Everyone learns in their own way. Some learn by doing, others by taking notes. Some are visual learners and others are auditory. I think I’m a combination of methods. But as I learn more about the silver level of ballroom and more advanced ballroom technique, I’m noticing my internal learning process is a little more complicated than when I was just learning bronze and the basics.
Warning, I drop a few F bombs in this post.
When I’m learning something new, my main emotion is excitement. Learning is fun! I start with a blank slate essentially, so no past experiences to compare to or color my learnings. It’s all new, so it’s all positive, even my mistakes. Because I haven’t learned what is right or wrong yet. I pick things up quickly and so there is near-instant gratification as I do learn what is right. Apply this to something I’m passionate about, like ballroom dance, and I’m on a cloud nine of new knowledge.
Fast forward to where I am now on my ballroom journey. My bronze basics are solid, my technique is pretty good, and people tell me I look like I know what I’m doing. I can dance! So what happens when Teacher introduces a new concept for silver?
If it’s a brand new step, I start out in the “excited to learn something new” state. Then, because I’m used to being able to catch on quickly, if the step proves challenging, I quickly get frustrated with myself. It’s those darn expectations built up from the past experiences of learning the easier bronze steps. At least Teacher is amused when I blurt out “fuck!” in the middle of attempting and failing to dance the new step with him.
If Teacher is focusing on technique, my initial thought is “shit, what did I fuck up now?” For some reason, I expect myself to fully grasp technique concepts that take years to master when they’re first introduced to me. Even when it’s just the general concept that is introduced, as a foundation to build on later. When the topic is brought up again, and especially if Teacher changes how he wants me to do something, I get mad at myself for not already knowing how to do it right. Even though I was doing it right before, based on the knowledge I had, and now Teacher is just building onto that foundation.
I put an incredible amount of pressure on myself to get something right when it’s first introduced to me and to not mess it up once I feel I have it down. So when my human-ness comes out and I forget to hold my core in or keep my chest up, I’m pretty harsh with myself. The not-so-friendly neighborhood demons want to know what the fuck is wrong with me, why can’t I get this right? I also hate feeling like I’m wasting my and Teacher’s time by forcing him to repeat himself. But repetition is part of learning, isn’t it?
Having high expectations of myself is a good thing. To a point. High expectations make me work hard and push myself to keep improving. I have to remember to give myself a break though, when I don’t always meet those expectations. Getting frustrated is ok too, it’s a sign of how deeply I care about what I’m doing. But if I don’t feel that sense of satisfaction when I finally figure out whatever is giving me problems, then I’ll know I’m being too hard on myself. I was so very frustrated that I couldn’t dance the beginning part of my silver foxtrot routine by myself. Then finally I figured it out and could at least walk through the steps. Progress! I got back to that feeling of excitement. Nevermind that I then forgot the beginning of the waltz! Apparently, the space in my brain is getting full. But I digress.
The point is the more I learn, the higher my expectations of myself go. Which is fine, as long as I use them to push myself instead of punish. Learning the basics is a different process than learning the more advanced stuff. Advanced stuff won’t click as quickly. It will take more time to work into my muscle memory. And I will probably forget about some of the basics while I’m focused on the advanced. None of these facts mean I’m stupid or a failure or just not good enough for anything above bronze. These are reminders for myself. Feel free to use them too.