If I had a dollar for every time a student got frustrated in the middle of a difficult class and stopped working, a quarter for every time a dancer thought the invitational level dancers were gods to be worshipped, a dime for every time a dancer thought that if they just learned that one perfect move they would be the ultimate dancer, and a nickel for every time an event attendee rushed to the highest level class they wouldn’t get kicked out of even when they’d get more out of a lower level, I would have $1.40 times infinity. Because it’s happened infinity times.
Now, I’ve said before that I don’t want to get preachy or self-helpy with this blog, and that’s true, but this really gets to me, both as a student and as a teacher. People are so focused on the end goal of becoming a superstar and buying an elephant with some of their new riches that they don’t give a whole lot of thought to HOW they’re going to get there. They show up to classes taught by amazing instructors, muddle through, and walk out the exact same dancer they were before, just more cocky or frustrated, depending on their temperament. What most of them don’t do is see the class for what it really could be, which isn’t a slew of cool new moves, but rather a glimpse into the processes of the people we all look up to. When Peter teaches a class, sure there’s a move involved, but what he’s really trying to teach us is how he thinks and works. That’s the worthy information, not some move.
Because here’s the dirty little secret. The secret that the teachers have been shouting at you since you started. The secret your dumb brain keeps from you.
The teachers aren’t special. Not in the way you think, anyway. They’re unique snowflakes just like everybody else, but there’s nothing in their genes that makes them amazing dancers. They didn’t fall into a nuclear reactor or stumble upon a magic lamp. They weren’t sent from the future to make you feel inferior. So what makes them so great? Some of it probably is luck. Some people have more aptitude than others. But that’s, like, eight percent of it, as far as I’m concerned. Hard work is some of it to, but even that isn’t the whole picture. The hard part, the part they keep yelling at you if you’d only listen, is the way they think about it and the way they approach it. They’ve figured out how they need to work through things and they do it that way.
For some, the best way is to look at the lines they’re making and work from there.
For others, focusing on continuity and ease is the way to go.
Others might think about the rhythms they make as a starting point.
The whole point of this diatribe is that, as far as I’m concerned, if there were a Ten Commandments of social jazz dancing, it would just have one big honkin’ item:
Figure out thy process, and freaking honor it.
Don’t focus on the goal. Focus on the road that’ll get you to it. See classes not just as a source of new moves or a chance to hit on your favorite instructor, but as an insight into how things work in the minds of our teachers. For the love of all that is holy, work on your rock step! Get a practice group together, see how your practice-mates think things through and see if their approach might benefit you. If you care enough to work on getting better, then stop wasting your time beating yourself up, worshipping people instead of learning from them, looking in vain for That One Move, and flattering yourself with a high-level class instead of getting down to business in a lower one.