at the studio for just over six months by then, and she even longer. We went to all the studio socials. We were there for a night of dancing. So yes, I concluded, I can safely say that dancing made us dancers.

It’s odd how such a passing joke has stayed with me, because no, I really don’t call myself a ballroom dancer. I call myself a ballroom student.

Once a very long time ago, my high school choir director told us that a true professional thinks of himself as a fraud: that every day they believe the world will one day realize they aren’t as good, as skilled, as talented as they thought. I remember these words so clearly because at sixteen this was how I felt and they were the words I needed to hear. Sometime over a decade later, I don’t nearly hold it as dearly as the absolute truth I once did, but it’s a thought that kept coming back to me as I tried to put this into words: I don’t call myself a ballroom dancer because I would feel like a fraud. I’m just a student.

Why, though? What’s the true difference between “I’m learning to dance” and “I dance”? Where’s the cut off line? Where’s the graduation from student to dancer? It’s certainly not the point in which I no longer need lessons, for even the professionals I know take lessons from more experienced professionals. Does it come from the confidence in which I enter the dance floor? The skill at which I follow? Or lead (goodness, I hope not. I’m a miserable lead)? Must I first move firmly out of the realm of beginner? Will one day my teacher pat me on the shoulder and say, “You’re ready. Yesterday you were a ballroom student. Today you are a ballroom dancer. Now go forth and dance.”?

Or can it really be as simple as dancing that makes it true? Can I do that? Can I call myself…a dancer?

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