How Far Can you Go

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We have a little bit of a thaw today and I’m not dancing, so I naturally turn a little introspective because that is just part of who I am.  Every now and then, I get asked about goals for dancing and, as I’ve mentioned before, this becomes a difficult conversation because I come from the corporate environment where we speak of SMART goals.  The relevant parts of that are measurable and attainable but measurable is supposed to be the key because you have to specify a target or else you have no way of knowing whether you’ve reached your goal.  (In my corporate world, goals often come with financial payouts so that is why this is important).  But other than competitions and achieving certain levels (like full silver), there isn’t a lot of measurable stuff regarding dance.  And, I could set a goal of getting through the next set of silver steps in a year and could probably reach it but would I really have achieved anything if I just know the steps but can’t really “dance” them.  OK, that might not make any sense but dancing to me is so much about how it feels when you do it right and that is hard to quantify.  Also hard for me to really communicate since I’m far too analytical to speak about feelings.

I did used to be focused on steps and thought that you measured progress by how many steps you learned.  I also avoided technique because it bored me.  To some extent, it still does but I also now realize that there is much more to dancing than steps.  Because I want to look like a dancer and not someone just going through steps so all the things about frame, posture, shaping, etc have now become more important.  So I say to myself that my goal is to reach for my potential.  Simply put, I have no idea how good I could be.  (I really have no concept of how good or bad I am right now so you can see that this presents some difficulty).  After all, it is a lofty goal that sounds nice but how would you ever know when you’ve achieved it.  And, if there can always be improvement, then you can never reach the goal but would that be a good thing.

I have mixed feelings about the whole concept that “you can do anything you set your mind to”.  I know we love the stories where the underdog wins or where someone shows incredible perseverance and does something that nobody said he could do.  I think of the movie “Rudy” where the feel good story is some kid with no real talent who dreams of playing for Notre Dame actually gets to accomplish his dream (and then goes on to a wonderful career as a motivational speaker).  The cynic in me though says getting into a couple of plays at the end of game is a lot different from truly starting or playing for Notre Dame so he did accomplish a lot but there were limits on how far he could go.  He was never going to be a star or even really a starter for Notre Dame because his talent and size were limiting factors.

So I do believe there is some limit out there based on your innate level of talent and other physical factors.  The learning curve will always be faster in the beginning but will start to slow down as you approach your talent level.  (The math geek in me says it is some kind of asymptotic curve)  I think that with practice, you can go above your natural level but not that far above.  You can change the curve by doing certain things; in my example, the weight loss triggered a new potential for me because carrying a lot of weight did limit what I could do.  On the downside, my age and knee are also limitations that I can’t change.  We were doing a group class last night with a very young and very flexible instructor who was talking about hip movement.  Sorry, honey but I can do some of that but I don’t have the flexibility of a 20 year old.

I’m not discounting attitude either.  I know that when I go in thinking I can’t do something or allow myself to get defeated, that it does limit what I can do.  But I don’t think being hopelessly positive is going to be the answer to everything either.  Somewhere, there is a ceiling.

Why am I going down this path?  Who knows?  These open routines are harder than anything I’ve done in the past (even though my instructor doesn’t want me to say things like that).  The choreography is much more challenging and because we are doing a lot of stuff out of frame, there is so much more focus on technique and posture and timing.  Yes, I’m to the point where I can walk through the steps but that isn’t the same as actually being able to dance the routines and I think I can still do a lot better.  The good thing is that the challenge makes me want to get into the studio.  I want to get these down so the motivation is high.

But, I still have this little voice inside that wonders where my upper limit is and whether some of this may be beyond my talent level.  I don’t believe that is the case because I can’t believe my instructor would set me up for failure so if she is pushing me to do these routines, then she must believe I can do them.  I don’t know about some of the ones that were designed by the coaches.  They don’t have the benefit of seeing me other than the little bit of demo we did for them at the beginning of the lesson.  Was that enough to assess potential or did they just build a routine that seemed cool to them.

Right now, the little voice is losing out.  I believe I can do these routines and I believe I can do the shaping and posture and make it look good.  Timing might be another story but we’ll deal with that when I get to it.  So I will continue to chase my potential and hope it is still somewhere out there waiting to be discovered.

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