Some time ago, I posted about preparing for a performance for my studio, which has since come and gone. In the time between then and now, I had so much fun with it. It was incredibly hard. We spent so much time on it, tweaking and polishing and changing. I ended lessons sore and exhausted, arriving early and staying late after each one to practice. I drove my coworkers crazy turning the breakroom into my practice space.

The day of the dress rehearsal came, and the stage fright began full force. We managed to fit in several run-throughs, only kicked each other once, and he felt the need for only three or four pep talks. Maybe five. Everyone watching was very positive. In rehearsals, we only had time for a single (and very rough) full recording for reference, so I could only take their word for it. No matter, I was out of time. Performance day was tomorrow, ready or not.

I was in middle of the middle act, and I spent most of that first half in the backrooms, going through endless mental run-throughs to my music player while a friend stuck my head full of bobby pins. My teacher was never far away, telling me to relax and once pulling me to the side to briefly review the pattern I struggled the most with. Even as we were on deck, he kept me in a corner where I couldn’t see the preceding act or audience lest I psyche myself out. And then, just three minutes later, it was all over.

My ballroom friends are amazing, and they were all full of support and praise. I accepted it sincerely, still on my dancer’s high and giddy with relief I had gotten through it. But in the days that followed, I would be nagged by a single thought:

That routine deserved so much better of me.

I watched a video once by myself and then another with my teacher: first all the way through and then again frame by frame as he pointed out my mistakes and successes. I was grateful for the honest critique he gave me, and relieved that nearly all the problems he saw I had already seen. While everyone wants to feel validation for their hard work, as my dancemates generously did, what I wanted now was to be told how to get better. Plagued by disappointment and frustration, knowing I did well, but not as well as I wanted—as well as I could have—all I wanted was to move forward and improve. If I lingered, I was going to plunge into a downward spiral of doubt and self-anger. Why couldn’t I keep just keep my knees together? Why do my hands flounder like that? Why couldn’t I just do better?

Dealing with disappointment is hard: it comes from wanting to be the best version of myself, and feeling like I failed. It’s not something I think I’ll ever stop feeling. But in the end, all I can do is move on, to continue to learn and do better next time to make something I’m completely and wholly proud of.

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