Most experienced dancers will tell you that, over the years, they overcame significant hurdles in their progress. “I hit a plateau in 2003”, “I had my Lindy/Hip Hop phase a few years back and that… really was something.”
Most of the times, it’s going to be pretty personal, but I’m here to whisper a Michael-Jackson level truth to you: you are not alone. There are several diseases running rampant in today’s dance community, and it’s about time you check yourself before you wreck yourself. See if you’re victim of one or several of those:
You know who cares about who went to what event when and where they ate, and, how, with whom?
No one, and especially not your dance partners the next time you’ll hit the floor and suck big donkey balls because you spent the last two weeks instagramming pictures of your friends’ food and photoshopping them on the heads of famous presidents… Instead of, you know, doing what you promised yourself you would do: practice.
The problem here stems from our need for gratification. Much like a monkey does tricks for a treat, we generally do tasks or pose actions for some kind of reward, and social media only exacerbates that need for immediate gratification. Unfortunately, chasing that high – much like other drugs – is bad for you: studies link our obsession for instant reward to lower quality of life and obesity, amongst other things. That’s why we find ourselves drunk and alone on Saturday night in our last pair of panties, reposting old memes on the internet in hope someone will notice our sad excuse of an existence.
The most dangerous thing about Facebook is probably that it enables us to seek and find that instant gratification fix anytime we want, and it explains why you see so many inane statuses out there, the purpose of which is seemingly to burn a searing hole of stupid through your brain.
Learn to delay gratification by keeping busy elsewhere. In a famous experiment done in the 70s, psychologist Walter Mischel realized that the children who could delay eating a treat most successfully were not those who stared obsessively at them, forcing themselves to not eat them…
…But those who could distract themselves from it by playing with toys or looking elsewhere. In a second study, Mischel instructed a group of children to think about how the marshmallows were fluffy like clouds, whereas the other group was instructed to think about how delicious they were.
The first group was able to wait in general three times longer.
It’s really easy to spend three hours on the Internet instead of getting your ass up and dance, and that’s why you need a rule: cut your social media time to half an hour per day – gradually, if you have to. Set up Skype sessions or chat sessions – or hell, go pantsless-in-Vegas crazy: phone calls! – with people you truly want to connect with. It will do absolute wonders for your productivity and free time, and you’ll be more likely to engage in activities that are gratifying in the long term – such as, I don’t know, dancing.
5- Infection of the Youtube
A mere few years ago, dancers had to actually order VHS compilations of events like animals, in order to watch anything. That meant a good six months after the event, in all likelihood.
In today’s times of connectivity, it’s absolutely abnormal to wait for even a week before the videos come up (see the brilliant post from Abigail Browning on why events should give up DVDs altogether). Some videographers like Patrick Szmidt are notoriously so fast at posting, it seems they’re actually going back in time to start posting competitions before they happen.
This is all good and great, though: progress it a good thing. I’m not talking about that aspect of it.
I mean, Jesus. Just… Jesus.
Some dancers exclusively take their “inspiration” from video clips – and by inspiration, I mean steal from them in an absolutely shameless fashion. Not only is it disrespectful of the original dancers, it’s also an insult to the style and creativity of the copiers as they show that they can’t come up with something truly great themselves. Don’t be fooled: all the good new dancers and performers that have arisen on the scene always had something to bring to the table.
Another inherent problem with YouTube is that everyone can see what’s increasingly popular, and base their dancing on that, instead of actually doing themselves the greatest service they could: doing what they want to do. What they feel is right with that music at that moment.
By all means, continue to be inspired by great dancers you see on video, but remember the roots: back in the days, people actually had to go out dancing to steal other dancers’ moves.
There are times where it’s okay to sit at home with a case of Miller and a bag of Doritos all day, obsessing over Andy’s timing – hell, I’ve been there.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with plugging your brain with fresh ways to move.
But try to extrapolate; try to make that stuff yours. And go out dancing! There is absolutely nothing that will replace actually being there, feeling the vibe, the bodies moving around you, the wildly different connections you will experience, the music pounding from the floor up…
Socialization is what made the dance what it is. Not dissecting moves on video.
4- Occupational Complicatis
We’ve all seen it happen in class: the teachers explain something very fast, and tell the students to do it… With moderate success actually! Everyone’s sorta kinda doing the move.
And then they start getting straight up esoteric in that biatch.
While thorough analysis usually gets you somewhere if the teachers know what they’re talking about, when done by yourself – or, worse, with others – it almost certainly leads to a catastrophe of hulkean proportions. We hear teachers talk about complex dynamics, and assume we can understand and interpret those right away, putting several layers of non-understanding between us and our dancing.
Take some goddamned notes, you lazy bastard.
The thing about the brain is, it’s pretty treacherous. Something we think we remember from a workshop last weekend just might have been transformed by our brain from “there is a slight pull on the hand for this move” to “you have to push and shove your follow through every move like a coked-up Godzilla”. That’s all because your brain will re-interpret information to confirm things you think are true.
We also have a tendency to complicate things when we slowly realize we just can’t do something. Because if we can’t do it, and someone else can do it, it has to be pretty complicated, right?
Well, not quite.
In a world where intellectual power is increasingly important, we tend to believe that by sitting down and thinking real hard about something, we will magically shart the solution out of our brain-holes like some sort of… uh… Big brained… Incontinent fairy whale, I guess.
What sets apart all the great dancers you see out there is mostly that they’re out of their goddamn minds. Ask the average international instructor: some may have a once-in-a-generation gift, said “Fuck you, and fuck your spanking!” to the doctor on their way out of their mother’s womb, grabbed a nurse and started doing Flying Charleston all over the room… But most will tell you they just danced and danced and danced until it felt right, and kept on going beyond that. In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell claims it takes about 10,000 hours of pratice to truly master something. That’s about 3 hours a day for ten years.
But it’s not only practice, of course. Those who advocate it is are probably in a ditch somewhere drowning in cow dung, because they think that 10,000 hours of that will somehow make them immune to their own bullshit.
No, you gotta practice the right thing, too. And that’s why you have to take notes – video or otherwise.
That’s where classes come into play. Don’t put too much blind faith in them, though. There is no “secret key” to dancing that great teachers will solemnly bestow upon you in a moment of pure glory when they deem you worthy of joining their sacred, pure-blooded brotherhood.
And that’s one of the most terrifying revelations you will have as a dancer: realizing it’s all up to you.
3- Compulsive Message Syndrome
We cannot physically get away from our emails or phones for a few minutes. If you go to the restaurant with friends, at least one of you, by the end of the meal, will have compulsively checked their smartphone for emails and messages.
Think about every time your boss just thought up a random question; every time your girlfriend had some great idea for an outing involving flea markets; every time Trader Joe’s wants to tell you about their special, limited offer of a dollar for a bag of dried goat rectums.
As a dancer, you start losing focus when you’re interrupted with messages ten times during a one hour practice; you lose contact with the groove if you’re incessantly fiddling with your Samsung Galaxy in front of Gordon Webster.
Here’s a test that I swear will not drive you crazy. Probably.
Check your emails twice a day. It doesn’t really matter when, but try to not make it the first thing you do in the morning. And when you check them, make sure to answer or address every one of them. The rest of the time? Close that motherfucker, especially when you’re doing something – working, writing your blog, dancing.
Live the moment; focus on the task.
The term idiarrhea comes from two distinct terms: “idea”, and… I’ll let you sort out the rest.
It could be summed up as: “too much is sometimes too little”.
When you have too many ideas of new moves, have too many opinions about how the dance should or could be, want to practice your solo, your Bal, your Lindy and ALL THE SHAGZ, want to learn jazz guitar, hone your teaching skills… You end up doing a jack amount of shits that grows infinitely closer to zero. With too much stuff in front of you, you come back in full circle to the void: it becomes all fuzzy, unclear, scary and overwhelming.
Pick a schedule, and decide on what to work on and when. It doesn’t need to be complicated – in fact it shouldn’t: go back to #4 to convince yourself of that.
If you have a huge list of things to work on, choose one or two of those for a certain period of time. Could be a week, a month, could be a year. And remember, being great takes not only time, but focus.
Have some focus, for Christ’s sake. Everyone wants to BE great: it’s far rarer to find someone who wants to do great WORK. Regardless of your level, if you do something truly great, you’ll still think it’s great ten years from now. If you do something truly mediocre, you’ll still think it sucks tomorrow.
Be the person who does great work.
1- Aggravated Excuse Expectorations
This is the worst and most insidious because most times, it seems perfectly legitimate.
“I have so much work.”
“I’ll get around to it next week, I have a nudist barbecue this week.”
Look, we all get it: you’re an extremely busy person. You’re juggling a job, a boyfriend, friends from high school, three cats and a celebrity underwears collection, and trying to cram dancing in your schedule is incredibly hard.
As a society, we’re being more sollicited than ever. Just a few years ago, if you provided for your family, you were basically Jesus. Nowadays, you have to be a good boyfriend, good father, good worker, good driver, good partyer, have a few hobbies that make you interesting, have friends (but be social with strangers!), listen to interesting music, train at the gym, be good around the house, cook well, dress well, speak well, act well, be a good conversationalist, know five languages… This is tremendous pressure for a species who, just a few tens of thousands of years ago, couldn’t tell their ass from their mouth.
The excuses come small at first. Like “I sprained my pinkie finger and can’t do swingouts.” And then slowly, the excuses become the center of your life. You can’t work well because you went out dancing late. You can’t go out dancing because you’re working too hard. You can’t make time for your husband because your kid is sucking the life out of you, and you can’t be a great mother because you have to take care of your couple as well!
The first step is: get a mirror.
Then comes the hardest step: take a good, long, motherfucking, bejeezus, titfart assjuice look at yourself and ask yourself what you really want.
Here’s the thing: I’m not saying everyone should stop everything they’re doing and start dancing. Because then people would stop making potato chips.
Are you dancing because you want to be liked? Because you want to sleep with a lot of strangers? Because you have a strange fetish for the way your partners’ feet smell when they do a triple step?
Instead of making excuses, try to get to the bottom of why you’re dancing, and go from there. No reason is, in itself, bad for dancing, so don’t make a judgement: knowing it will simply alleviate your burden to a level best-described as “riding a singing unicorn on the rings of Saturn”. Maybe you’ll find out that deep down you can’t give a flying-monkey-with-a-top-hat-fuck about dancing. Maybe you’ll realize it’s an essential part of who you are as a person, that it makes you a better individual, that you want to commit time and effort to the art. But from now on, let’s all make the effort to say “you know what, no I didn’t go out dancing yesterday. I just couldn’t push enough energy towards that. And no, I’m not gonna feel bad about it and start making lame excuses.” Be proud. This is your life, start driving it like it is.
Maybe you’ll stop dancing and be the next kite fighting world champion.
Maybe you’ll go out dancing from time to time and have an awesome time.
Maybe you’ll start realizing those excuses stem from all those weird fears we all harbor inside: that we’re never going to be good enough, that we suck anyways, that we’re never going to be better than X or Y. And then you’ll take those fears by the throat like goddamn RoboCop and lay down some truth on a motherfucka: that you’re never going to let them dictate your conduct again.
Then, you’ll be free to go on with your true, sacred mission of kicking ass. Whatever that means for you.
And maybe you’ll realize that the biggest thing keeping you from being the person you want to be is yourself.
When not moralizing people on the Internet about things he absolutely most definitively does, Zack can be found moralizing people in real life at Swing ConneXion.
Feel free to argue like savage beasts in the comments below, and check out other articles in the Archives section!
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