Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Mirror

When I was beginning my business, I had a woman come to the studio who very challengingly said to me, “I’ve been dancing since I was three.  Am I going to like this class?  What’s your background?”  OK, background?  Um, nothing, zero, I have no background.  I was an Avonette in high school—that’s my “background.” 

My “not-good-enough” thing came screaming to the surface causing me to immediately feel intimidated and thought, “She’s going to absolutely hate this class, because it’ll never be good enough for someone who’s danced her whole life.”  

I was nervous beginning that class and then I realized something.  This woman really wasn’t a great dancer.  I don’t say that to insult her, but to illustrate what I started to understand.

She was my mirror.  She was insecure about her own ability and reflected that onto me.  I let myself be put on the defensive, too, reflecting back to her my own insecurity. 

If I were a secure, confident person, this woman’s attitude wouldn’t have bothered me for an instant.  And if she hated my class, I would understand that the class just wasn’t for her, instead of taking it personally. And if I were really an evolved person, I might have realized she was feeling insecure and taken steps to assuage her fear. 

Shrinks call this “projection.”  In life, it means that someone who really bothers you, I mean really bothers you, is exhibiting qualities that you possess yourself and don’t consciously recognize.  If you can understand that your strong feelings are indicative of something you don’t like in yourself, you can take steps toward your own emotional growth.    

Instead of getting stuck in defensiveness, we can recognize those strong feelings for what they are.  This person is your mirror and your teacher. Further, we are all mirrors for each other. 

We are all pretty much struggling with similar issues. If we choose to look beyond our initial upset, we can dance alongside each other appreciating and celebrating our similarities and differences.

When we can understand this, we can cut others some slack and, in doing this, we also give ourselves a break. 

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Ooooooh! Look at the Shiny Object!

Look at this shiny thing over there, so you don’t notice this other thing over here!

That works with our small children, significant others, bosses, and sometimes, even ourselves.

It works in dance, too.

I was nursing an inflamed Achilles tendon.  So, I was not able to leap using my right foot.  (I hate that.) Because the teacher is in front of the class, everyone (consciously and unconsciously) agrees that the teacher is the leader.  If I am less energetic, it can spread to the class.  Since there is that give and take in dance class, I don’t like to slow it down; not only for the clients, but for me, too.

When I am supposed to leap using my right foot, I find something to substitute for the fact that I cannot leap.  Instead of focusing on what’s wrong (sore tendon), I focus on what’s right.

When I “faux” leap I can:

Lift my arms in a different way.
Try to open my chest and shoulders more.
Open my left hip more.
Try (try) to decrease the distance between the back of my head and my left foot.

Doing these things distracts me from not being able to come off the floor but also leads me to new discoveries. It makes me come at the movement from a different perspective and that helps me to find new avenues of creativity within the dance.  And I can continue with these new discoveries even when my tendon has healed.

If you are frustrated by something over which you have no control, you can try to focus on something over which you do have control.  You can try to find the joy somewhere. In finding something that is positive, you can often find new ways of being.  Admittedly, sometimes life throws us devastating blows and we really have to lower the bar to define what, in fact, is the “joy”.  But even “I’m not dead” is a start toward focusing on what’s good.  

So go ahead---look at the shiny object.  It may lead you to an exciting, unexpected destination or even a discovery about yourself.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

It's Not about You

On Saturday, I had an unusually large class.  I got really rattled by this for some reason and started messing up the choreography.  Fortunately, my clients have a great sense of humor and know we are dancing for fun, not to judge one another.  I had to mentally slap myself around and thought, “This is not about me!”  After that, I was fine.  And it isn’t about me.  I am just presenting a dance class that can be interpreted by anyone who is participating in any way that works for them.  I am inviting people to “come along.” 

I get worried when there are a lot of new people, and can’t help fretting.  Will they like it?  Will they come back?  I try to remind myself that not everyone, after all, is going to like my class. A client’s reaction is based on individual factors.  There’s only so much I can do.  

This reminds me of times when I mistakenly thought something was about me.  I was in a serious relationship with a man who seemed to have real problems with anyone I had a relationship with “apart” from him.  In other words, if he was not an original participant in the relationship, he didn’t like it. 

He acted out with surly, pouty behavior if, for instance, my family was visiting.  It was mortifying.  We were camping on a mountain with my relatives and I was seriously considering either jumping myself or pushing him off of it.  It was one of those “How-can-I-fake-my-own death- and-get-out-of-this-easily” kind of feelings.

I was angry, but thought I could “fix” it.  So I tried everything I could think of: talking about the situation; trying to bring him into the conversation more; ignoring him completely; getting really angry; showering him with attention.

NOTHING “worked.”  I finally realized that this behavior by my boyfriend had absolutely nothing to do with me!  I had no power over anyone.  I only had power over my own behavior.  Obviously, the relationship did not survive.  And I didn’t have to change my identity.

The point is: we are who we are.  When we present a dance class, a report at work, a piece of art, we have put our truth into it.  We can only do our best.  We are responsible for how we give a message, but we are not responsible and have no control over how a person reacts to our message.

The good news is: it is not always your responsibility or your fault.  In fact, it is probably not really about you at all.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Core Scenes and "Help Me Rhonda"

In class, when I do a song that I’ve done a lot, it becomes ingrained in me, almost a conditioned response.  This is a good thing because even if my brain doesn’t remember the movement, my body will.  When the movement is so deep-rooted, I can present it with confidence and give direction much better.  On the other hand, if I want to change something in the choreography, in the moment I do the change, I totally forget what comes next.  It’s as if doing something new changes the rest of the choreography in my brain and body.  I can find myself in front of a class and sense that everything is about to come to a screeching halt.  So I have to fake it.  But that can actually take me in a new direction and require me to look at an old routine from a new perspective. 

This reminds me of what therapists call “core scenes.”  A core scene is a negative interaction you have in a relationship that happens time and again.  It’s so predictable that it’s almost scripted.  Here’s one I remember from high school: 

I was friends with a couple (Jack and Linda), two of the nicest people you’d ever want to meet.  Even though it was 1975, Jack had a real connection to the music of the 50’s and 60’s.  He particularly loved the Beach Boys.  Before Jack and Linda started dating, Jack had a girlfriend named Rhonda of whom Linda was very jealous.  Whenever there was a party, there was of course a lot of Iron City beer.  After a few drinks, whenever the song “Help Me Rhonda” came on, Jack would replace the phrase, “Help me Rhonda, help me get her out of my heart” with “Help me Rhonda, help me get her out of my pants.”  This would send Linda into a violent rage, and the scene would usually end in either tears or physical altercations.  At any party, it wasn’t a question of if this would happen, but when.  Jack just couldn’t help himself.  It happened every time. 

This kind of thing happens to us all.  He says something totally incendiary.  You respond in kind.  It’s like a conditioned response, and you just can’t help yourself.  You say what you always say because this time he’ll hear you!  This time he’ll understand. Yes, well, we’ve all been there, and it doesn’t work.  You end up exactly where you were the last time you had this argument.

Actually, all you have to do is change one thing.  Altering just one response will change the outcome.  You have to decide that you don’t have to “win.”  In these core scenes, no one is winning.  The change doesn’t have to be you surrendering, either.  All that is required is a different response. 

Just like in dance, one change can transform the whole thing and point you in a direction you would never have imagined was possible.