Just finished up working on Tango today in the studio, where I had several “breakthroughs” – ah-ha moments in which I learned something that made me super excited. You would think that after years of taking lessons, I wouldn’t have much more to learn, but I do. For me, the best part of dancing is the learning. But it hasn’t always been that way. . .
When I started dancing, I just wanted to look good. I, along with so many other people, looked at accomplished dancers and saw only the results. I wanted to get there . . . and fast. After a few years of dancing, I thought I was pretty good. So much so, that during lessons, it was hard for me to accept criticism. I didn’t like being told I wasn’t doing something wrong.
Even after I finally realized that I had more to learn, it still stung to be corrected. Over time, I learned to accept criticism and feedback, but I still perceived it as something I had to “put up with” to get results. The idea that there would always be someone better than me made me almost want to give up. But I didn’t. I kept pushing through because I loved it.
And then…one night, I was right in the middle of a performance, in front of a hundred plus people, when I realized, that wasn’t the moment that mattered. I had been working for years to “look good.” When I had the opportunity, I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t what really fed my spirit. All the time I spent in the studio preparing is what really made me happy. The learning, the growing, the moments of understanding, the relationship I was building with my instructor/partner were the meat and potatoes of why I did it.
Suddenly, I began showing up to my lessons with a different mindset. I embraced corrections like I was a ball of clay allowing my instructor to shape me and make me into something better than I could imagine. The truth: I had been stuck in my limited perceptions about what a good dancer is, and his vision of what I was capable of was way bigger than mine.
There are people in all walks of life who believe that they are good at what they do. In fact, they are so good, that they don’t really need to learn anymore. At least that is what they think. But what they don’t know is that their beliefs about how good they are actually prevent them from getting any better. Their beliefs keep them locked in to a certain level that may not be the fullest expression of their potential. They reach a plateau in their dancing and then they coast while everyone else passes them by. They probably don’t even know that they could be better.
The thing about dancing is, as soon as you attain a certain level of proficiency, an entirely new set of skills becomes available to you. It’s a little like a video game where certain rewards are unlocked as you reach each new level. But where some people get stuck is in thinking that there is one advanced level to attain. They keep thinking, am I there yet? It isn’t hard to see why they get frustrated when they discover they’re not! And as we know, frustration is a good way to block off the flow of development. When you’re able to see that the levels are never ending, that what you can attain is unlimited, then you access a freedom and self-acceptance in your pursuits that accelerates your learning. It opens you to receive.
I was talking last night with my friend J who dances Argentine tango. She put it so succinctly when she said to me, “it feels good to settle into the middle of my dance practice, it’s so freeing.” She wasn’t saying that she saw herself as an intermediate dancer, because she is more than that. She was simply saying, her level, or where she was on the continuum of learning, didn’t really matter anymore. She gave herself over to the learning, not the attainment. She said, “I just don’t judge myself or my dancing anymore.” And we both agreed, that is a beautiful place to be.
The point of all of this is that growth, i.e., evolution happens whether you want it to or not and you can deal with it in one of three ways: You can resist it, try to control what’s happening and keep things as they are. This strategy often leads to frustration and judgement of yourself and others. You may wonder why you’re never satisfied. Or you can be a bystander who waits and watches while everyone else seems to be having the time of their lives. You have reasons for not wanting more. You may be asking yourself, why not me? Or you can be a partner in your own evolution who engages in the process of growth out of a focused desire to become the best version of themselves. You’ll probably marvel at how quickly you catch on and how expediently your desires are met.
It is always your choice to resist, wait or engage. These concepts, although related to dance in this blogpost, apply to so many other areas of life where we could easily improve if we opened our hearts and minds to not just accepting criticism and feedback, but embracing it as a gift from our mentors who, like sculptors, put their hands lovingly to a piece of clay to transform us into a work of art.