I can do a double pirouette! Pirouette’s are those spinning-on-one-foot moves. And I can do a DOUBLE! (Insert happy dance here.) Granted, I’ve yet to master the basic, one-time-around, single pirouette. But something about the momentum of going around twice works for me and I’ve been able to pull it off a few times now, which makes me feel way too proud of myself.
I have a theatre background. So as much as this project is not supposed to be about performing, when I swung that double pirouette I couldn’t help it. I started glancing sideways at the other dancers with a grin. I was feeling pretty tough. Maybe this dancing thing wasn’t so hard after all.
Then, we had to do singles and mine looked like an interpretation of the leaning tower of Pisa. It was a harsh reminder that I am not exceptional. I just lucked out with one move that my body happens to click with. I started to glance sideways again at my classmates and remembered: My legs are awkward … My core is weak … My balance needs serious work … Line after line in my head of why I’m bad at this, to the point that I almost missed an important piece of choreography. Then, I did a double pirouette again.
Ha-HA! I thought. I’m back! I may as well have had actual peacock feathers, so severe was my swagger as I returned to the starting position. Then (surprise, surprise) I was so busy daydreaming about how great I thought I was that I missed another important direction.
After which I tripped over the footwork, embarrassed myself, and lost my confidence yet again. That’s when I realized that this comparing mindset isn’t going to fly. It’s immature and it’s detrimental to my goals. Dance, from the beginning, was supposed to be for me. For personal benefit. It shouldn’t matter who else is in the room, it shouldn’t matter how good they are, and it certainly shouldn’t matter where I stand on the totem pole of talent.
I somehow manage to stake my own personal esteem on the skill level of everyone around me, and in doing so I forget to focus on my own lessons.
Unfortunately, this particular vice is a battle I’ve fought for most of my life. It always rears its spiteful head when I try something new, so here I am dealing with it again in dance. I somehow manage to stake my own personal esteem on the skill level of everyone around me, and in doing so I forget to focus on my own lessons.
If I didn’t compare, then it wouldn’t matter when I messed up. I wouldn’t need to be embarrassed when I fall over. I really wouldn’t need to kick myself over how very not flexible I am. I would only need to come to class, do my best, and continually try again.
If I didn’t compare, then I could enjoy my own successes, whether or not they’re “better” than someone else’s. Allowing myself to be cocky only gets in the way of learning, and certainly doesn’t do anything for my own humility.
If I didn’t compare, I could actually focus on what I came here to do: dance!
It’s just that comparing is a tough habit to shake — especially with something so performance-oriented. But does dance really need to be that way? Bill Brown, my jazz dance teacher at Studio A, doesn’t think so. “Performance is a mindset that never clicked with me,” he says. “Sure, performance is an integral part of dance — the end product. I know many people attain an incredible high from being on the stage. But my philosophy is that one can reach that pinnacle without performance because in every class you find your own joy.”
Find my own joy. Isn’t that why I’m supposedly doing this in the first place?
A performance can be a wonderful thing, of course. You’re sharing something beautiful with an audience. But this comparison baggage is not who I want to be and it’s time for me to drop it at the door. Performance is not where I’m at emotionally or physically, and it’s not why I came to dance. I came to learn, to grow, and to see how this art form can benefit me: my body and my mind.
… this comparison baggage is not who I want to be and it’s time for me to drop it at the door.
I have a choice on how I view myself: in a line-up of best-to-worst with everyone around me, or with an earnest and singular lens of truth. That second lens is at once greater and more humble than any mindset of comparison. That’s the lens I’m choosing with dance.
And once I do master that single pirouette? It will be exciting — for me. Whether I’m the first or the last in my class to do so, I will choose to celebrate.
Catch up on previous chapters of Two Left Feet, here.