I wove expertly around the line of silver dancers that snaked around the gym floor. While everyone was wearing their ballroom best, I was wearing my grey Michigan Ballroom tank with a pair of cream sequined shorts and flip flops. I truly felt like an upper level dancer: I wasn't dancing any syllabus smooth, which was the first event of the day. I only needed to be ready for gold standard, which meant I woke up at 7:30 to start getting ready, and at just past 10, I arrived at the Michigan Ballroom Dance Competition. I spotted Joey behind the judges table, and blazed a path through the crowds of dancers to reach him-
I was intercepted by none other than James Hammond.
"Good morning!" I said with a beaming smile as he picked me up and hugged me. James was helping out as deck captain.
"You ready for today?" James asked when he set me down.
"As ready as I'll ever be," I smiled, "It's my last competition, can't hold anything back now."
I hugged Joey good morning next, and once our coach, Steve, announced the next round he stood up and kissed me on the cheek in greeting.
I woke CJ up with a phone call a few minutes later, telling him to get to the competition to see gold standard. When I was in my signature red standard dress a while later, CJ arrived showed up just in time. Even though we weren't friends and CJ wasn't dancing until the open events at 8pm, he insisted I call him to make sure he wakes up in time to see me dance gold standard.
Even though we weren't friends, CJ was by my side in a second when we saw that we didn't make the final. This was the first competition all semester we hadn't made this final, and I felt hollow inside. CJ and I had made a deal that if we placed high enough in gold, and were getting beat by couples also competing novice, we would hop in and dance novice standard later that evening.
"No novice," CJ pouted.
"No novice," I confirmed, my voice hollow.
CJ put his arms around me, holding me for only a moment, "We'll watch the videos and figure out what happened."
Even though we weren't friends, we were still a team.
I basically had to slap Joey out of being a sore loser to make sure he had his mojo back for gold rhythm. And by slap Joey out of being a sore loser, I mean give him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a pep talk.
We won first in gold rhythm.
A few hours later, we would win gold latin too. It made up for not making the standard final.
As soon as I switched into my dress for novice smooth, a cloud of compliments seemed to follow me. This was the first time anyone would see me in a stoned dress, and I felt like a princess. The dress didn't exactly fit me, one of the girls on the team had found it in the basement of the ballroom house and was letting me borrow it. But for this one competition, it would do, and I was sparkling. Standing in line for novice smooth was absolutely surreal, I was about to take the floor with dancers I looked up to. I was honored to be there, and even though we didn't make the final, the experience meant the world to me. Two and a half years ago, Joey and I joined the ballroom team and foolishly said that we wanted to dance novice before we graduated. There was a point where we said we would settle for gold, but we reached our goal.
I wore my friend Natalie's old dress from middle school for novice rhythm, and luckily it had a small enough amount of fabric that I didn't look like I was a middle schooler. Taking the floor for rhythm, I felt a surge of energy even after all of the hours dancing: this was going to be our last three dances ever. Each step I took, each move of my arm, each facial expression was treasured. When the music ended, I didn't have a single regret.
Seven numbers went up on the callback board a few minutes later. As horribly cheesy as it sounds, my eyes filled with tears when I saw ours. I had three more dances, and I was so grateful. To final in a novice event made me so happy, and when I walked back onto the floor for one final time I could swear I was shinning more than my dress. We were on the floor with so many of my friends. CJ and Alison, Bryan and Cassie, Marissa and Philip, Carolyn and Ross, Dan and Nicole, and new friends Javier and Ilana. It was just pure fun.
We got fifth, not even seventh! I had a novice ribbon to add to my collection. We had done it: after all of the hours we had put in, we we could call ourselves open dancers. To do this in two years was unprecedented.
I mason jar of gin and tonic was sweating beneath my false nails as I held court in Joey and Alex's kitchen at our unofficial Michcomp after party. I smiled at the irony of who surrounded me as a bunch of us stood in a circle: immediately to my right was James, two people to my left was CJ, and directly across from me was Philip Prete. Michcomp itself was the historic event that would bring all three guys I've ever slept with together in the same room. The after party forced them all into a more concentrated space, and it felt slightly surreal. A few drinks later, I found myself in a shockingly familiar position: in a corner of the party with CJ.
Joey once described CJ and I as two people who gravitate toward each other. It wasn't until this competition that I realized why laws of nature are considered laws: they aren't meant to be broken. It was almost work to fight the gravity between CJ and I, I had to make a conscious effort not to talk to him. Now that CJ was getting more intoxicated by the sip, he made it perfectly clear that I didn't need to fight gravity anymore. We were in a corner of Alex's room, right behind the door, and every time it would open, he would pull me in close to him so I didn't get hit. Some yelling happened: I registered my unhappiness for our non-friendship for the 100th time, and CJ admitted that things were (once again) not going well with Sarah and they were having a talk the next day and he didn't know if it was going to make it past tomorrow. But we talked like friends, real friends, for the first time all day.
I spent the rest of the party holding court in Alex's room, sitting on Philip's lap for part of it, talking with our MSU friends, doing shots with Carolyn, and when a wave of people left the room and left the door open, I went to close it to keep out those who weren't members of the inner circle. Someone caught my eye from across the hallway: James looked... lost. In the split second before I closed the door, I realized what I was witnessing: James was realizing that he had officially been dethroned. I smiled to myself, and felt the weight of my invisible crown return to my head. Two years ago I joined the ballroom team and fell right into the rush of the glittery, boozy lifestyle. It took two years, I made the glamorous world into a world of my own. I had become the queen of this team, on and off the dance floor.