It’s Ok to Stumble. Just Keep Dancing.

Before I jump into today’s topic, I want to say Happy New Year, dancers! I hope your New Year’s celebrations were fun and safe.

My first lesson after the first pandemic lockdown started with a solo dance. I hadn’t danced in a studio for 3.5 months and the first thing Teacher and I did was dance Open Waltz apart. I was actually pleasantly surprised to see how much of the routine I remembered.

For the last couple years, Teacher has made me dance a solo dance or even an entire solo round at the beginning of almost every lesson, especially when we were getting close to a competition. I hated it. I got so embarrassed when I would lose my balance or forget my steps. It fed into my self-doubt and anxiety around my abilities as a dancer. But over time, it was also incredibly effective at improving my dancing.

Coming back to the studio after such a long hiatus, I realized I didn’t hate it anymore. I’m not sure I would go as far to say that I enjoy it, but dancing my routines solo has become a standard part of my training. I guess you could say I appreciate what I know it can do for me. Even before the pandemic hit, I had developed a “ready or not” attitude about solo rounds during my lessons. Teacher would ask me if I was ready and I would say “let’s find out!”

To be clear, I still stumble, lose my balance or forget my steps. I didn’t stop hating dancing solo in front of Teacher because I stopped making mistakes. I stopped hating the mistakes.

Instead of seeing stumbles as fatal errors, I began to see them as alerts that something was off and needed an adjustment. Instead of berating myself for screwing up a turn, I’d try it again at a slower pace, checking off my mental list to figure out where things went wrong. Forgetting a section of Foxtrot doesn’t make me an idiot; I just need to back up a few steps and let the brain and body communicate. If it’s still not coming to me, then perfect. Now we know that section needs further review.

I also give circumstances credit where credit is due. If I’m running late to the studio and jump into a solo round right after throwing on my dance shoes with no warmup, feeling off-balance certainly doesn’t indicate that I’m a terrible dancer. I just wasn’t warmed up properly.

You can get some of these alerts dancing with a partner, but more often than not, your partner will end up covering up or compensating for your mistakes, especially when you’re the student and your partner is your teacher. Solo dancing, whether in lessons or your own practice, is so important for identifying where you’re strong in your dancing and where you still need some work.

I share this as we enter the new year because as you set goals and reset your dance journey for 2021, I want you to know that it’s ok if you stumble or lose your balance. It doesn’t make you a failure or a bad dancer. It makes you a human dancer, and if you keep going, it makes you a resilient dancer.

To finish, I thought I’d share a potentially incredibly embarrassing video of me dancing my Open Viennese Waltz on my own as a group class was starting, circa October 2019.

Solo Viennese Waltz, October 30, 2019

All of the elements of humiliation were there. I was stumbling and forgetting my steps. The teacher of the class had the group hold for a minute while I danced through, ensuring all eyes were on me. My own teacher was recording.

Yes, I was uncomfortable and a little embarrassed that I wasn’t dancing better while everyone was watching. But I kept dancing. That dance was my time to work through the choreography to music, not to impress the other dancers in the studio. It doesn’t look impressive or even pretty. It wasn’t supposed to because I wasn’t at the impressive or pretty stage of dancing that routine.

If you make any changes or improvements to your dance training this year, I encourage you to make one of them solo dancing. Practice dancing on your own. It may not look very good at first, but over time, everyone will be impressed at how your dancing improves.

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