I’ve been mulling over an idea lately … well, it’s been ongoing for a couple years, I guess — which is ironic when I tell you that it’s “time.”
When you first start dancing as an adult you just want to advance as quickly as you can. We have this idea that we have a limited amount of time/resources/physical ability/whatever left and we must seize the day — if you will. Everyone likes the get rich quick schemes, winning the lottery, instant fame, sugar daddies/mommas or want to lose a zillion pounds in six months, etc.
I’ve read articles about AM students who talk about how they advanced to silver because of all the lessons they’ve taken in less than TWO years and then on to gold. I’ve seen these people dance in competitions with my own eyes. It’s as if they want to suffer quickly through bronze — i.e. the basics — and get on “to the really good stuff.”
I’m not saying that silver steps aren’t lots of fun, ’cause they are. And I’m not saying that the basics can’t get old when you do them a thousand times and have to relearn them every six months or so, ’cause they do. And I’m certainly not saying that the leg wrapped around your partner and other random tricks don’t make you feel really cool, ’cause you are.
But, I wonder if in our rush to move on to the next level we’re not just missing getting solid basics down, we’re missing something else … something incredibly valuable.
In our culture, we like fast — instant food, instant wi-fi, instant cash back, instant service, instant pleasure, etc. We do not like to wait. We do not like to pause. We do not like to go slowly. Think about that with dancing. We see another dancer doing what looks like a cool, flashy move in the studio or on a YouTube video or at a comp and we’re like — I wanna do that — stat! We corner our instructors and demand to do it. Or, in my case, I see students at the studio doing moves that I want to do and my teacher won’t do them with me. And I feel that I’m a better dancer than that student and when my teacher refuses to do that, but makes comments about me mastering technique, I burn a little inside. (At my last lesson with Teach 2, he started to lead me in a move I didn’t know and when it became evident I was just trying to follow him he stopped and said something about mistakenly thinking I knew that move. I was quick to reply that I would love to learn it and please teach me. He said, “no.” Of course, I asked why not and he said because he and Teach had a plan for me and that was not in the plan. Of course, I want that plan to move along at more than a turtle’s pace.)
I have come to a point where I think my internal narrative on this must change. And not because of the obvious reasons that I need to learn really good technique before I advance and good technique with basic steps is superior to bad technique and fancier tricks, etc., etc., etc., but it’s something more than that …
Here’s an example: it takes time to create something good. If you’re going to prepare a feast from scratch it takes a lot of time and effort. There are things you can’t rush; but the beauty of it is the pleasure you get in the middle of all the preparations. You get pleasure thinking about the final product. You get pleasure planning it, prepping it, carefully crafting it, laying it out and then finally feasting on it. You take your time to choose all the ingredients carefully. You smell and taste and chop and smell and taste and season … There are a lot of monotonous, mundane tasks that must be completed. And all of that time and labor comes to fruition in a really beautiful moment of communal feasting — and you take great pleasure in all your work and in the joy of others around you relishing in it as well. Or you could just run to Costco and get a rotisserie chicken and some mashed potatoes — both are meals — but they aren’t the same thing. One is a quick way to an end result and the other is a long drawn out process. But something really important is missed in the “insta” method. And I think that’s what I’m trying to do — to find the right words to communicate this idea about dancing.
There is something really beautiful about taking your time and deliberately owning your dancing. All the parts — all that tedious, at times, basic technique. Instead of trying to rush ahead and do “fancier,” “cooler,” “more difficult” moves, perhaps we need to just settle into a steady, focused work space and really get to know our body — how it moves, how it works, how it connects, the rhythms, the partnership, the simple step and how it all connects together. We should learn to take great pleasure and joy in the most common of steps. After all, they are the ones, theoretically, we’ve spent the most time with. 🙂 We should reject the idea that we are running out of time and must rush on to the next level. As Teach says to me, “you will never come to the end of learning about dance — no one can. It forever goes on … always teaching you something new.”
Eventually, more levels will come, of course — but, I want to try to stop the ridiculous feeling of trying to scramble to the next level and instead just breathe at the level I’m at. Just settle into knowing every inch of how my body must move to fill the basic step as full as I can possibly make it. And who freaking cares if I get to do a crazy trick next year or three years from now? Because that one step IS. This is where I am right now. There is no rush to get to the next. Teach says, “everything you really need to know step-wise is in bronze. The difficulty is settling into these steps and making them your own. Why do you want to rush such an important part of dancing?”
I guess that’s it — creating an internal narrative that thrives on the drills. That feels the great beauty in the box step. That exults in arm styling that grows from deep inside you. It’s not just “getting thru” bronze to the next level — it’s loving every aching moment of what should be a long and arduous journey. As Teach said to me this evening during my lesson while dancing some silver, “We will never leave bronze. Bronze will always be with us … it should always be with us.”