I’ve been giving this topic a little more thought and I’ve realized there is a lot of me in the equation. And that there is really no good way to determine how much of what I do is me and how much what I do is her making me look good. It is entirely possible that as two people dance together over a period of time that the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts.
You may be wondering why this even matters to me. Well, I can relate to a scene in Rocky III (I did warn you that I like to use random pop culture references to illustrate things so walk with me a bit here). Anyway, Rocky has won the title and defended it several time and is feeling good about himself but has been ducking a fight with Mr T (who is the best part of the movie). After he finally gets goaded into agreeing to a fight, there is a scene where his trainer basically tells him that he was picking fighters he could beat. The trainer was trying to keep Rocky safe and wanted him to feel good about himself as champ and it worked for awhile but once Rocky found out what was happening, it no longer seemed real to him and none of his success mattered. So he got his butt kicked by Mr T. Then, he got the rematch, trained real hard, conquered his fear and won the title back.
To be fair, dance lessons are expensive and so there is an incentive for the instructors to prop you up. After all, who wants to spend that much money to be told that they suck? A real masochist may enjoy that but very few people really enjoy having their limitations pointed out to them. So the safer route is for the instructor to cover for your mistakes and you go along through the levels thinking you are better than you are. And that can work out just fine unless you go to some event like the one I did last year (my Mr T moment) and you find out that the truth is much different from your perception. Not saying that the one off hand comment rocked me to the core but it did push me towards that abyss a little bit..
I do have mixed feelings about this. Yes, I want to be a good dancer. Sorry that may sound egotistical but I’ve invested too much into this to be mediocre. So the only way to move forward is to get honest feedback and work to fix my issues. I can’t do this if she is covering for my mistakes. On the other hand, I do have an ego and it is more fragile than I’d like and when I get to thinking that I’m all that, it can be very difficult for me to hear the truth. I think it is only since doing the event that I’ve started to get comfortable with the constructive feedback. At least I sometimes feel that way although my instructor may have a different view. So it is tough because I like the little protective bubble where you feel like you are great and she could let me live there but that way provides no growth.
And, I do want the help. If she can give me the little hand signal to tell me to slow down, then that’s fine. If I make a little slip and she can cover and we end up looking good, that is fine with me. I don’t want it to get to a point where she’s just doing that and not helping me fix the problems.
But I was also thinking about how do I judge my own abilities without her but there is no real good way of doing that. It would certainly be true that if she was helping me too much, then I wasn’t learning to lead properly and I’d fail when dancing with someone else but that doesn’t imply that every failure is evidence of this. Dancing is a team effort and everyone feels different when you dance with them. Some ladies are used to anticipating and back leading and they don’t let me lead so a step fails because they are expecting “x” and I’m really doing “y”. Sometimes, a step may actually be above someone. After all, I don’t even thing the most experienced pro could take someone with no experience and lead them through a complicated step cleanly. Granted that is a bit of an extreme example but I see in group classes that it can be very difficult for someone to do a step they haven’t done before even if someone demonstrates it in front of them so it would be even more difficult to do it just by trying to follow someone’s lead.
Just as clearly, I look better dancing with her than I do with anyone else – even the other instructors. Things just move more smoothly. Which could be because she is an accomplished pro but it could also be that we’ve danced together for many years and grown accustomed to how we move together. One of the coaches that was in after showcase made an offhand remark that she could tell we had been dancing together for a long time so I do think there is something to that.
Bottom line is this didn’t really cause any major crisis in confidence. Just had to sort it out a bit. It was really just an offhand comment that I may have taken a bit too seriously. In the end, I know there is part of me in the equation. I want her help but I don’t want the training wheels to stay on forever. Got to run since I’ve got two lessons tonight – more on that later.