Disappointment and Impostor Syndrome

Disappointment and Impostor Syndrome

Yesterday I attended my second feis (Irish dance competition) since returning to dance as an adult.

After the success of the first one, I was keen to do it again. It was fun! I discovered that I enjoyed performing, and that my anxiety went away as soon as I was actually on stage (even if it was bad beforehand) — and I did pretty well, too, so that was a big morale-booster. Despite impending finals, doing another competition a few days after completing my dissertation seemed like a good idea, and I booked the coach to Luton with an optimistic outlook.

Overall, though, this feis was… not as fun.

Firstly, there was the travel. Okay, so the coach journey there was actually remarkably painless, and I hopped straight from the coach to a bus and was at the venue with minimal delays and no getting lost. But unfamiliar journeys make me anxious no matter how smoothly they go, and I also get motion sickness, so I spent most of the way there feeling like I was about to throw up. (It was mostly anxiety; I didn’t feel half as sick on the way home.) I hadn’t slept much the night before, so felt emotionally fragile and kept randomly crying for no reason — not the best start.

When I arrived, the venue was absolutely packed. You could hardly move in the grades hall, and it was extremely difficult to find somewhere to sit. Everywhere you looked there were just… people.

Oh, and it was running two and a half hours behind schedule. TWO AND A HALF HOURS.

I was due to dance at half past one; I don’t think we ended up going on stage before 4pm. I’d booked a coach home for 5.30, thinking that if things went smoothly I could switch to the 3.30 coach and get home nice and promptly; I ended up having to rebook for 7.30, at additional cost, because I didn’t leave until nearly 6pm. The waiting wouldn’t have been so bad if there was somewhere quiet to sit, but there was neither seating nor peace anywhere, so I couldn’t even find a corner to read until it was time to warm up. Just a lot of waiting around, until I’d more or less lost the will to live.

I think I let the delays get to me; it’s hard to dance your best when all you can think about is the fact that you’re going to miss your coach home and you haven’t brought enough food with you to cover dinner as well.

There were other factors too; due to numbers and scheduling we danced three at a time on not-very-large stages, which meant the prospect of a crash was always there, and I also didn’t feel the judges were watching me particularly closely. But mostly I was tired and frustrated and hungry and I just wanted it to be over already.

Also, there were some seriously good dancers in my age category. It was a lot bigger than the last feis I did, and the majority of the others in Intermediate seemed to be people who had one or two dances left in Intermediate but were otherwise in Preliminary Championships, so were by definition better than me. After I’d seen a couple of them dancing, I felt deeply intimidated and lost my nerve a bit, which wasn’t ideal.

My hornpipe, though, I felt went really well. I only learned it a couple of weeks ago, so I was nervous about remembering the steps, but not only did I remember them, I did them (in my opinion) just about perfectly. I hit my clicks. I was turned out. I was in time. The hornpipe, I was fairly sure, was going to be my best result.

Ha. Hahaha. Evidently the judges and I had different opinions.

When it finally got to the results, they were whizzing through them extremely fast to try and get through them before people had to run off and compete in Prelim (also running behind, but not quite as far as the grades), so there wasn’t really any time to enjoy it… and I’m still not 100% certain about where I placed in one dance because it happened so fast. They placed everyone in Reel, with a few tied results, and I came… joint tenth.

Last. Dead last. And when they announced a few of you as tied for tenth (last) place, it’s hard not to feel like it’s a consolation medal.

I’m not sure what proportion of the dancers they placed in other dances. It’s usually 50%, unless the numbers are particularly small, but when it’s a tiny competition they sometimes place everyone. So I’m not sure how I should feel about the fact that (I think) I came seventh in heavy jig. It was the last place they announced, but I’m not sure if that means it was genuinely last altogether, or whether it’s actually top 50% — I didn’t see how many people there were competing in heavy jig.

My one success was in hop jig, where I came second. This is pretty good, considering that this was my first time competing in Intermediate hop jig, having done Primary at the last feis. I didn’t have time to enjoy it at the time, though, so it took a few hours to gain the perspective I needed to appreciate that, hey, I came second in hop jig, that’s something!

It was hard to get a good picture when results were moving so fast, but here’s the podium for hop jig.

I didn’t place in slip jig, which I’m not hugely surprised about as it’s my weakest dance and I was up against some extremely good dancers who definitely deserved it more than me. And… I didn’t place in hornpipe. At all. Even though I felt like it went really well. And that one, I’m disappointed by. I understand not doing better in light shoe; I didn’t feel like I entirely danced my best and, while I’d have hoped to do slightly better in reel, I was up against some extremely good dancers. Admittedly, I didn’t watch the others in hornpipe because I was busy rearranging my coach at that point, so I don’t know how good they were, but… I’d felt it was really good, and the results didn’t reflect that at all.

By the time I finally left the venue I was 100% ready to go home. My coach wasn’t for a while, though, and I was feeling too emotionally fragile to deal with other human beings, so I walked the mile and a half to the station instead of taking the bus so that I could be emotional in peace (I just needed to cry with frustration about how long it had all taken and how disappointed I was). But even once my coach was due, my trials weren’t over — it was delayed by half an hour, and I spent that half hour freezing half to death at Luton Station Interchange because apparently winter has well and truly made a resurgence.

I got home at about 9.20pm, and even after a hot shower and some food, still didn’t feel entirely warm.

I know that you can’t win them all. I think I’d be a lot less disappointed with my placements if I’d had fun — I know it was a stiff competition, and I’m new to this, and I’m dancing on a sprained ankle. It was just… the combination of the travel, and the crowds, and the delays, and the overall introvert hell that is a competition that busy, with those slightly disappointing placements — that got to me.

And now I’m fighting a lot of imposter syndrome. How can I teach CUIDS when I came dead last in the reel and didn’t even place in slip jig or hornpipe? Half my brain is pointing out that I’ve been saying all year how woefully underqualified I am to teach, and yet doing it anyway, but now I’m struggling to justify that to myself. What right do I have to tell people what to do when I can’t do it myself? I’m trying to ignore that, but it’s difficult.

If I get one of the jobs I’ve applied for, I’ll be changing dance schools in the summer, which will necessitate taking six months out of competition due to transfer rules. I don’t want yesterday to be my last feis of 2018 — that’s way too negative a note to end on. I need a chance to make a comeback, to have a good time even if I don’t place well, rather than ending things on a memory of frustration and emotional fragility. So I’m going to try and fit in another feis when I can, despite it being exam term. I will not let this one put me off.

I can, and will, do better. And I can, and will, have more fun. Circumstances yesterday were just… not good.

Plus, I came second in hop jig. I can do something. I’m just going to keep telling myself that.


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4 thoughts on “Disappointment and Impostor Syndrome

  1. Knowing how something should be done and being able to divide your mind into both doing it and watching to see if you’re doing it are different things. So, not doing brilliantly in a single competition doesn’t in any way mean you can’t teach others to do it; in the same way, not being able to dance while reciting times-tables wouldn’t mean you couldn’t teach others.

  2. I’m sad it ended up being a disappointing experience. 😭😭I feel like all the added anxiety with the travelling was SO unfair and maybe didn’t help once you got there??? But bleeeh to impostor syndrome (I know it too well) and I hope the next feis you do is really epic! (And not that I know anything, but I think your dance videos always look great! And complicated!)

    1. Thanks. I think I’m just disappointed because I was really looking forward to it! It was meant to be my post-dissertation treat! And then it was just… the opposite of a fun and relaxing day out…

  3. I think it’s pretty cool that you made the time for this even when you’ve been so busy (handing in a dissertation! wow). I struggle with this in my own life but: showing up counts. putting the work in counts. your own achievement counts, even if it didn’t work for the judges.

What do you think? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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