My STEP Signature Project was to compete at Ohio Star Ball with my professional partner as a Professional/Amateur couple for the first time! I got to dance in the Smooth/Standard dances at the Bronze level.
During the time of my project, my understanding of myself changed rather drastically, especially since I had a span of almost two years from when I proposed my project and when it was finally completed. When I had first submitted my proposal, I didn’t think of myself at all as much of a “real” dancer. I thought my technique would have to be perfect for me to really be able to call myself a dancer and feel authentic about it. Though I think I will always struggle with these thoughts of inadequacy on some level, this process has been a liberating and validating one for my identity as a dancer. I’ve also seen a huge transformation in my mental health as well! When I was in my STEP advising class, I was in a major depressive episode and dancing was one of the only things that actually made me happy. To get support and the opportunity to take my dancing more seriously has served as an incredibly therapeutic process. I have a huge amount of support for not only my dancing but also my everything! My identity as a dancer has grown tremendously and so have I on the whole over these past two years.
In this process, the people who have helped me along the way have always been the catalyst to my growth and development. I would say the most significant relationship that has shaped me in this process has been with my professional partner and coach. As we began this process, he and I had been dancing together for almost a year, and we had created an amazing partnership as he mentored me and my collegiate dance partner at the time. As I moved forward in my dancing and preparation for this competition, we soon realized that we were not only optimal dance partners, but as partners in every faucet of life. We have now been together for over a year and a half and have lived together for almost as long. He continues to be a motivating force for my betterment every day and has been hugely supportive in all of my endeavors—especially dancing!
While our dancing partnership has undoubtedly grown us much closer, it was certainly not an easy process. Most people go through life with minimal project collaboration with their significant others, but we got to do this huge undertaking—dancing at one of the biggest ballroom competitions for the first time together—within the first year of our relationship! This collaboration has been like a sort of crash course for both of us on how the other communicates and how we interact in a high stress situation. We have built excellent communication skills while going through this process that has helped us in our dancing and our day to day life. I know that having this opportunity has impacted my understanding of myself in a beautiful way that helps me to put my emotions into perspective and chose to communicate in a way that is beneficial to both of us so that we can easily maintain flow and momentum even as our emotions are turbulent….go look up a Viennese waltz, because that’s pretty much how it feels! I am so incredibly thankful to have had this opportunity to dance with the person I love at a competition like this (where I would have never been able to afford it as a full time college student).
Another relationship that hugely impacted me during this process was my STEP advisor. Again, while I was meeting with her on a weekly basis, I was in a major depressive episode and was falling behind in my classes in a major way. I was apathetic and certainly didn’t feel like I deserved such an amazing opportunity like the grant I had proposed that would let me dance, so I eventually fell behind in my STEP reporting and progress as well. I was all too willing to give up on my grant, and my life. And I know how cheesy this sounds, but my STEP advisor was not at all willing to give up on me. She persisted with trying to get me to open up about what I was going through and eventually came to understand the severity of the situation. She stayed with me and gave me so much grace every step of the way to submitting my proposal. She even came with me in person to a meeting with STEP leadership to explain the situation when I missed a deadline! I would have never gotten the grant without her, and I will never be able to adequately express how much it meant to me at that inexplicably dark time in my life that someone was so willing to go out of their way to fight for me.
This transformation that started in these two years will undoubtedly continue to affect my life in major ways in the years to come. I have been given the privilege of having the funding to prepare for a challenging competition at a formative time in my dancing career, and this time spent in preparation has made a sturdy foundation of technique and experience as I go forward. I have also been given a tool for destressing from school and work, connecting with my loved one, and exercising my body and mind. This is going to be crucial for me in my career as a way of finding balance between my physical health, mental health, and my career in psychology. I look forward to someday integrating my knowledge of dance and psychology into a place where I can provide dance as a therapy to myself and others! I know this time has also given me a leg up on effective communication primarily with the person I want to spend the rest of my life with, but also with everyone I work with in my life and career. This project has meant so much to me, and it has been an affirmation that I am and always have been a dancer, and that I am worth fighting for.