Thursday, December 11, 2008

Some Days are Better

Why are those other dancers better than me? Ever work on something for a while and wonder if you'll ever get it?

I have. Your "it" and mine will be different, but almost everybody has an area that seems like a huge hill to climb. Learning new dance moves tests our attitude, our learning skills, and provides a never ending set of positive challenges. It's an excellent vehicle for making you a better person. Occasionally it can turn my hair a little grayer, especially if I'm having a bad attitude attack.

I've had moments where it seems like I'll never get a move, a spin or a pattern. Worse, it seems like others around me find the same thing easy. I've had flickers in my brain of the dreaded "that will never work for me." I work hard to replace those thoughts with the, "At some point I'll smoke this thing and make it happen."

I rarely say it out loud because it doesn't last long, but a couple times a year I've seriously considered quitting, because I'll never master this thing called dance. (Nobody "masters" it!)

At other times, I've marveled at how much progress I've made in areas that seemed nearly impossible at the start. Once you have a few successes, you know it's worth the effort.

Nothing is as much fun as a dance where you make a connection with your partner. There is magic available on the dance floor and when you experience it yourself, you forget about the learning struggles and want to do it more.

Persistence is the major factor for progress, but other factors come into play.

In those down periods, it's my thinking that needs the upgrade and adjustments. Once I get my attitude back in a positive direction, things get better much faster.

Everybody has those down days, and there are few "secrets" I found over years of learning to play music. They directly apply to dancing, or actually any skill based learning. I use them to keep my head straight while practicing and learning, and hopefully one or two will help you.

Most sticking points require one of a few approaches. I'll list a few you should consider when your "moment" arrives:
  • Don't quit
  • Break it down into smaller chunks/exercises/moves
  • Don't quit
  • See if some foundational part of the move is weak, and work on it
  • Don't quit
  • Celebrate small, incremental improvements
  • Don't quit
  • Get input from quality instructors
  • Don't quit
  • Find something good, and pat yourself on your back
  • Don't quit
  • Do it slower!
  • Take a nap or break, then try again
  • Don't quit
  • Try it again in a few days, weeks, months
  • Don't quit
  • Practice when you don't feel like it
  • Don't quit
  • Practice more, but in shorter sessions
  • Don't quit
  • Practice more, trying a few longer sessions
  • Don't quit
For me, it isn't surprising that some things that seemed impossible or very hard a few years ago are now easy or within reach. I still have occasional negative moments, wondering why it takes me so long to improve.

If I'm really down on myself, a short nap often does the trick. As I mature, I find that strategy works much better than I expected, and have read studies about sleep integrating skill learning, and that's all the excuse I need. (Besides the fact that it works well for me!)

While I occasionally struggle to improve like everybody else, I've also had nights in the club where things are working extremely well and I'm proud of my progress. Good nights or not so good, pat yourself on the back for small successes, and keep on moving forward, even if it seems slower than others.

You'll always be refining your practice and searching for ways to improve your learning attitude. Dancing is a journey, and few will every "arrive" although anybody around a few years can be much better than average.

Over time things tend to work out very well. Often a minor attitude adjustment, more or different practice, some tips from experienced instructors, combined with some time will give you skills way beyond your current dreams.

Sure some days will be better than others, but soon your worst days will be better than your current strong days. All that assumes you continue learning and challenging yourself with a positive attitude. Being a little better each week adds up to large gains over time.

Let me know what you do to move past your sticking points. I'm sure some of you have some great strategies that will benefit others.
Everybody is ignorant, only on different subjects.
--Will Rogers


  1. Good topic. My biggest problem of late is incorporating new moves in my dancing, as it's too easy to stick with the older ones that I've gotten used to. Even though I'm constantly taking classes and workshops, and am good at memorizing, it seems like I keep accumulating patterns that I can't do well enough. When you're a beginner, you're forced to use new material because you don't know anything else. But as an intermediate or higher, it's harder because you don't want to ruin your reputation.

  2. Snowdancer... I write down the moves/patterns I want to incorporate in my club dancing. I have a little square on my desk right now that has a few moves I want to integrate in my dancing. Sometimes I take a copy to the clubs.

    More on this topic later.

  3. Something I've noticed as I learn more is that I'm becoming much more aware of my faults. This is actually a positive feature of learning as being able to recognise faults is an important skill, but it sometimes feels like I'm getting worse. When I practice turn-patterns I know immediately if I place a foot wrongly even if my partner does not seem to notice. Previously I would just have happily fumbled through it. Ignorance is bliss?


I love feedback. Your thoughts, feelings and comments are appreciated. Civil disagreements and other points of view are always welcomed!

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Don Baarns - Unlikely Salsero