I vividly remember the very first time I actually hated dance class. It was in modern dance and we were told to dance like a leaf. My eyes rolled to the back of my head so hard I could have given Linda Blair a run for her money in the Exorcist. I grudgingly trudged diagonally across the room, while my dance teacher yelled “BE MORE LEAF LIKE”! I felt self-conscious, uncomfortable and really stupid.
I recognize the look now. I see the furrowing of the brows, the tightening of the lips and the tensing of the body. The look on her face shows concentration and frustration. I know this expression and it’s not good. After two classes she tells me she will not be returning. As a dance teacher I see many faces come and go. For some people the timing doesn’t work out, for others life gets in the way, some are just curious and then there are the ones that just give up.
Photo: Michelle Bellydance graciously agreed to let me her awkward photo. Photos by Jeanie Lewis.
There are two ways to handle defeat, you can lose confidence and quit, or you can choose to embrace the challenge and grow from it. For some people that feeling of uneasiness that comes with learning something new is uncomfortable enough to keep them from returning to class. However, when you learn something new it’s normal to feel awkward and it’s expected to make mistakes.
Several years ago when I was studying karate I spent more time doing push ups than katas because I kept forgetting the moves! I wanted to quit so bad! However, I decided to stick through with it until the series end. I had made a commitment to myself that once I started something I would finish it. I only made it to a yellow belt before life as a grad student took over. However, the experience taught me to stick with something long enough to learn the basics before quitting. This ensures that I don’t let the feelings of awkwardness in being a newbie take over my determination and confidence. Time, practice and patience are rewarded with gradual improvement and improved confidence.
I’ve learned that the feeling of awkwardness that comes with learning something new is a way in which to grow beyond my existing framework. It challenges my skills and I find learning something new as a source of inspiration that keeps me from settling into the same routine.
I understand now there was no wrong or right way to be a leaf, but rather the purpose of the exercise was to have us let go of our inhibitions and be comfortable with doing something outside our norm.
So if you ever find yourself in class feeling dumb, awkward and clumsy realize that it’s okay! It’s part of the learning process, stick with it and eventually it will get better and just be glad you’re not being made to dance like a leaf!