In anticipation of the new year and all kinds of New Year’s resolutions, I’m in the midst of a resolution I made four months ago. And, like most resolutions at this point, the delight and fervor of the initial honeymoon phase is beginning to fade in the face of the dreaded repetition. No, not even my beloved dance is immune to the perils of ennui. On the contrary, of my 2-3 dance classes each week, one is a ballet class, and it always starts the same way: at the barre.
Bend. Point. Bend. Point. Bend. Point. Bend. Point. Lean forward. Lean back. Bend. Point. Bend. Point. Bend. Point. Bend. Point. Lean forward. Lean back.
Now do that again, with slight variations. And again. And again. And–
You guessed it: again.
Are you still awake as you read this? I’m not. At this point in my barre exercise (which goes on for the first 20-40 minutes of class) I’m usually fighting sleepy eyelids.
What? you cry. Don’t tell me you’re bored, Heather! You’re dancing! Dancing’s what you came here to do! Dancing is fun! That’s the whole point! Right?
Yes, well. About that.
First, let me assure you: Dancing is a fabulous rush. It is by far the most entertaining way for me to work out. It is engaging, both creatively and physically, and it is helping me to grow in some wonderful ways. But it is also a discipline. And as you new-year resolvers might well discover, any discipline comes complete with certain aspects that may drain your initial enthusiasm — and usually they’re the very aspects that will make the biggest difference in your long-term success.
An Olympic coach was once asked what stands out in the athletes who succeed versus the athletes who don’t. “At some point,” he said, “it comes down to who can handle the boredom of training every day and doing the same lifts over and over and over again.” The boredom of training!
They have to find a way to be motivated by the ordinary if they want to experience the extraordinary.
Granted, when he says ‘lifts’ he probably means, you know, weights — not people. But the point still stands. Winning a gold medal might be amazing, but doing the same workout day in and day out will get dull. The successful athletes can’t be motivated by the glitz and glamour of winning, though that’s appealing — the glitz is just too far away. They have to find a way to love the monotony, the repetition, the practice. They have to find a way to be motivated by the ordinary if they want to experience the extraordinary.
No matter how many years you’re in ballet, you will always be doing more barre exercises. That’s how you develop muscle memory. As Christopher Bergland points out in The Athlete’s Way, training your cerebellum through muscle memory is the key to any athletic success. The cerebellum — the lower part of your brain — is responsible for all the actions you don’t think about, like moving your legs when you walk or shifting gears when you drive. The more you practice, the more you teach your cerebellum to do. A dancer’s performance only looks effortless after they’ve taught their cerebellum a whole lot of moves that once took extensive conscious thought to manage. The fluidity and electricity of that fabulous performance only comes after pushing through the tedium of thousands of bend-and-points — er, that is, thousands of plié-tendus.
Dance might be amazing, but developing my skills in the form of plié after plié after yesANOTHERplié can get tiring. I realize that I don’t need to be excellent in order to dance — I can dance in my own kitchen any day. And I do. Try and stop me! But to reap the full benefits of dance, which is my long-term goal, I need that muscle memory. After all, the more I’m able to do, the more I’ll be able to enjoy. Each repetition is essentially an investment in a future thrill. And so I must learn not only to tolerate that investment, I must learn to appreciate it.
Each repetition is essentially an investment in a future thrill.
Ballet lays the foundation for all forms of dance. That’s why, once a week, I join my fabulous ballet teacher Alana at Studio A (because she IS fabulous, and makes the barre so much more invigorating than it might be without her), and I tendu. I fondu (no, not the cheese). I occasionally dégagé. I keep going, I deep-breathe, and I focus on how I might enjoy the moments that tempt me towards lassitude. I find ways to delight in places where I would otherwise lose focus, because it is in this sometimes-painful, occasionally-beautiful monotony that I will, ironically, find the adventure I’m after.
Catch up on previous chapters of Two Left Feet, here.
Image via Jordan Hammond on Flickr