by Katie Harrison, a.k.a. The Girl with the Tree Tattoo
I’ve started this article at least five times and five times inspiration has left me halfway through. I’m starting to seriously doubt my abilities as a writer.
So, in other words, it’s a normal day.
Actually, it doesn’t usually happen this way with my writing. Doubting my own abilities is normal behavior for me, but usually I sit down to write when I want to share a story related to my ballroom dancing, and the words flow pretty easily. I’ll rewrite some sections, but I rarely scrap a draft completely and start over.
Especially not five times.
So what is different about this article? Mainly, I’m writing for a website other than my own.
The Pressure We Put On Ourselves
When Colleen first emailed me about doing a guest post for Writing and Wellness, I was excited! I love connecting with other creatives and am always honored to have the chance to share my story with someone else’s audience.
There is a different kind of pressure though when you’re writing for someone else. Of course, I want my writing to be top quality for my own readers, but to be frank, I feel extra responsibility to not suck when I’ve been invited to write for another site.
An article poorly written by me and published on my own site just makes me look bad. An article poorly written by me and published on someone else’s site makes that person look bad as well. That is the last thing I want!
If you haven’t figured it out already, I tend to put a lot of pressure on myself to meet exceedingly high expectations. I also tend to give myself far less credit than I deserve. Luckily, I’ve gotten pretty good at persevering despite these flaws. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have published my two Dance Diaries eBooks or come as far in ballroom dancing as I have.
Perseverance is definitely a major key to my success.
Reclaiming an Old Passion Takes Courage
My passions for writing and ballroom dancing evolved together. I’ve always loved these two activities, but it wasn’t until about four years ago that I took a big leap and dove headfirst into both.
I signed up for ballroom dance lessons and I started a blog.
I think it took about five minutes for me to get completely hooked on ballroom. This world was where I belonged. Along with learning new dance steps, I was making new friends, getting more physically fit and having fun!
I took private one-on-one lessons with my teacher, went to group classes, and attended practice parties. I also signed up for a studio showcase, which is like a dance recital where students and their teachers learn choreography to a chosen song and perform it on stage for an audience. It was like a dream come true!
And a bit of a nightmare.
One unexpected outcome of learning ballroom was having to face some of my deepest fears and insecurities. I was shy and introverted, so I did not like being the center of attention. You know, like one is when they’re performing on stage.
I was terrified of making a fool of myself and being laughed out of the studio. I was also afraid of being rejected from a world I quickly grew to love.
But this adventure was partially about stepping outside my comfort zone and I had dreamed about dancing on stage ever since I told my mom I didn’t want to dance anymore when I was a child. I was learning ballet, jazz and tap when I was 6 and 7 years old, but after we had moved across the country, I was too scared to start at a new dance studio. So I gave it up.
It has been my one main regret in life. A little heavy to lay on my 8-year-old past self, but that fear stayed with me and kept me from expressing my true self for decades. Ballroom was my shot at personal redemption.
How Ballroom Dancing Led Me to Blogging
That first studio showcase was an incredible personal triumph. I felt such pride for doing it and not letting my fear have control anymore. My true self burst out of me for a brief time while I danced on that stage.
Less than a year after that show, I was dancing at my first ballroom competition, which is where I really shined. My true self couldn’t be happier. I think it was the combination of performance art and competitive sport that really drew me to that part of the ballroom world.
A dam that had been holding back hopes and dreams broke and other desires came pouring out, such as the tattoo I had been thinking about for 15 years! Ballroom inspired me to finally finish the design and book a tattoo artist. That design was the tree tattoo I now have inked on my back, which led to my new persona and blog, “The Girl with the Tree Tattoo.”
This blog would focus on my ballroom dancing and the journey of self-discovery I found myself on because of it. It is where I first started openly sharing all of my struggles as I chipped away at thick layers of fear and doubt.
To my surprise, people responded to my frank and sometimes painful honesty. They shared their own stories with me, many of which were amazingly similar to mine. I connected with other bloggers who were also dancers and became part of an online community called the Ballroom Village.
I found myself supported and encouraged by strangers who just shared a love of ballroom dancing. It was beautiful and inspirational.
I was open about my ballroom dancing on the blog and I was open about the blog with my teacher and ballroom friends. The support on both ends was overwhelming, to the point that I would cry over being shown such love when I still struggled with inner demons who told me I wasn’t that good of a dancer or a writer.
The blogging and ballroom communities who had welcomed me with open arms gave me the strength to keep going despite my severe lack of self-confidence.
I wanted to push myself more, despite those demons of fear and self-doubt. Ballroom dancing showed me that I was capable of so much more than I gave myself credit for. I wanted to share that discovery and others with as many people as possible.
Your Publishing Dreams Don’t Have to Stay in the Realm of Fantasy
I ventured beyond my blog and wrote articles for other websites. I experienced similar doubt as I am today as the extra responsibility of writing for someone else’s readers settled on my shoulders. But my articles were well received and I was welcomed back to write for the same websites again!
I think it was sometime last year that my fantasy goal of writing a book and publishing it started demanding more attention. I’ve always fantasized about being a published author, but it was just that—a fantasy. Just like being a dancer.
But wait, I was a dancer. It was not just a fantasy anymore. So why did publishing a book have to stay in that realm?
My first “book” was compiled out of a blog series I called How to Cope with Loss, published as a simple, free PDF download on my website.
A week before I was set to compete at the United States Dance Championships (USDC) with my teacher, he broke his wrist. My dreams of winning a championship title were swept away with one phone call. I couldn’t dance without a dance partner.
I had big plans for myself, but they all started with that competition. I felt the loss of my future self deeply, and I’m still trying to regain the momentum I had before that event. Luckily, I still had my writing. So I used my blog as a tool to recover and to once again share.
My teacher returned to teaching quickly, and we soon got back into the swing of lessons. But Life had other plans for the money I had originally saved for USDC. All of my competition funds had to be rerouted indefinitely.
It was frustrating to watch other students dance at competition after competition, while I had to stay home. I needed to feel like I was making progress and growing in my passions, instead of becoming stagnant.
I decided I would write another book, in which I would share everything I wish I had known when I first started learning ballroom dance.
Why I Chose to Self-Publish
Some things just aren’t explained or go unspoken, like what to expect in a private lesson, how costs are broken down or how to deal with the often confusing relationship between student and teacher.
If my book could help people go into ballroom better prepared, then maybe I could help them get off to a smoother start on their journey. Maybe I would even help convince some of those who were on the fence about learning ballroom because they didn’t want to commit before they knew what they were getting into!
Those were my hopes and dreams for Dance Diaries: Learning Ballroom Dance.
I decided to take another leap and put this book up for sale. I was opening myself up to more perceived rejection, but I thought it was worth the risk to reach a broader audience through third party online bookstores.
I chose to self-publish because I didn’t want to wait to go through a traditional publishing process and, because this ebook was shorter than most (40-some pages), I honestly wasn’t sure I would be able to find a traditional publisher who would take me on. I didn’t make it any longer because I wanted people to be able to read my tips and experiences quickly and then go out and start dancing!
The company I self-published through distributed the book to multiple online bookstores, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble and iBookstore. Despite my best efforts, I became a little obsessive about checking the book’s ranking on Amazon.
But I kept telling myself, sales are nice (and would certainly help revive my competition fund!), but what matters more is that the book finds its way to the people who really need it, even if there are only two of them.
It is similar with the blog: getting positive statistics like a lot of views or visitors is great, but what really makes my day is reading an email from someone who just wanted to say that something I wrote made a difference to them.
Do You Have to Be Rich to Follow Your Dreams?
Meanwhile, my progress in ballroom was amazing in some respects and iffy in others. Before the USDC tragedy, I had entered four ballroom competitions over the course of a year and a half and had consistently placed first or second in all of them.
I managed to put together enough money to enter one more local competition just before the first Dance Diaries book was published. Again, I won first and second places. But I always entered a minimum number of events and by the time Dance Diaries came out, I had announced I was taking a forced hiatus from competition.
For a student, ballroom is expensive, and competition makes the cost skyrocket. There are entry fees, teacher fees and expenses, dress rentals, and hair and makeup costs. If the competition is out of town, then I also have to consider travel and hotel costs.
Living paycheck to paycheck, I could barely afford the private lessons I took one to two times a week. Entering a competition required several months of scrimping and saving. I ate trail mix for three days at my second out-of-town competition because I couldn’t afford to eat at the hotel’s restaurant.
I didn’t care; all I wanted to do was dance. It was difficult though, to not compare myself to those wealthier students who danced more entries, bought instead of rented their ballroom gowns, and still ate out for every meal. Those comparisons fed the doubts in my mind that maybe I didn’t really belong in the ballroom world.
My support system never failed me. Every time I questioned on my blog whether I really belonged in ballroom, my readers always responded with a resounding “yes!” They reminded me that it was my dancing that mattered, not the amount of money in my bank account. My teacher also encouraged me and stayed flexible when I needed him to when it came to paying for lessons.
How My Financial Struggles Led to My Second Book
Looking back at the competitions I was able to enter, it seemed almost miraculous that I was able to afford them. It didn’t take a miracle though; it was all me. I set my mind to going to a competition and I made it happen.
Similarly, I realized there was another book inside me. What if there were other people who struggled like me and were about to give up on their ballroom dreams? What if I shared all of my tips, tricks and secrets to how I paid for ballroom and helped someone keep their dance shoes on?
The prospect was too great to pass up. I published Dance Diaries: Ballroom Budgeting only a few months after the first Dance Diaries book. It was short and sweet, designed to be an easy-to-follow guide to budgeting for dance, or any expensive passion.
The Key to Success with Any Dream: Don’t Give Up
I think the moral of my story thus far is don’t give up. No matter how afraid you are or how much you doubt you’ll actually succeed, if you find something that brings out your true self and sparks a passion fire inside you, go after it.
Surround yourself with people who support your dreams; they’ll be important on those days you want to run and hide, of which there will be plenty.
As writers, I think it’s important that we share our struggles, not just our successes. Someone somewhere will be grateful to know they’re not alone. There aren’t always happy endings and things usually don’t work out the way you expected them to.
My current position along my ballroom journey is basically stalled on the side of the road. I don’t know when I’ll compete again and I don’t even have the money to pay for lessons for at least a month, thanks to more unexpected events outside of dance.
But I’m not giving up. I don’t know how, but I will get back on that competition floor. I’ll continue to practice my dancing on my own, so I don’t lose too much of the progress I gain through my lessons.
If I know my teacher, I know he’ll work with me so that I don’t have to stop lessons completely. I’ve been through similar trials before, and I always figure something out. I mean, look, I even figured out what to write for this article!
I say it again: perseverance is key.
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Katie Harrison is known as “The Girl with the Tree Tattoo” because of the tree of life tattoo that covers her entire back. She has been taking ballroom dancing lessons since December 2012 and competing in pro-am ballroom competitions since April 2014. It was through ballroom dance that Katie started to discover who she really was and what she was capable of, despite the demons of fear, self-doubt, and anxiety that live in her head. Through sharing her own experiences, Katie hopes to lead others to experience the amazing effect ballroom dancing can have on a life.
When I first started learning ballroom though, I fumbled around awkwardly and sometimes painfully, figuring things out as I went along. Certain things weren’t explained or just never came up in conversation.
From what to expect in class to how to find the right teacher or dance partner to how much ballroom really costs, Dance Diaries: Learning Ballroom Dance covers the things that I wish I had known when I first started learning ballroom.
This quick read is your cheat sheet to help you get the most out of your ballroom experience.
Dance Diaries: Ballroom Budgeting: Anyone who tries ballroom dancing quickly learns how expensive it can be. From private lessons to competition fees, the monetary cost of being a ballroom student can quickly skyrocket.
In my experience, the high cost is the most frequently cited reason for quitting dance. It shouldn’t be that way! I live paycheck to paycheck, carry credit card debt, and still dance and compete in pro-am ballroom. In my first two years as a pro-am competitive ballroom dancer, I entered five competitions, had the money reserved for two additional events, and, at the same time, reduced my credit card debt by almost 50%!
I wrote this second book in my Dance Diaries series out of a desire to help my fellow struggling dancers do the same thing. From budgeting basics to specific tips on how to save on ballroom dancing, in Ballroom Budgeting, I share exactly how I dance and compete in ballroom while living paycheck to paycheck AND reducing debt! I even provide the tools I use to help you start organizing your own ballroom budget right away!