My Process for Learning “Post-Basics”

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.


3 thoughts on “My Process for Learning “Post-Basics”

  1. D_Wall says:

    I was thinking about your post tonight during group class. The early part of the group class was easy. I could watch and replicate so I was more of a visual learner. But then I hit a step where I just couldn’t figure out the rotation by watching. Fortunately, an instructor rotated back to me and worked me through it and then I got it. So I’m probably mostly a visual learner but for some things I absolutely have to do it.
    I’ve said much of what you’ve written to myself as well. Silver patterns are more difficult but that just makes the pay off that much sweeter when you nail one.

    Liked by 1 person

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