human, being


My arrogance and insecurity, exposed
May 12, 2009, 2:25 pm
Filed under: salsa dancing | Tags: , ,

Last night I attended the first class for the salsa performance group I’ve joined. When I walked in, I realized I knew all the guys, having danced with them frequently at the DNote or La Rumba. I had to laugh at the universe’s joke: I don’t generally like dancing with any of them.

  • A is so stiff it’s hard to have fun. I feel like I’m in a straight jacket, and these hips were meant for moving. He’s oh-so-serious. I want to shake him and tell him to loosen up!
  • M never dances on time, and since I suck at following when someone isn’t on time, I generally avoid him. In fact, a few weeks ago I warned a couple of friends away from him.
  • E is a decent dancer, but he’s so in his head, thinking of patterns, that I have to concentrate really hard to catch his leads.

One of these guys will become my dance partner for the foreseeable future. Each of them poses a challenge for me to get over myself and follow, which is something I struggle to do. I back-lead a lot, and that’s a horrible, arrogant habit to have. Also, I have to get over my preconceived notions about just how good I am–read, how it’s their fault, not mine–and that all I’m there to do is learn choreography and perform.

My teacher is Bridget Ellis. She’s the only instructor in Denver I’ve not taken classes with, and after last night, I’m so happy I get to learn from her. Like most of the other salsa instructors I’ve taken class from, she’s very laid back. However, she’s very perceptive and seems to have no issues with offering constructive criticism–some of which was (gasp) DIRECTED AT ME last night.

Now, anyone who knows me well understands that I’m not the best at accepting any criticism, let alone direct, specific criticism.  I know, I know, I’ve said I’m in this class to learn how to be a better dancer, which means receiving and absorbing constructive criticism.

For the next several weeks, we’re working on fundamentals, both in basics like footwork and intermediate patterns. Last night, we worked on having us girls stop anticipating the guy’s next move (a great way of back-leading) by hesitating slightly on the 3 and 7 counts.

Here’s evidence that Bridget is a great teacher: not only did this slight hesitation eliminate my back-leading immediately, I also felt so much more grounded in my steps. It’ll take practice to incorporate this miniscule adjustment into my social dancing, but I can tell already that doing so will completely change how I dance (for the better). Us girls often spend most of a song in OH CRAP WHAT’S COMING NEXT mode. It’s hard to pay attention to a guy’s lead (it’s supposed to be all in the fingertips) if you’re all up in your head AND panicking.

We also worked on cross-body leads, getting the guys’ footwork stronger. Finally, we worked on back-spot turns, a move I can do but have always felt off balance doing. Here’s where Bridget’s constructive criticism came in:

She watched me dance with A, then pulled me aside to do the step with me. Then she said that I feel like I’m a bit out of control, like she’s fighting against me. OK, yep that’s exactly how I feel. This turn uses a lot of centrifugal force to happen, and the way most guys do it, I have to lean away just to keep my feet.

She did the move with me 3 times, then diagnosed what I need to do to fix it. It’s a simple matter of transferring my weight into my partner and making sure my hips and shoulders stay square to his as we turn. Simpler to explain than to break the current bad habit of leaning away.

As she spoke, part of my brain was rebelling. What? I’m perfect, what are you talking about? My reaction was to feel like a failure because I didn’t do this one move perfectly. My brain even suggested that I quit right then and there (so I smothered it with a pillow).

It’s all part of the disease called perfectionism: I know I’m a great dancer, and my perfectionism causes me to think that means I don’t need to improve.  It also causes me to want to quit if someone suggests I’m not perfect. So I’m both arrogant and insecure at the same time.

I’ve been asking the universe for growth for a while now, and this situation just goes to show that you can’t grow in environments where everything is comfortable for you. It will be interesting to see how I change my attitude over the coming months.