Alternate title: Progress in mirror is farther/closer than it appears (like those warnings on car mirrors, but more lame)
This is a post that I’ve been sitting on the fence about writing for a while now, a couple months at least. The reason for the delay is mostly because I was so ridiculously busy, and I didn’t want to just write whatever I could slap together in spare moments and have it be misconstrued. Also, I wanted more time to think about it, to possibly pull myself out of whatever dark mood I may have been in that would have me thinking those things – if after giving it time I still had something to say then maybe there was something to it. Or, as always, perhaps I’m just weird.
Anyway. Ramble start:
Whenever a classmate in class compliments me, or asks me to help them with their ballet after class, whatever they’re struggling on (port de bras, ballet walks, balancing, etc.), something I always do is mention how long it took me to “unlock” said skill. Why? Because it’s the truth.
I don’t know what it has to do with exactly, perhaps my childhood and how I was never good at anything athletic or physical. I just feel a need to acknowledge how much work – how much sweat and tears – went into it, above all feel the need to clarify that I am not “good”, that I instead worked so extremely hard for however far I’ve gotten. As a child I was told I had flat feet, as a child I would fall over if I tried to run quickly (I found out recently this was possibly because of my hyperextension and locking my knees), my posture was terrible (my mom would call me “the vulture” as I sat in my characteristic pose, hunched over a book), I was extremely inflexible and clumsy, all that stuff I always write about. But people in class, they don’t know all this – all they see is that they are brand-new beginners and I seem to know what I’m doing.
So, I tell them. And – this part’s really hard for me to explain, without this turning into a novel – I honestly believed that I was telling them for their own benefit as much as for mine. For me, it’s an opportunity to set the record straight, for them, a way of lowering the pressure on them – like, ‘of course you can’t do it yet, it takes this long!’ (no, I did not say that part out loud). You see, I have this annoying urge to be helpful. Whenever I see an underdog, I root for them. It’s just my nature – perhaps because I’ve grown to identify with the underdog, not with the “winner”. I’m the kind of person who has screwed myself over to help someone else out – whether this is a quality or a character flaw is still to be determined or debated. But, what I’m trying to illustrate is that I want nothing but the best for my fellow dance students, want them to meet goals as I have, and if there’s an opportunity to help out after class or something, I’m all over it. (And no, I’m not annoying and go up to people unsolicited and start offering my opinion or anything like that.)
Then one day, as I explained to a classmate how to pas de bourre (and, what helped me, and how long it took to get, and how she’s already so much better at ballet than when I’d only been ballet-ing for three months like her) in the locker room after class, I had a thought: what if I’m not helping them out by telling them all it took, what if, if anything, I’d been hindering their progress?
This thought didn’t come completely out of nowhere. The night before, I’d watched a video on youtube about a late starter who had started ballet at 17, having never danced before, and was now in a pre-professional school two years later, and planning to audition for a company in another two. Not only that, she didn’t even take a class more than twice a week for about the first year.So here I am telling brand -new beginners that it took me two years to have a stable-ish balance on releve on two feet, and still can’t pirouette on most days, so ‘don’t worry about it, it takes time’. For those classmates who are still young enough to have a career as a dancer, am I better off keeping my progress – or lack of – to myself?
From reading the comments, people were saying that that young lady’s story is “inspiring”. Maybe it’s because I can’t relate but … I just can’t relate – I mean it’s cool and that’s great for her and all that, but I can’t say I feel inspired. When I was a very discouraged brand-new beginner, stories about people starting from “zero” (which now I know really meant that they had done a different style of dance, or at least musical theater in childhood, or color guard during high school – basically, it wasn’t from couch-potatoland, it was from something athletic) and making it to a career – which apparently my regular school has had a few off – were not inspirational; instead they made me wonder what was wrong with me. But then, even if I had started a decade earlier, I wonder if I would have improved faster. Probably not, given how I was in even worse shape then, but if I knew then everything I now know… well, I do wonder at what could’ve been…
Anyway, I feel a little guilty for not being inspired by the story, like I’m being an immature envious little brat, which I probably am. I hate it when I have irrational feelings like that about ballet progress, but as much as I try to talk rationality into myself sometimes the class environment brings out competitiveness – and insecurities. I will continue to work on it.
In the meantime, perhaps I should keep my stories of slow progress to myself? I fluctuate between ‘ yes, stop for the common good!’ and ‘no! I have a right to share my side of it, and besides, they did ask me for help’, tell myself that I’ll just keep the explaination factual, but before I know it I managed to have a conversation with some one – not just someone, but several people (which is a feat for me in of itself) – and it came up how long I’ve been dancing and all that. And the whole time I’m like ‘oh my gosh – people actually want to talk to me! It’s so bizzare and I feel somewhat guilty for almost enjoying it, thinking ‘if this is how things had been a couple decades ago or more perhaps I wouldn’t have this fear of people and terrible anxiety and self-doubt. Maybe that’s what they mean in all those ads for ballet for children about developing confidence!’ and then I have to stop that train of thought because, honestly, unless there’s a time machine available to me there is absolutely nothing I can do about the past, so I may as well not waste more time dwelling on it.
At least I’m dancing now – at last – and at a skill level that I don’t mind most days (the exception would be on audition days). I dance and I’m happy, inspired by the music.