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Mind the Gap

Mind the Gap

I cringe a little in my seat as my top line wavers yet again on the laptop screen. Keep working on frame, goes at the bottom of my ever-growing to-do list of dance. I queue up the foxtrot and prepare to write on a new line. I’m never advancing as quickly as I’d like, and every lesson opens my eyes to all of the things I still do not know and cannot demonstrate.

What I’d like to talk about this month is hardly new. In fact, if you’d like to listen to someone speak much more eloquently about the topic, just click play on Ira Glass: The Gap, a wonderful little two minute video. Go ahead and do it, I’ll wait until you’re back.

As dancers, all of us have ambitions. We all pick that Championship-level dancer who we want to grow up to be, or that social dancer who never seems to miss a beat. Evaluating and enjoying the performances of others, we develop a taste for dance as discerning as the palate of any professional chef.

That makes watching ourselves hard. When you know where you’re going it is too often terribly disparaging to see where you’re at. The peak of the mountain is so far away and you’ve made what feels like zero progress. Surely it would be easier to give up now.

Don’t give up! This is the gap. If you don’t mind it carefully, you’ll be swallowed right up.

While it’s important to have an idea of where you’d like to go, a goal, it’s equally important to give yourself credit for where you have been. If you’re lucky enough to have video from your first few months of dancing, go back and laugh! Revel in the accomplishments you’ve made so far. If you’re in your first few months of dance, take videos and save them. Delayed gratification is the name of the game.

Ballroom dancing is largely a body of work to be done. Every time you get out on the dance floor your body learns something new about how it moves. You can accelerate improvement with good coaching and focused practice, but none of that can be done from your armchair. No matter how many times you watch Mirko and Edita’s half natural you will not get any closer to it until you stand up and try.

Those first few tries are going to suck. Majorly. And the next few hundred aren’t going to feel significantly better from one to the next. But over time you will improve. Are you where you want to be yet? No, but I’d be willing to bet you that Mirko and Edita aren’t either. We can still understand dancing that is far above the level we can demonstrate ourselves. This is an important and often unacknowledged point, so I’ll say it again. We can understand dancing that is far above the level we can demonstrate ourselves.

An interesting corollary of this thought: each of us is surrounded by potential coaches. It does not take more than a few months of training to spot a sloppy promenade or a missed heel-lead. In fact, sometimes those struggling with a particular piece of technique are the most qualified to teach it. If you’ve been told one-hundred-and-one ways to correct your posture you’ll have a lot to choose from when asked! Those who are trained as instructors will always be your best bet, but heir expertise can often be augmented by your peers.

Back to Ira. “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.”

Be patient. Dance reveals itself over time, and when you enjoy the movement and feeling of dance, practicing, and even the drills, can become an end in itself. Keep developing your taste and using it to chart your path, slowly but surely, to where you’d like to go.

I’ll see you there! Until then, mind the gap.

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