Perils of Perfectionism

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Tonight is Snowball which is the studio’s Christmas gathering. Part of it is Showstoppers where we get to scratch the performance itch and do a short routine that has to be new. This is something they started doing a few years ago. Probably helps that many people want their routines to be perfect so they will buy more lessons.

Case in point, as I got to the studio for group class, there was a student working on his routine for tonight. Turns out, he booked three lessons that day and was still stressing about the routine. Mostly because he wanted it to be perfect and it wasn’t perfect and that always creates stress.

I wonder how many of us dance students struggle with perfectionism. I suspect it is a high percentage. Part of it is likely because many of us come to dance later in life after we’ve established ourselves in some kind of profession. And, at your work, you probably feel competent but dance forces you to feel incompetent at times. There is that secret fear of looking silly which nobody wants.

It doesn’t help when you get an instructor to demonstrate a move and it looks flawless and then you try it and you can’t figure out where your feet are supposed to go and it feels awkward as heck. We forget how much training and experience our instructors get and that, no matter how much we try, it is always going to be easier for them. Using an instructor as a gauge is a losing proposition.

Going through the learning process can suck at times. Nobody likes to feel awkward and like they don’t know what they are doing. And having to dance in front of others when you feel that way makes it a thousand times worse. We again forget how supportive fellow students are because we’ve all been there and many of us are fighting the same kind of feelings.

But the desire for perfection robs you of a lot of what dance provides. I’ve written about this before but the learning process just sets up a ton of small victories. Parts of the routine or step that seemed alien now become second nature. If you just focus on the flaws and what went wrong, you miss out on how much progress has actually been made.

And I’m not writing this like I’ve conquered all those perfectionist demons because they still exist. But I hear them less and less now. I still am not a big fan of the awkward phase but I’ve accepted that you have to trust the process and give yourself permission to not be perfect.

And I do think it is a big reason why the last two Showcases have been my strongest. It may seem silly but the more you can focus on what went right, the more confidence you build. Oh, I still have my days when I say something just felt awful because that is going to happen from time to time. The key is not expecting something to be perfect right away. That is never going to happen.

Dance isn’t easy. You aren’t going to pick up something new right away and if you expect to, you will always be disappointed and frustrated. It is going to feel awkward and you are going to mess up. You have to accept that as part of the process even if you don’t like it. In the long run, focusing on the good and the improvement is going to be far healthier than repeatedly kicking yourself because it isn’t “perfect.”

Some days, I wish we could just make a word or concept disappear. We’d all be happier if we weren’t chasing something like perfection which isn’t attainable.

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