Dear CCBDC, A letter to the Claremont Colleges Ballroom Dance Company

There are those who look on from afar with intrigue or envy upon the common sighting of a team jacket around campus. There are also those who are dismissive of CCBDC as a band of misfits, an arrogant cult, or even a semi-dangerous web of bedazzled obsession. I saw a potentially safe and familiar space as well as an excitingly new experience to take on. I have been a part of Team for a year now, really just a semester, and how quickly that semester has passed. And yet so much has happened since I joined that the beginning already seems long ago.
This is a love letter, yet make no mistake—it is not one written without honesty or consideration of more than just the amiable aspects.  Since joining, I have come across many who are remarkably caring, beautiful, and  inspiringly strong, as well as jerks and spineless “syndrome” sufferers.  Oftentimes they’ve all even existed within single individuals, and I have loved and appreciated the many identities that constitute the whole.  
Even within Team, among the most dedicated members, there are those who eventually stop feeling like it is worthwhile. It is actually quite common among those to whom it matters most when the ultimate reality “tumbles short of [their] dreams,” as Nick Carraway puts it. There is a life course that sometimes ends in not only accomplishment and personal transformation but also exhausted disillusionment.  I, however, am still just at its beginning.  
You could say that I have little experience with Team on which to develop my perception of it or that I can’t ever know how it used to be, but one thing being on Team has taught me is that a lack of experience or knowledge does not necessarily mean I have nothing worthwhile to offer. This letter of gratitude, while perhaps small, is a reflection of my own experiences, which matter significantly to me. I thought about publishing this letter anonymously, because it is one that could reflect the experiences of and therefore could have been written by many others. But my identity would not be so hard to determine for those to whom it could possibly matter, and the inclusion of a name validates this account as undeniably real. Perhaps the effect of being on Team is individually unique and not eventually without its drawbacks, but there are still so many meaningful things to be and that have been gained.  
Last semester, after only spending a few hours a week on Beginners team and a Beginning Social class, I decided to show up to a weekend workshop. Upon my arrival, I watched shyly and uncomfortably for a few minutes from the side, not knowing anyone, as the highest-level team dancers practiced for Nationals. Thinking I had come at the wrong time, but mostly just intimidated, I left, pretty certain I would not return. That night I received a message from one of those advanced dancers saying they were sorry they had missed me and hoped I would come back. It was one of the first of many times I remember someone making me feel visible and extending a hand, and it is an example of those many small moments I have experienced with CCBDC that would end up making all the difference.
The next weekend, I came back.  And from there, I started attending more workshops, even letting myself be convinced to come back early from winter break to learn things far beyond my level at the time.  Since I survived those, I figured I may as well try the advanced classes, which were challenging but manageable enough to encourage me to audition for Tour team.  Again, team members went out of their way to help me work on the new material, and in that process I met who would become my close friend and competitive dance partner.
Up until then, my prior experiences with dance, specifically ballet, competitions had been relatively unpleasant and even damaging, but after much encouragement, I decided to give competitive ballroom a try. Along the way, I met an incredibly supportive group of people, developed a far more positive perception of competitive dance, ate an absurd amount of Subway sandwiches, danced a foxtrot with a cross-dressing Marilyn Monroe, came to accept hair gel as a necessary evil, and even learned some ballroom dancing and won a few ribbons. Joining Team provoked a domino effect that has helped and is still helping me build confidence and become less afraid or shut off from the world. It is a process throughout which the CCBDC community has been present all the while, yet which I expect to continue long after my time with it is over.
Many of my other CCBDC experiences and relationships I consider important extend beyond the realm of Team; however, they are still unofficially associated with it in my mind. There are so many interesting conversations to be had among people of such diverse backgrounds when they are all united by a common interest and hours spent in practice. I’ve had  so many new songs, old quotes, random articles, movie nights, unhealthy snacks, and funny links shared with me. I’ve enjoyed silent and understanding company while watching a lunar eclipse and while waiting for the sun to rise. These experiences, while they have little to do with dancing, happen because of what Team is and because of the people who make it that way. Members end up discovering new aspects of themselves and are inspired to see things differently or make changes in their own lives, because ballroom becomes so embedded in our lives overall.
For me, it became about conquering fear—not learning to ignore it or eliminate it but being able to know it and face it. There is the fear of the new or unknown that upon learning to improvise, social dance, or just give in to ridiculously silly impulses seems more within your control. You learn to make the distinctions between protecting yourself versus holding back, losing yourself versus self-discovery, passively and unconsciously fumbling along versus letting it go (yes, that was a reference to this year’s anthem). There is the fear of honesty and openness that recedes in light of what might be gained and makes hiding less appealing when being asked to dance inspires the courage within you to start asking others to dance with you. And there is the fear of caring—of letting others become meaningful parts of your life and of letting yourself become part of a larger existence and network of support—a fear that becomes worth overcoming. There are not many rules, expectations, or assigned roles in this community that determine any individual’s value or how members are allowed to interact with one another.  Instead we all belong to a larger family in which every individual is important and cared for in a safe and comfortable space. It is a system that is not also without some confusion, disappointment, or pain to complicate the relationships within it, but it is also quite simple. If you need care, why shouldn’t we provide it? If you want to offer care, why shouldn’t we accept it?  This caring often takes a variety of forms, but they all contribute to the overall sense of nourishment that Team provides.
Maybe a year from now I will have turned more cynical towards Team.  Maybe I will have grown weary with frustration and disappointment at its having failed me or in my own failing of it—maybe even enough to leave Team, as all are bound to do at some point, if at different times and for different reasons. All things in life, including the things we love and even we ourselves, inevitably change or drift apart but they are all forever impacted by their interactions with each other. For now I am still enamored with what there is to gain—happy memories to look back on, new experiences from which to learn, and relationships with people who make those things matter even more. Now is what is real. It is what makes this all worth saying and makes everything we put into and get out of Team worth experiencing. But these “now”s will also stay with me personally for a long time and have irrevocably affected the course of “now”s to come. 
With love and gratitude,
Elizabeth