I’m at the dance studio two nights a week and get home pretty much either right before or immediately after P. ought to be going to sleep. More often than not, lately, she’s awake and waiting for me when I get home. It’s not ideal, but it does give me the chance to ask her this question:
Do you know what I do more than anything else when I’m at dance?
The answer is always the same: screw up. The thing I do more than anything else at the ballet barre and in adult company rehearsals is make mistakes. So many mistakes.
Tap is not a problem – I am the best tapper (not the best dancer, mind you) in my class, though a big part of that is that I have been tapping 15+ years longer than most of the others. But ballet? And modern and jazz and all of the other styles of dance that I did not take seriously back when ‘dancer’ was still a fairly big part of my identity? I am bad. So bad.
In ballet especially, I am pretty much constantly screwing up. If my degagé is where it ought to be my arm is suddenly flagging or my hips are no longer square. More than a few pique turns and I’m practically falling over. In company, I am probably the absolute slowest to pick up the choreography. When we start a new routine I usually feel like I am falling all over myself. I have to ask more questions than anyone else. I have to ask the choreographer to repeat themselves more than anyone else.
But that is why I am there.
I’m there to learn, not to kick ass. If I wanted to kick ass I’d stay home and do all of the things I usually do because they come easily to me (YMMV) and so they are fun in that way that stuff is fun when you have put in your 10,000 hours. Ballet and all the other styles of dance I did only half-heartedly as a kid and then a teen because I was lazy/felt fat/scared to be bad at things/lame about practicing/etc. are what I do to challenge myself.
Heck, I am 34 years old. Tell me to cambre´ and I am going to groan like an old lady. I’m flexible, yes, because the one thing I’ve done every day for years and years is stretch, but since I wasn’t exactly working toward a higher développé or whatever it didn’t make me a better dancer. Just dancing will make me a better dancer.
So why do I ask P. if she knows what I do more than anything else when I’m at dance?
P. is a perfectionist. At least, I can’t help thinking that when the littlest mistake can launch an epic fit. Writing the number four backward, for instance. Reading a word incorrectly. A picture that doesn’t turn out just the way she pictured it in her head.
Or a few missteps in dance class.
I want her to know that doing something well doesn’t mean doing it perfectly, but rather doing it with great dedication. One of my favorite little life sayings is “If you’re not failing, you’re not trying hard enough.” Not failing means not pushing yourself, not trying something new. Failure is growth. Can failing be demoralizing? Absolutely, but it doesn’t have to be the end of the world.
P. needs to learn that now so she can avoid the trap of never trying anything new because you’re too afraid to mess up and let the world see that, hey, you don’t actually know everything. I missed out on some really great opportunities because I was too afraid that people were going to realize I wasn’t all that. Which is something that, looking back, they obviously already knew since I was young and inexperienced.
Now I’m older and inexperienced, but the biggest difference between me then and me now can’t be measured in years. The big difference is that I no longer give a damn who sees me screw up. Mostly, anyway.
Nowadays I’m proud enough of myself to show the world I am trying without worrying about who sees me fall flat on my face. And that means that I get to be even prouder when I don’t.
It’s a feeling I want P. to understand sooner rather than later, which is why I’m always quick to let her know that, yes, I messed up and guess what?
It was fun.