As much as I learned to hate the smug-ish word 'successful' as an adult, I have also grown to redefine the term 'failure'. It's a thing, and I strive to do it early and often. Not like burning a grilled cheese sandwich or letting my family down kind of 'failure'...but just taking those small-to-medium risks that feel fairly enormous. And let me say I put off this blog post for several months because I couldn't quite articulate my feelings. But then the theme is so *in my face* these days...it just has to be written right now, on Tuesday at 12:50am. I've still been thinking about technique, and remembering all the other important aspects that revolve around an overemphasized 'right vs wrong'.
It's been a busy spring/summer of performances, and teaching different students in new settings. My students, troupe mates, and I have been scrutinizing ourselves on video and in pictures...trying to relax some muscles while engaging other ones...along with the smiling thing. "Ugh, why am I doing that floppy thing with my hand?" We go back, promise ourselves we'll prepare more next time...and then say it again and again. I ponder why a class was so hard to teach, even though I teach the move all the time - shimmying in my dark garage to test the theories...single bumping in the shadow of my armoire while reading an old tribe.net post. More panic after it's *over* ... it's done, it's fine if the class cool down portion wasn't perfectly Namaste-ish, and it's ok if I didn't turn at the right exact moment or start that move On The 1...because probably no one was watching all three of us at the same exact time OR counting, "and-a-one, and-a-two!" while the song played. But...I want it to be *really good*. I want that timeless, sepia-toned picture where it looks like I'm flying and every muscle is defined...not that I can do that - I drink whole milk, people. And it's back to that crappy 'successful' non-story we measure ourselves against.
I encourage the dancer discipline where practice is dedication. It's part of dancer satisfaction. But I worry when I (and my students) slip into "I should not have tried that, so I will stick to x and y moves that I know...or try this only when alone for 4 years before it gets re-debuted" No. I will not be Asian like that. Then there's the flip side where we want to try something complex a bit too soon, because maybe we 'should' be doing more 'by now'. I will not be Asian/immigrant child like that, either. I will look at the pictures or video footage and say THANK YOU...because now I know that it was boring, messy, or actually quite nice. *gasp*
It's dancing - it's expression - not every conversation is meant to be a concise haiku. I will maintain the freestyle dance exercise in class where we improv non-belly dance moves on the fly...where some moves totally flop...and we have a blast. But I don't know this song, I don't know what to do...wait for it, I *will* catch this beat and step-touch my way out of this rhythmic black hole! We all get to play Zumba instructor for a moment. Sometimes we do it before technique drills, sometimes at the end of a series of drills. This simple thing has encouraged more smiling and less thinking while dancing. Let me note that I took a huge risk in introducing this concept to my students...but it works really well for intermediate-advanced level students. And now they request it. "success!"
Freestyle failure. Yes. That balance of knowing what I'm doing when I don't know what I'm doing. Taking risks and learning from mistakes over and over again (there are real studies on this) develop us much further than staying within our boundaries.
It's time to expand the realm and consider that it might be ok to not have it all figured out before we begin a project, a class, or a career. After all, I tell my new students that it took me a year to be fairly bad at belly dancing. Many of my lesson plans are based on things I wished I figured out earlier. And I like learning from people who share those stories, too - why do we forget this approachable-accommodating thing about humans? Accomplished dancers, artists, people of any profession...are often interviewed about how they made lots of mistakes, learned from them...and keep going back for more.
Here's a picture of me starting /risking a 'zipper' layback - onstage at an arts festival. Totally stepped on my skirt getting up...there were maybe 30 people in the audience, mostly complete strangers, one student friend, and my troupe mate's family. Somehow, it was super fun to lay backwards towards the floor, turn my head to smile at Rita in the audience...while completely unsure of which 'getting up' method would be used. I have been practicing this since January (my 30 day challenge!) where I knew I was strong enough to get down and up again - a few times in a row. I just hadn't done it in public, aside from the dance studio entrance. After that lesson, I've got a pretty good idea on how try it again. <3