A dream of mine has always been to perform. I’ve tried in different capacities over the years, but unfortunately, for multiple reasons, after high school I was unable to audition for any particularly big roles. That’s fine; ensemble is fun in its own way, and I enjoy performing, especially when I’m able to do my best.
As an attempt to give this love more attention, I’m trying to focus more on my dancing. Over the years, I’ve taken a LOT of beginner classes: jazz, belly-dancing, salsa, ballroom, Latin ballroom, swing, flamenco, etc. I’ve also gotten exposure to dances like Bhangra and the Bollywood style of dance thanks to the clubs I’ve joined and the friends I’ve had. I’ve been taking Irish dancing for a year and a half, and I’m definitely getting better; I’m also looking for an adult folklorico dance class because I’d really like to get more in touch with my family’s culture. I want yet another dance class, though, something less traditional and more modern, so I’m searching for one more.
I took an Intermediate Broadway Jazz class today. Why intermediate and not beginner? Well, the time was perfect – I could easily make it from work – and I thought, well, I know which foot is my left and which is my right, and am a fairly fast learner, so I’ll be pretty decent at it, right? A friend who has gone to this class in the past assured me that it’d be fine, and went with me so we could keep each other company.
There are few experiences more humbling than a dance class that goes too fast.
We spent way more time on the warm-up than I expected, and it involved way more conditioning than I thought it would. (Not a bad thing, but I wasn’t expecting 4-5 minutes of pure abs!) I’m not as flexible as I’d like to be, but I do want to regain some of my former flexibility, so that’s fine. Some of the warmups were very graceful and new to me, but I caught on fine despite the fact that you couldn’t hear the guy over the music. I got through the 20-30 minute warm-up and was ready to go.
Then we started, and I frantically turned to my friend. “Did we miss a class?”
“We must have,” she said anxiously. “He doesn’t usually go this fast…does he?”
He would go through a 16 count once or twice and had us practice it multiple times in a space of maybe 3 minutes; he then did this multiple times until we had about 30 seconds worth of dancing. This was done at a very quick pace, and when we were done, he said, “Oh, the music goes faster than this.” I exchanged a glance with my friend. HOW was I going to remember all these steps??
He turned the music on, and then…I proceeded to forget half the steps. We went through it a few times, and then he divided us into 3 groups and had each group perform on its own. While I spent some of that time intently studying the best dancers in the class (they danced as if they had known the steps for weeks), I spent the rest of the time either worrying about how foolish I’d look or looking foolish. I knew I improved each time I did it, and while it was encouraging to know I was getting it, I still hoped that no one was watching me. On our last try as a full class I attempted the cartwheel in the first 16 counts (“I can do a cartwheel!” I thought, “I’ve been doing them since I was 7!”) and I failed it. It was a miserable cartwheel, so terribly done that I met the instructor’s eyes as I landed and we both burst into laughter as I struggled through the rest of the dance.
I asked him later if class always went that quickly, and he said yes. I asked about the beginner class, he gave me the day and time, and I realized that it overlapped with work. He said I did a great job, which I took with a pound of salt. And then he said, just as he was leaving, that if a dance class was easy for me, I wasn’t supposed to be there.
Later, a friend on Facebook who used to dance in high school said the same thing. You learn to spot steps faster, she said, when they’re taught too fast for you. I believe them, as this is true of almost everything: you can’t improve if you don’t try something that’s hard. In Irish dance, easy steps have been a place to work on my technique. Since the steps are easy, I can do them on autopilot and tell myself, “Better turnout when you land! Kick your butt! Hold your jump a beat longer!” But I don’t grow as a dancer until I learn a dance that’s even harder than the last, with quicker steps, faster trebles, and more demands. The main difference here, though, is in Irish dancing I am learning new ways to move my feet, and the speed at which I learn these steps matters less than doing them right. In Intermediate Broadway Jazz, I’m trying to remember steps I haven’t done in years as fast as possible.
It’s true what they’ve said: I’ll learn more and faster if I choose something that’s not easy. It’s important that I remember that, because for the last year and a half, I’ve not been challenged by anything outside of Irish dance class, a few cosplays I’ve made, or that long war story I’ve been writing. I haven’t grown, and this is why. I haven’t put myself in a sink or swim situation in a long time, and so I’ve been mostly treading water and getting nowhere because of it.
Am I going to stick with this class? I don’t know yet. Despite the paragraph I just wrote, I’m also aware that if something’s too hard you can’t really learn anything other than barely surviving (thanks, quidditch, for that lesson). There are other classes at that studio I’m interested in that may suit my skill level just a shade more, such as Beginner Hip Hop. (Am I beginner? We’ll find out Monday!) My friend and I will shop around a bit before choosing and see if there’s a style and speed that will produce the best results.
But who knows? Maybe I’ll end up sticking with this one and end up being able to keep up. We’ll see. But Lord knows I’m not meant to be a professional ensemble dancer anytime soon…