Awakenings

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As I’ve said before, I’m pretty strongly introverted.  That means we are big on introspection and, after the conversation, I’ve done a lot of deep thinking about my relationship with dance and why it ties me in so many knots.  I don’t have all the answers yet (and probably never will) but I came up with a theory and decided to sort of test it at last night’s lesson.  So I let a lot of things pass that I might have reacted to before and, at those moments, just imagined that I was observing the lesson and not really participating in it.

I’ve thought back to my first showcase.  I was nervous as heck but once I was out on the floor and the music started, it was like a switch flipped on in my head.  I felt alive and felt that I could feel the energy of the audience.  And this was back in my heavier days when I was nowhere near as skilled as I am now.  Point is that I’m really a performer. Yes, an introverted performer.  Sounds strange but I’ve read a lot of other blogs from people who’ve said basically the same thing.  I love being on the floor when I can just get lost in the moment and dance for the people.  And then I lost the weight and upped my skill level and I suddenly started getting all kinds of positive comments – from the students at our studio, from students at other studios, from other instructors and the judges comments turned more positive and their face to face sessions with me were great.  Hard not to get swept up in that and I did.  So it became a quest to do more – flashier routines, more complicated patterns, more dances, etc.  It made learning them a bitch but the payoff was the performance.

In retrospect, I didn’t need to go that far.  A couple of showcases ago, I did a Bachata heat with the Body Double just to make sure there was more than one couple on the floor.  I knew nothing about the dance so we just knew the very basic steps while the other couple was great at it.  But it was still fun because I had no pressure and no expectations.  I could just go out and dance and have fun and not worry about letting anyone down because I wasn’t expected to be able to do anything.

But, as I started to have more successful showcases, the topic of going to the next level and Dance-o-rama’s started to come up.  It was clear to me that it was important to OwnerGuy to find a core of students who would go to these events.  And I was riding high after some great feedback and I was the natural candidate to go.  The first trip didn’t go so well and I’ve attributed a lot of that to my lack of confidence which is undoubtedly part of it.  But, even during the dark times, the dancing was still fun.  It was the prep work leading up to that was no fun.  And some of that was lack of confidence and some of that was pressure I put on myself to be the dancer I thought they wanted me to be.  I was the closest thing they had to a “star” and I perceived (rightly or wrongly) that I had to live up to the faith they had shown in me.  If I couldn’t get a step right away, then maybe I wasn’t the dancer they thought I was and that would mean I wouldn’t be special to them anymore.  If they were changing something I had been doing, then I was mortified that I had been doing it wrong all these times and so I must have let them down.  I got wrapped up in trying to meet what I perceived to be their high expectations and anytime I felt that I was falling short then it hit me especially hard because I had to be a big disappointment to them.  Let me be clear that this is in no way an attempt to shift blame.  It was all my actions but I’m looking for the trigger so I can better control it.

I don’t have a lot of evidence but the strongest bit was the mini blowup we had in the hallway at this last Dance-o-Rama.  I worked my tail off getting ready for that event but I was shockingly calm when I got there.  I had accepted that there really wasn’t anything more I could do but just dance and enjoy the moment which is what I intended to do.  When she jumped down my throat for messing up the waltz during practice, I really wanted to scream at her “why are YOU so upset when I don’t care if I mess it up”.  The same was true at the Showcase in spring when we were laying out how to do the open waltz routine when again, I figured I’d just give it my best shot and roll the dice and see what happened.  I can see now that this is the difference between a serious competitor (her) and a guy who just wants to perform and enjoy the moment (me).

I think that difference carries over into the practices.  As a serious competitor, she will practice one part over and over again and make sure all the details are perfect.  I can do that, but it stresses me out because I’m much more about how the thing flows and feels.  And then when she gets on me, it is the feeling of not living up to her expectations and the disappointment that helps send me into the death spiral.

She’s made some other comments during the conversation about certain lessons and the general theme was “I didn’t want to teach xxx that night because I knew it would end badly but I figured you’d freak out if we didn’t”.  I took that in stride but now it really sounds like a self-fulfilling prophecy to me.  If she came in with a negative feeling about the lesson, then I believe at some level she projected that.  And, we’ve worked together for so long and I think I react to the emotions I sense, that I picked up on her stress and tension and probably just amplified it back to her.  This created the feedback loop that probably helped some things spiral out of control.  Even the other day, she said she wanted to start with West Coast Swing because that would take the longest for me to learn.  Really?  You have that little faith in me?  I’m a pretty quick study by the way.  But she can’t see that comments like that undermine her professed optimism about my abilities.

But the plus side of the conversation is that if she really feels that we have no connection, then it frees me from having to worry about failing to meet her expectations or disappointing her.  I know that sounds weird but it is like my relationship with my boss.  I’m not really looking for anything out of her so I don’t worry about trying to impress her; I just do my job to the best of my abilities and draw satisfaction from my team and getting things done.  So maybe this will focus me back on what I loved most about dancing which is performing and having fun.  I still want to learn the technique and keep improving but I don’t have to get so wrapped up in it.  If it doesn’t come right away or if I screw up, it really doesn’t matter in the long run.  I can still have fun because I’m on the floor and dancing for me and dancing because it is fun.  So last night as she’s getting frustrated in parts because I wasn’t quite getting the step, I really wanted to ask “why is it so important to you that I’m perfect”.  I suspect her reply would have been something along the lines that it ticks her off when I mess up because she knows I can do this and she thinks I get lazy at times.  That’s probably true but it is also another difference between a serious competitor and a performer.  So I just rolled with my mess ups figuring I’d get it eventually.

This may be difficult for me to keep up because I suspect she is going to amp up her intensity over the next couple of weeks (something is happening but I’m not prepared to talk about it yet).  I’ve got a few tricks to work on to keep my focus on the fun and performing.  If I can hold on to that, it might be possible to stay positive.

 

4 comments

  1. Wanted to offer a couple thoughts on this – it’s been my observation that usually in a teacher-student dynamic, the student assumes that if a teacher gets frustrated, it’s because of a shortcoming on the student’s part (which leads the student to think, “oh, this teacher believes that I’m not trying hard enough / I’m lazy / I’m not actually a very good dancer / whatever.”) But in having taught and having observed many many dance teachers, I can say with confidence that it is much more commonly a frustration arising from teaching in only one style.

    What I mean by that is: if Teacher A is a dancer who really learns well, for example, when someone counts out choreography for him by numbers, then he will tend to teach that way because it is very successful for him in his own learning. But if Student B doesn’t learn well in that fashion at all, and instead is a kinesthetic feeler who needs to be in the flow to get the hang of something, then Teacher A can count to 8 until he’s blue in the face, and all that will happen is that both he and Student B will get frustrated. Teacher A thinks, “how can you not understand this, it is so obviously simple,” and Student B thinks, “he’s mad because he thinks I’m not trying but I am!” It’s a recipe for disaster.

    In fact, I’ve encountered teachers who say, flat-out, “This is the way I teach. You can learn from me or not, but I’m not changing it.” Which I suppose is one approach – it’s one I don’t respect or understand, but there it is.

    It’s rare to find teachers who can actually switch up their teaching styles to truly accommodate different learning styles, or even to accommodate the way a student’s learning style changes as he or she progresses. It takes a lot of humility and self-examination to go, “oh, shoot, you know what? I’m teaching this student the way I learn, but it’s not working. How can I change that up?”

    The point of all of this is – go with what feels good. Keep having fun with your dancing, and don’t end up assuming that your way of doing things is less valid than hers. Not every serious competitor is the same, and I know some (in fact, I’m partnered with one!…and trying to be more of one, honestly) who roll in the same have-fun-feel-good-dance-better vibe that you do. It’s not wrong, and it’s certainly not an indicator of anything other than what you value in dancing. And valuing having fun and feeling good? Well, I can get behind that. Seems like kind of the point, actually.

    1. I do want to be clear that Z is not quite as extreme as your example about saying this is her style take it or leave it. I know she has talked many times about changing her teaching methods to try and get a point across to me. I do catch on but I’m just overly hard on myself when the inevitable mistakes happen.

      1. Oh no – I wasn’t suggesting that she was! I was just talking generally about how we (teachers and students both!) tend to fall into patterns of thought that aren’t always helpful. Being really hard on yourself is a pretty standard feature of all dancers, I think 🙂

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