I know more than I think I do

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I guess I’m feeling a little chatty these days but I had another little moment of clarity last night and just felt like sharing.  At the Famous Franchise, you have Bronze, Silver and Gold levels and I assume this is the same everywhere.  Those are subdivided into four levels.  At each level, you have a check out to clear you to going to the next level.  When you are working in levels 1 and 2, you are considered Associate of the particular shiny metal and then you move into Full of that same medal until you hit level 4 and can move up to the next metal.  Each level has 2-3 steps and multiple variations and so the clear sign of progress is learning a new step.  Oh, and when you check out, there is the Medal Ball to celebrate.

Like all other students, I started on this path.  My wife and I actually made it through Full Bronze and started into Silver.  After she quit, I picked up a couple of dances she didn’t like and continued to progress but just focusing on steps.  Since I’ve gotten more into the competition and Showcase aspect of things, I’ve fallen off that path as the focus is now on technique and making the dances look like they are supposed to look.  The open routines do introduce new choreography which does include some Full Silver steps but I don’t learn the step on its own but rather as part of a particular dance routine if that makes any sense.  As I’ve mentioned, the drilling on technique can get old and it becomes hard to really measure progress when they only real feedback you get is at Showcases.

Every once in awhile, I do miss the days of working on a path because you had a defined goal – graduate Associate Silver by such and such date.  So yesterday, I’m in the studio and watching the end of Z’s previous lesson.  She’s teaching a couple who started out as a wedding couple but have continued to come.  They are the type who are only focused on lessons so they rarely attend group class or parties or any of the Famous Franchise events.  But she was teaching them a Silver Fox Trot step and it made me miss those days and then I started to think that everyone else was moving forward while I was staying in the same place kind of like they were running on a track and I’m on a treadmill.  At some point, while I’m going nowhere, they will pass me.  Kind of a silly feeling as I write it but that’s where I was last night.

Well, the group class was Bolero.  When the studio first opened, I was the only Silver student.  I’m still in Silver but many have now gone through their Bronze so there are several who are learning Silver.  See, if you just focus on the shiny metal, then my fear doesn’t sound so silly.  I’ve been Silver for so long that it is hard to not sometimes think I’m not really progressing.  But I digress.  Anyway, one of the Silver students started bugging OwnerGuy and he finally agreed to start adding Silver group classes once a week and that was yesterday.  Well, even though it is on the calendar, it doesn’t always happen.  It depends on the mix of students and what instructors are available.  Last night, there was me, my designated Cha-Cha partner, one couple who was in Silver, Tex and his wife and a newer guy.  They decided to just do one class with Z teaching so, with several people having little or no Bolero experience, there was no way Z could teach Silver and so we stayed with Bronze stuff.

Now, this is simply a fact but I’ve done Bolero basics hundreds of times.  I’ll be honest that I can’t remember how I felt when first doing Bolero but the moves are so natural now that it can be hard for me to relate to people who are struggling because the basic just feels so easy to me.

We eventually got to a step that I’ll try to describe.  We’re in a handshake hold with the lady on my left side and through a weight change and upper body rotation, I move her across to the other side.  We only have one arm connected at this point.  I’m sure I’ve done this step hundreds of times, and I’m not really paying attention to the other students cause I’m talking to my partner.  Well, after about three to four tries, Z stops the group and walks over to me and then tells all the other guys to watch my arm as we do the step.  See, it is easy to just use your arm to whip your partner around but that’s not how it is supposed to be done.  Your right arm doesn’t move so you have to think of it being frozen in place and just move your body because the arm will follow and that’s what she wanted everyone else to see.

The thing is I was just doing that automatically.  I can’t even tell you when or how I learned that but it is muscle memory and I didn’t even have to think about it.  That’s when the light bulb got a little brighter.  Yeah, there really is a reason for the endless repetition.  And everything builds in layers.  You have to get the feet down and committed so you don’t think about them and you move on to something else and get that committed and so on.  But the more things that become automatic, the better the dance will look and feel and it then frees you to continue to add layers and depth to your dancing.  Even if you aren’t necessarily progressing on the path, you are making significant progress.

Funny thing was that after doing it right, Z wanted me to contrast and try to mimic what the others were doing so she tells me to do it again but “make it all arms”.  Do you know how hard it was for me to try to screw it up.  I seriously had to think about how much arm was needed to make it look really bad.  It was harder to do it wrong because that wasn’t natural.  It was fighting against all the programming I’d had up until then.

Guess the bigger point is I’ve learned a lot.  There are so many things that I now do automatically and sometimes I think you need to take a step back and just consider that those were things you didn’t know when you started.  At some point in my past, I was using my arm incorrectly for that step and I had to do it right hundreds of times to make it stick but now it is something I don’t really have to think about.  And that’s not even really a step but a technique thing to make a step better.  I do like the quote that the only dancer you should compare yourself to is the dancer you used to be.  But it isn’t always easy to remember the dancer you used to be so I see value in looking back at newer dancers.  Not to feel superior but to realize that I started out there myself at one point.  You look at the things they struggle with that are easy and automatic for you and it is clear how much progress has been made even if I’m not moving along the path.  I’ve got my own path and I’m just fine with that.

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