This evening was my third day in a row in the studio… troupe training on Monday, regular class on Tuesday, and a makeup class today. (And I’ll have class tomorrow too, but that’s another story, and the reason I’m chugging magnesium right now.) In every one of the last three days, there have been multiple — not one, not two, but more than I could count — moments when I was doing something that looked awkward, terrible, ungainly. Where I just basically could not do what was asked of me. Normally, I would get frustrated and mad with myself for not being further along, would think about all the time I wasted over these past years when I could have been learning to zill or do a stupid chaine. And yet… I was in some kind of weird Zen state where I just. did. not. feel. bad. about. it. I saw how awful it all looked, and thought, “Wow, that looks awful. I guess I’ll try again.” I was weirdly fine with the realisation that it wouldn’t stop looking awful during those 90 or 120 minutes. I was happier to be learning so much than I could feel sad about what I didn’t know, if that makes any sense.
I did feel a bit bad for my teachers who had to put up with the noise and see some spins they probably could have lived without seeing.
I don’t know if it’s reading and re-reading Steven Pressfield. I don’t know if it’s all the motivational things people post on Facebook, or the talks with dancers in real life, or all the articles about how we always look terrible when we start to learn things… but for once, sucking felt fine, because it also felt like the beginning of learning.
Nadira Jamal sent an email out to her list this week, and it was one of those things — well, quite frankly, it was one of those moments when it seems someone you’ve never met read your mind and decided to give you a good talking to. It’s called “Everything Else is Gravy: Why we need mere competence, not excellence,” and before you read further, you should just watch it here:
My confession: only a few days before this video came out, I had posted something a bit negative on facebook about my dance talent, or rather, my lack of dance talent. The truth is, I don’t even think I’m the worst. But I don’t have those years of ballet training, and there are certain things in dance — like staying on beat or learning choreos — that take so much work. Listen, I’m human. Sometimes when I look at the stretchy thin people who can already layer a shimmy onto a basic step in releve, I start to wonder what it is I’m doing.
The thing that was really new to me in Nadira’s talking to was this: she points out that sometimes, being too much of a perfectionist can keep you from learning and becoming better. The example she gives is thinking you need to be a top-notch performer before you perform, when really there are many performance skills you have to learn on the stage, by doing. I had to wonder how Nadira got in my head. I’ve taken classes for years, but only had my first real, proper, not just futzing around performance a few weeks ago. And you know what? As Nadira pointed out, it went okay for what it was. It was a student performance, I magically remembered the choreo, I had a big dumb grin on my face for most of it — I need to learn to appreciate that and feed off of it for the next time.
Years ago, I had a Tim Gunn bobblehead doll that stood on my desk and said “Make it Work” when I needed a little more motivation in my work. I think now I need a Nadira Jamal doll that says “It’s Gravy!” when I bring it along to dance class!