Against Rigidity: Some Inspirations for Improvisation

Lately, I’ve been dealing with some challenges. How to navigate being a mom — even though my expectations of myself are not high, somehow they’re still too high for the reality. How to embrace my dancing where it is, skill-wise, rather than mourning the skills I don’t have. And in my own, real-life, for-money work, how to focus on and enjoy the work I’m doing now, rather than regretting what I didn’t do before.

And so I was inspired by some recent reading. The first comes from Alia Thabit, whose 90 Day Dance Challenge I’ve been doing for the past week, and actually even managing to keep up on. (Five days out of six!) In one of her recent “love notes,” Alia writes:

Why are so many classes so deadly serious? Drilling (I hate drilling), combos, choreo, all work, work work. Why do we always have to do what we’re told? Why do we so rarely get to dance?

Students, play in class. Embellish, reinvent, enjoy yourself. Do the drills differently. Make the combos your own. Reinterpret the choreo. Stand in back, be respectful, and explain your mission to your teacher so they don’t feel the need to correct you :). But quietly get your groove on–don’t ignore the class, just give yourself permission to add your own sauce.

This is the kind of thing that makes me want to shout “YES” and pump my fist into the air. Because here’s my dirty little secret… I hate choreos. I mean, I’m not very good at picking them up anyway, though lately I have begun to see the point of learning how someone else interprets the music. But whenever I see an ad for a workshop being offered with a choreo, I think to myself, “Why would I want to dance like someone else? Would I ever really perform someone else’s choreography?”

But when I think these things, I always tend to suspect that I do so because choreos are a weak point for me. It’s also good to hear someone who is a teacher confirm that it is, in the end, about making the dance your own.

The next bit comes from an article called “Letting Go of Perfectionism and Embracing Motherhood,” by Hala Khouri. I ran across it because I’m preparing to review Hala’s DVD, Yoga for Stress Reduction. Hala describes how having children forced her to modify her perfect ecowholegrainyogaeverydaynosugarorpolyester lifestyle:

As I was faced with birthday parties with “regular” cake (i.e. the white flour and sugar kind), crying babies with high fevers, and my boys’ insatiable appetite for superheroes and dinosaurs, I had to surrender to the fact that being rigid wouldn’t serve anyone. I noticed that sometimes fighting for my ideals felt unhealthy. It came from my own fear and need to feel in control. The last thing I want to do is dump my fear and neurosis onto my children. I have had to start discerning when I’m clinging to my idea of what’s right simply because I want to feel right (and make others wrong so I feel better about myself). I’m finding a middle ground that feels balanced.

Although I have no pretensions to the kind of perfection Khouri had before, I recognize bits of this in myself. My obsessions have to do with the baby’s sleep and with nursing. I resisted supplementing with formula for months, even though I was exhausting myself with round-the-clock nursing, because I was secretly proud that the baby hadn’t touched those chemicals. And yet, once I started supplementing a bit and wasn’t so exhaused, I found I also wasn’t so resentful of the nursing, and able to do it longer. The perfect was the enemy of the good.

As different as these examples are, both are about improvisation. After all, isn’t that what we’re doing when we take on a new role? And it helps to remember — it helps me at least — that improvising is what’s most fun. Cooking teachers and food writers have started to talk about the value of improvising in the kitchen rather than following recipes slavishly, and that’s really what I love about cooking. Why would I expect myself to follow a preset model in other parts of my life?

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