dance — an update

Two classes left before Christmas break. (See my August post, if you’re wondering what this is about.)

There’s a pattern to trying the new. Week One, there’s a straightforward anxiety…and age brings to that the knowledge that you’re allowed to look like an idiot at that one point! Which is a relief. But even if you are an idiot, it’s good to be an idiot who is trying.

I followed the dance steps as best I could…but the turns that we did that first class were ‘outside’ turns, which always feel very awkward to me in my left-handedness. (Left-handeds spin naturally clockwise on their right legs…at least, that was my experience in my brief time in figure-skating–also “old” at 13/14.)

So I wimped out on the turns! Wimped out in week two, too. And that second class doesn’t come with the “first-time-and-allowed-to-look-like-an-idiot” card. I had to ask why am I doing this, and what do I want from it? What is the worst that can happen if I put myself into a turn? Stop halfway? Keep going? Go until I’m dizzy and fall over? What would happen if I fell over? What would happen if I laughed about it…and WHY am I so serious?? Ah. Maybe that’s the question.

Week Three. I felt like quitting. I’m in a class with two young women who have danced forever, and are now in college and want to keep up one night a week for fun. The town I live in is so small that it is impossible to run a true “adult beginner” class…because no one will be in it. Except for me, it seems. And I don’t want to drive into the city. Can’t justify time and gas when there’s something in my community to work with and support.

How does a dance class work? First half hour–at least–is grueling warm-up. Without the past year of yoga, I’d be dead. I’m still dead. By the time we start the second half hour, my core is lying on the floor, doing floppy-wristed sign language: “Why??”

And the next fifteen minutes is spent in moving back and forth across the floor, working on steps and jumps. I watch the young dancers go ahead of me, and then I’m partnered with the teacher, usually with a simpler version. I am grateful for the fun nature of the teacher, and for the acceptance of the young women. I will say that: each week I am grateful for that.

The final fifteen minutes is time to dance. That is Terror Time. And yes, week 3 was the make-or-break. Some thoughts about this: turn off the critical mind. Stop thinking about what EXACTLY I’m doing, and do what I see the others doing…except I know mine doesn’t look like that. Oops, turn that off. Because I do think and over-think. I live in my head. How useful is the head? Not very, more often than not.

Week 5 I didn’t feel well at all and stayed on the couch…and missed it! That was a turning point. Then twice this term the two classmates have been ill or unable to make it and I’ve ended up with one-on-one time. That has helped my over-thinking, and given me time to know that THIS is what is happening in a step. And caused me to feel more confident in the watch-and-follow of the other weeks.

So almost made it through the term. What stands out? My need to focus COMPLETELY for the entire hour, on NOTHING BUT DANCE. At the same time, as well as focusing, I need to let go. An image of two reins to guide a horse comes to my mind…so this simultaneous focus and letting go works in tandem.

Writing was like that, at some point—the focus thing. As an artist who has been practicing for years, it is critical to remember this. But it has all the slipperiness of meditation. Maybe “clear focus”–no slippery stuff–can be the goal.

I asked one of the dancers this week, about her need to focus. She said she’s been in competition, and found herself thinking about what’s for dinner. Muscle memory, she says.

But my focus wavers, and I’m suddenly on the wrong foot. There’s a short-lived rush of humility, then the push to keep going, find the right foot. Hear the music over the sudden roar in the ears; care terribly and not too much. Forget the head and feel it.