Friday 13 November 2015

Pushing our limits and the problem with comfortable

A few things have happened recently which got me thinking about comfort zones and learning, potential and achievement.

- I took a workshop with Heather Stants, who teaches very contemporary influenced fusion, a style which I find challenging to the point that I had previously concluded it "wasn't for me".

- A new student told me that she struggled with footwork and stated that she was slow at learning it.

- A prospective student asked if she would be able to perform in future.

When I started bellydance, one of the reasons I chose this particular form was because I believed that I had two left feet. I thought I couldn't handle footwork and I thought that bellydance didn't involve footwork.

I was wrong on both these counts.

It's taken years, but the greatest obstacle has not been my physical capability to move one foot and then the next without tripping over, it has been the mental understanding that it is OK to not get it first time, or second time, or the 50th time...

Dancing in Heather's workshop, I was trying to get my head/body around a combination that was all arms and legs and totally outside my comfort zone. I found myself thinking "this is hard", "I'm not good at this sort of thing", "I'm not getting this".

Then I mentally slapped myself around the face with a wet fish and told myself to sort it out. What I was experiencing wasn't being unable to do something, it was being unable to do something YET, and we have all experienced that with absolutely everything we can now do and take for granted. Every dance step we know, walking, talking, breathing. Not being able to do something does not mean never being able to do it, and it is not a good enough reason to give up.

If it frightens you, do it - Amanda Palmer

Your comfort zone is not where the good stuff happens. If you are comfortable doing something then you already know how to do it, so you aren't learning, you aren't progressing, you aren't growing.

It's OK to be uncomfortable. We live in a privileged world with constant progress towards making our lives easier, more convenient, more comfortable, and I think that sometimes we forget what it means to fight for something, to suffer because we know the reward will be worthwhile. There is not instant gratification for an artist, you have to sweat through the process.

Don't be afraid to get uncomfortable, you are safe. It's OK to be frustrated, it's OK to feel like your brain is overloaded, its OK if your muscles are struggling, if you are out of breath. It's all part of the process, this is what really living feels like.

The vast majority of my beginning students tell me that they are no good with footwork. I'm not sure why this is the case, perhaps it is because so much of the raqs sharqui vocabulary is so alien to those from a Western background, that they have no preconceptions, or take it for granted that it will be a struggle, but the feet? They assume that you either have it or you don't.

I have seen students begin the term falling over their own feet, but in 6-10 weeks, their grapevine, step touch and rocking step is second nature. If you can nail any one of those, you can nail any other step pattern. It's just a question of doing it over and over, slowly until it gets into your body. It will always be hard to start with, it will be automatic by the time you are done. Just don't give up before you get there.

The answer to the potential student's question is yes. You will be able to perform in time, if you put the work in. It may well be a couple of years, and I know that is daunting. When I first started out, I remember reading somewhere on Bhuz that one can expect to be at beginner level for around 2 years. A beginner? For 2 whole years? That seems like a long time when you have been dancing for 2 whole months! Well, time has flown and the more I dance, the more like a beginner I feel, and that's a good thing because it is merely an indicator of the immense amount of amazing dance experiences there are out there for the taking.

I do push my students, I am fairly unapologetic about it too! I won't throw them in the deep end (although I might encourage them to try the water just so they know how it feels), and I won't ask them to do anything they don't have the technical foundation to attempt safely. But I'm definitely not going to let them come back week after week dancing the same old material without testing their boundaries and trying new things. It's my responsibility as a facilitator of their dance journey to give them opportunities to test their limits and grow to meet their personal potential.

Naturally, I have to set the example by trying new styles, techniques and concepts. And when the going gets tough, I'll grit my teeth and get stuck in.

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