Underdog

Lindy Hop Winners, September 2000

"It is always the darkest before something breaks wide open." - Mary Jo Edwards

I have always loved the underdog: the person least likely to succeed, the one who has failed over and over and over again, and the one most people have given up on. The reason I love the underdog so much is that the underdog can thrill and inspire us once they’ve locked into their own sense of passion and personal gusto, to spring up from the dirt and the dust and demonstrate to everyone what is possible when you believe.

Some of my favorite movies are about the underdog: Seabiscuit, The Pursuit of Happyness and The Slumdog Millionaire. I love these stories because they illustrate that sometimes, the failures and disappointments are what catalyze an inner desire to create something different. In this way, set-backs are to be loved and cherished, because those are the moments when we are learning and evolving, and preparing to create something new. In fact, the more the dramatic the failure, the greater the opportunity to burst forward in a grand and exciting way.

In my own life, I have come to see that the worst times are, in their own quiet way, the best times. These are the times when I’m learning about what I need to change in myself, so that I can change the outward expression of my life. But, these times, never feel like the best moments, at the time that they are happening.

I love this picture of me with my former dance partner, Jim, because it reminds me that even when everything seems bleak, a breakthrough is nearby.

Jim and I met at a dance class. Jim was going through a very sad divorce and had moved from his nice comfortable home, to rent a bedroom in a house with three other men, who were also each going through a divorce. As for me, I had recently left a business I had co-founded, my family’s business had closed after years of failure and I had just been fired from a job that I taken a few months prior, out of desperation. But none of that hurt as much as the sad break-up I was going through at the time. Things seemed bleak for Jim, and for me.

I decided to take a dance class to lift my spirits and that was Jim’s motivation, too. A few weeks in to the class, the instructor announced that there would be a dance contest in three months, and even though we were all beginners, he encouraged us to enter the contest. Hearing about the contest felt so exciting and I knew it was something I had to do! But, where would I find a partner?... I didn’t think any of the men who were just learning to dance would have the interest or motivation.

But, after class, walking down the steps to go outside, Jim ran after me and said, “HEY! Do you want to enter the dance contest!?” He had barely finished his sentence before I shouted “YES!!!!” I still remember standing on those steps with Jim, talking about how we only wanted to enter if each other was committed to winning.

In spite of everything going on in my life at that time, those next few months were some of the happiest. Jim and I practiced nearly every day. We knew that most of the dancers in the contest would have years of experience--- we’d only have a few months. We practiced in Jim’s garage and when the summer heat got to be too much, we practiced in a racquet ball court at the Y. All the kids in the gym would come to watch us practice, which made it even more fun for us.

We knew we wanted to win, but instead of focusing on winning, we focused on having fun. If we had thought logically about our chance of winning, we never would have entered the contest. We took the leap: the odds for us losing were far greater, but, we didn’t think about that. We just thought about how much fun we were having preparing for the contest and how funny it was that we were even considering it. We didn’t think about what other people would think or how we might appear foolish and naïve, we just kept showing up for practice.

When the day of the dance contest arrived, I remember feeling so nervous. And, when we got to the contest, we saw people practicing and Jim and I wondered what we had gotten ourselves into. But, we warmed-up by practicing, and soon, the ease and fun that we had rehearsed every day for the last few months began to show through in our dancing.

Well, as the picture shows, we won the contest. And, while all of the experienced dancers were surprised that the two beginners, who never should have won, did in fact win-- for Jim and me, it was exactly what we had prepared for.

© 2011 Lisa Ann Edwards