On the dangers of having a good eye.

Ugh, dudes, I am trying to write about a thing that happened without talking smack, and it’s REALLY HARD.

So screw it, no context for you, sorry, let’s get straight to the take-home point.

The hardest part about dance – about any art? maybe! – is that your eye gets good faster than your body does. Which means, you develop an ability to see, critique, and understand what is and is not good dancing sooner (much, much, much sooner) than you can produce it yourself. Which SUCKS because then you look at your own dancing and recognize its shortcomings.

Ira Glass, in talking about creative work, exactly summed it up for me when he said:

What nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish someone had told this to me . . . is that all of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, and it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not.

But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase. They quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work…

It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.

He’s so right. And it is just really hard to not be overly critical of your own work, but instead to accept and applaud and prize the improvements that make the thing you did this time better than what you did last time.

I am terrible at this.

In the aftermath of some recent events about which you HAVE NO CONTEXT (but it really doesn’t make any difference at all), I’d offer the following essential points:

Take home point number one: There is only so much you can do at any one time. Your dancing is not perfect, it’s not gonna be perfect. Duh. Some issues (like if you’re, e.g., falling over or something) are more egregiously problematic than others (like if you’re also, e.g., not pointing the toe properly or something) but all of us have shit in our dancing we need to fix. It is extremely unhelpful to focus on all of that at one time. It results in the feeling that everything is terrible and nothing is worthwhile and you might as well not bother. This is SO UNPRODUCTIVE.

Take home point number two: Whether you are teaching or watching someone else or just looking at your own dancing, you MUST say something positive. You just have to. I don’t care if what just went down on the floor was a steamy pile of dance garbage, find something that is true and positive and say it. Then you can go into your laundry list of what could be better. But if you never acknowledge the things you’re doing well, you will just feel like crap and that will translate into your movement. Again, SO UNPRODUCTIVE.

Take home point number three: Plan ahead. You cannot fix things that are in muscle memory two days before a competition. You just can’t. When you get out on the floor, you will do it the way you remember it and your body is sooooooooo dumb. Also, do not allow an opportunity for someone to point out all the perceived deficiencies in your technique two days before. That’s the time to fix icing on the cake stuff – look up, smile, be pretty! Not central technical stuff. It just won’t happen and you’ll have that in your head distracting you from selling it, which is what you need to be doing. (SO UNPRODUCTIVE!)

Take home point number four: People respond to emotion, not technique. Yay for you that your leg action is perfect. That is awesome for you! But I promise that nobody cares. I truly believe that you can’t lie about who you are when you dance – movement is one of the most painfully honest things we do. If you can put something real into your dancing, then your technique, your dress, the fact that you may well feel like shit about your body lots of days out of the week…NONE of that matters. Because what people respond to is the genuine emotion. The dancing is just a vessel for that, an imperfect container. It will always be imperfect. But there’s a reason that I almost always cry at some point when I watch my wedding couples learning to dance – it’s not because they are talented amazing dancers setting the world on fire with their technique. Mostly they are pretty terrible dancers, because they’ve had like three lessons. But that does not matter to the audience, and it doesn’t matter to me. I watch a ton of dancing, and I am moved EVERY GODDAMN TIME, because that’s what real emotion does. That’s why we dance, yo.

P.S. Watch Ira’s whole thing – it’s really awesome. And he talks about his own work from the past the way I talk about my dancing sometimes – he’s all, “what the hell IS this? It is terrible!” and he’s right, it is terrible, but it won’t always be terrible. Which is something, right?

5 thoughts on “On the dangers of having a good eye.

  1. I’m just going to keep reading this till I become sane again.

  2. Marian Condon says:

    Bless you, Bi-utiful (my new name for you) – I needed that post bad. I just watched a DVD containing 7 of the heats I was in during my first competition, and my initial, horrified response was that the word SUCKS does not even begin to describe my dancing. Now however, thanks to you, I’m changing my tune. I’m saying that while I’m not yet as good as I will be, I’m better than I was: I hold my head up fairly consistently and I know many more patterns than I did. And best of all, I looked as though I were about to be executed in only SOME of my heats, not all of ’em.

    I am going to dedicate my next blog entry to praising you and your blog. I already have a link to your site on my Good Stuff page, but have not had the time (it’s final exam period) to specifically direct my readers to it. I think your students are lucky to have you as their teacher.

    • Thanks, Marian! As painful as it can be, I really find that continued watching of one’s own dancing does dull the initial, “oh God, is that what I really LOOK like?!” reaction and allows you to eventually start appreciating some of the good stuff too. But those first several (dozen) watchings can be brutal, no question. Thanks for the feedback – glad you like the blog!

      I tell my students that it’s not about being good or bad or anything else – I call them my “temporarily less experienced colleagues.” It’s just about putting in the time 🙂

      • P2P says:

        This is so true! Each time I re-watch the DVD from Emerald Ball, I get a little less myopic. I still cringe at my mistakes, but can see that there was more to the performance than just that. Thanks for your perspective.

      • Marian Condon says:

        P2P – I’ve recently seen a reference to the Emerald Ball on another, very established, Ballroom blog (http://dancingwithstef.com). By what organization is the EB sponsored? I dance within the Arthur Murray system and have yet to become acquainted with the wider world of Ballroom. Need to do that, though, as am just starting a book (Cha Cha Changes; Tango Transformations) about what BR does for dancers. You can access more info re that project on my blog (www.ballroompersonalgrowthhealing.com). Perhaps you will even allow me to interview you!

Cha cha cha.

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