What I Learned From Going Pro

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I was twenty when I stood in a salsa club in a small town in Guatemala and watched in awe as the dancers spun and dipped on the floor in front of me. At that moment I knew I wanted to be a dancer.

Three years later, after I graduated from college and landed a full time job, I moved to San Francisco and took my first salsa class. Within the first six months I had joined a training team, attended my first congress, and competed in my first pro-am competition.

I started spending almost every weekend and every night taking class or practicing by myself in the studio. In 2016, I even moved from San Francisco to New York City so I could pursue dance more seriously.

Still, I felt like I couldn’t call myself a real dancer until I officially competed in a professional dance competition and had a professional dance partnership. When friends and co-workers congratulated me on a show or competition, I thanked them but inside I felt like it didn’t really count. I wasn’t good enough yet. I still wasn’t actually a dancer.

“Going pro” became this huge milestone I had to reach in my dance journey not just before I could call myself a dancer, but also before I could do so many other things related to dance that I really, really wanted to do –– like start a dance and lifestyle blog, create my own choreography with a dance partner, or share advice about how to find the right pair of salsa shoes.

Finally, about a year ago, after countless conversations with my friends, my dance coach, and my therapist (all of whom kept saying to me that if I wanted to write about dance I should) I submitted my first article to this site. Six months later I started a Vitamin B, a dance and lifestyle site.

As I started to lean into the things I had been thinking about and wanting to do for so long, I  slowly started to see my relationship with dance shift. For the first time in a long time, I enjoyed dancing again, a feeling I had lost during the first few months after I moved to New York. My performances improved. So did my social dancing. I wrote about what that was like here.

For the most part my dance life was good. Perhaps better than it’s ever been. I loved writing about dance, and on weeks I did I was happier. I felt giddy after I finished an article, the way you feel after a really great night out social dancing or a phenomenal show. I was working on new projects too. I had a new partner. A new routine. I was dancing with a new team and traveling to events every month.

But there were still moments when I cried heavy, pain-filled tears because it felt like my dream of being a professional dancer would never come true. Tons of reasons why it wouldn’t happen for me ran through my head: I had started dancing too late. I couldn’t spend as much time or money on dance as I wanted too. Maybe I just wasn’t good enough.

It didn’t matter how many competitions I won or how many people complimented me on my dancing. I still didn’t feel like a real dancer.

Living in New York was strange too because I became friends with a lot of other people who were professional dancers in the sense that their income came from dance. I felt frustrated talking to them about this feeling. I didn’t think they understood. How could they understand? They had the one thing that I really wanted. I envied them. I resented the way they didn’t understand my pain.

A few months ago, I finally competed in my first professional dance competition. Since then, I’ve taught at various dance schools and socials and been hired for paid gigs. I have a professional dance partnership. I even quit my full-time marketing job back in September.

I am very much living my dreams every single day.

And it feels great.

I don’t mean to say that there aren’t tough days, because there are. Yesterday I broke down in tears at practice. The day before I yelled. We’re gearing up for the World Salsa Summit in a few weeks and I am feeling all of the stress. Big time.

But I’m here.

And I’m damn proud of that.

A lot of people told me I would never get here. Often I felt like I wouldn’t.

But every time I wanted to walk away, every time I almost quit, something deep down in my soul told me to just keep going. I’m so glad I listened to that voice. Or gut. Or intuition. Or stubbornness. Or whatever you want to call it.

Whatever your dreams are, and however impossible they feel, just keep going.

All dreams feel impossible most of the time.

When people tell you “Dream Big” they forget to tell you that dreaming big feels like you’re an insane person most of the time. Because on the road to achieving your dreams there are lots of very low, lows that hurt like hell and make you feel like giving up.

Don’t give up.

Keep training. Keep practicing. Keep learning and growing. Progress is a bitch because when you’re in it, it’s so hard to see the way you’re improving. But if you keep putting in the work, eventually – magically – you get better.

You will get where you want to be.

In the meantime, while you’re on this journey of making your dreams come true, stop waiting to do all of the other things you want to do but feel like you can’t do yet. You can do them now. You’re just scared to start.

I didn’t need to be a professional dancer to write about dance.

I didn’t need to be a professional dancer to be a real dancer either.

I am a dancer because I love music and movement. Because something inside of me compels me to dance. It always has and it always will. Whether I choose to dance every day and make my income off of dance, or whether I choose to dance once every six months won’t change that.

The only person who can make me feel like I’m not a real dancer is myself. The only person who can make me feel like I’m not good enough? That’s me too.

And even though it might not feel like it, you’re the only person who can make yourself feel that way too.

Feature image by LatinParty.com.