"To win," he said without much hesitation. "That is how I know I'm getting better."
I saw my former self in him. Only a few years prior I thought the same thing. I built my reputation in the streetdance community through competitions. I would trek from Boston to New York to attend as many battles as I could. I had to prove myself to the world. Victory was evidence of my merit. It was my motivation behind the hours of training. I need to know that as I stood across from my opponent, I had a shot at beating him.
Over the last decade, I came away with as many victories as defeats. The former giving me a rush of excitement and the latter, a sense of failure. Despite the respect I received even in my losses, I couldn't shake off the disappointment. Soon winning was the only thing that mattered - not the camaraderie among dancers, the music, or the vibe. I had to win.
So in speaking to this dancer. I knew exactly how he felt.
Today, things are different. I had to change. The dance that used to bring me joy had begun to leave me empty. If I won an event, I was quickly thinking about the next one.If I lost, I questioned whether or not I was good enough - whether all the hard work was useless. Either way, I wasn't having fun anymore. So I took a break from the competition scene to re-evaluate my heart and search for that passion I once had.
I didn't compete for a year and went back to the basics: searching for music I loved - not music I thought would be played in a competition; training in styles that interested me - not those that looked impressive. And the strangest thing happened. I was happy. In a room by myself, in a cypher, in a session. It didn't matter, I had rekindled my love for the movement itself.
I've battled since that time but not for the same reasons. Now competitions are freeing. They are a chance to have fun in front of other people. I might lose or win, but that's not the deciding factor. The only thing that concerns me is dancing honestly. Any feedback I might get from the judges or audience is simply an added bonus or insights for areas to improve.
I'm not sure what advice I should give him though. I don't know how to shake the need to win. Maybe it's something that comes with time, frustration, or both. I'm only hoping that he finds his peace before I did.