The Freedom to Suck at Something

The Freedom to Suck at Something November 2, 2016

Imagine being the worst dancer in the classroom… but nobody makes a point of rubbing it in your face. What strange utopia is this?

Me on stage at Tribal Revolution 2016. Photo by Carrie Meyer of The Dancer's Eye.
Me on stage at Tribal Revolution 2016. Photo by Carrie Meyer of The Dancer’s Eye.

Spoiler: it’s Tribal Revolution, a belly dance event I attended in June.

First, some background: I like to pick up and learn new props, like mini hoops, which I’m admittedly not very good at despite working on for almost two years now. But hey, the first time I picked up mini hoops I gave myself a bloody lip by bashing myself in the face with one, and I haven’t done that in a while.

Progress is slow, but it’s still progress. And recognizing that progress is inevitable even when you feel like you suck at something is one of the most important ways to convince yourself to keep practicing.

As I wrote about doing a 30-Day Hot Yoga Challenge (which I’m also doing again right now):

When I do yoga, I’m reminded of how much I have yet to learn… and the fact that it’s okay to be a perpetual beginner. I think it’s good for me to have a regular practice that involves both mind and body that is explicitly NOT about achievement, goals, and status. Because while I love building the local tribal belly dance community (which relies on me promoting myself as a competent teacher/performer hence all that achievement/goal/status stuff coming into play), I like having other modes of exploring what my body can do.

It’s a similar feeling with the other modes of dance I explore (like aerial dance, at which I’m totally a perpetual beginner), a sort of low-pressure way of exploring my body and the kinds of art I want to do.

The reason I mention Tribal Revolution specifically in this post is that it’s freaking bizarre for me to attend a belly dance event and feel safe making beginner-level mistakes. I mean, I’ve been belly dancing for over 17 years. I’m a certified ATS® teacher. I’ve built up a troupe (a nice one, if I may say so) and I have my professional image to consider.

And yet, there I was, in a hotel ballroom with a couple dozen people, failing to learn and keep up with a tribal fusion choreography. It was awkward and glorious all at once. Everyone would be on the beat, and I’d be off it. All I could do was laugh and shake my head, and try again, knowing that I probably wouldn’t nail it the next time either.

(You’ll recall that I primarily teach and perform American Tribal Style®, which is based on collective improvisation, so I basically stopped exercising the part of my brain that is capable of learning choreography – so when I try to learn choreography it’s a mess.)

I didn’t actually fall or stub a toe, but man, I sucked at learning that choreography. And in other workshops, too, I was slow to pick up concepts, or I started combinations on the wrong foot. And none of it mattered, except insofar as I let it matter.

It’s easy for semi-pro dancers to become very image-oriented, especially when we’re trying to attract students or get gigs. Taking workshops at Tribal Rev that shook me up and tossed me into the deep end of the parts of belly dance I don’t visit very often, and it was a welcome reminder that there’s still a ton left to explore in this dance form. Further, I was reminded that it’s okay for me to make these forays into unfamiliar territory, and have humbling experiences, because I don’t have to be on top of my game in every single thing I do.

So, I’m grateful to the organizers of dance events like Tribal Rev for creating spaces where it’s okay to suck at something. I intend to keep hurling myself into these situations for as long as I’m able, and I encourage fellow dancers and artists to do the same.

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