Sunday, October 28, 2012


I was a student in a dance class in which the teacher did not encourage joy and self-expression, but instead created competition and feelings of inadequacy.  When I was in college I paid for a series of Modern dance classes, which wasn’t easy for me financially.  The teacher had us do a specific movement across the floor.  When I was done, she looked at me and said, “And you -- this isn’t a jazz class!”  Mortified, I left and never went back.   I didn’t have any confidence and that incident leeched out any that I might have had.  So, I lost the money.   I wanted to forget the whole thing.

 If you’ve read my blog, you know that I love the Harry Potter books.  I have to tell you that it’s hard for me to bring this up again.  I find it a little embarrassing, but here goes.

In the books there are creatures called Dementors who suck all the joy out of a person.  The way to guard against this creature is to create a Patronus, which is the embodiment of happy feelings and memories.  The Patronus chases away the Dementor.  If you can’t make a Patronus, then you are stuck with experiencing all the worst things stored in your memory. 

I was watching a dance reality show where young kids (tweens) are competing for a dance scholarship.  In theory, that is wonderful.

However, the main judge is very tough and unnecessarily harsh.  In interview after interview the young dancers said, with catatonic verve, “I’m not here to make friends.  I’m here to win.”  

It’s not that I’m against competition.  It’s truly a great achievement to train and excel.  But does it mean that you can’t be friendly?  Or that making friends somehow makes you less able to win?  Doesn’t that attitude crush the simple joy of expression right out of a person? 
Having something in common should be the basis of friendship – of encouraging and even learning and sharing with each other – whether it’s a passion for dance or for deep sea fishing.  . 
When I was in college, and I went to that Modern class, I did not have a Patronus.  My Patronus grew as I got older.  I danced because that was in my heart.  Whether I was good or bad at it, I loved it.   I kept my Patronus close to me as others told me I was crazy, and not very bright.  

If you dance what’s in your heart, that’s your Patronus.  Then the dance Dementors won’t be able to suck your soul.

 If you live from what’s in your heart, no one can make you feel bad about your choices.

What’s your Patronus?

Sunday, October 21, 2012


When you do a dance performance, sometimes you can, of course, make a mistake.  Because it’s a performance, you can’t stop the music and begin again.  In the moment, there is no do-over.  You just have to go with it.  

When I participated in a group dance performance, choreographed by Luisa Tanno, she said if you make a mistake, just fully commit to it.  It happened that during the performance, blunders were made and we just put our energy into the movement and acted as if those errors were exactly what we meant to do -- and danced on.  The audience did not know there was anything amiss and, in fact, loved it.  Those mistakes actually looked really good.

When you make a mistake during a performance, just commit to it and make one of these two choices: get back on track when you can or just continue.  Either of these can work.

In life, we can make errors of judgment that we realize right in the moment of doing them.  We then have two choices: continue in the same vein or stop and admit a mistake has been made.  In our lives, we can stop the music and begin again. 

When I was growing up, the adults around me would never admit they had made a mistake.  Even when I knew that they were sorry, they could never say it.  It was almost as if children were not supposed to ever believe that elders could make errors in judgment.  I believe that was a 1950’s parenting thing, and pretty common.

However, continuing in those mistakes did not make them look good, despite what they thought.

We’ve all been in situations where we want to hold onto our point of view just because we committed to it, even when we hear that quiet voice in our heads telling us we are in error.  We don’t want to back down because we believe that somehow we will lose our power.

The truth is that there is no power in sticking to a position that we know in our heart is wrong.

In a performance, you can brazen out errors and they can be beautiful.  In life, brazening out misjudgments is not beautiful or even necessary.  Stopping the music and admitting a mistake lets us off the hook and lets everyone involved breathe a sigh of relief.

We all make mistakes, and do-overs can be the best way to do the right thing. 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Is This Normal? Revisited

I wrote a blog in March called “Is This Normal?” about a difficult house guest.  I was comparing the feeling of questioning what is normal in a person to the feeling of questioning difficult-to-choreograph music.  My conclusion was that if I’m wondering whether the choreography expresses the music—the movement isn’t right.  And if I have to say to myself about a person’s behavior, “Is this normal?” then, no, it isn’t and I just have to trust that feeling.

We recently had a house guest who was not-normal-on-steroids.  I can compare this to trying to choreograph a really difficult song, an impossible song.  When I try to choreograph a song that becomes impossible, I throw it out.

Well, this is what we had to do with the house guest— cut short the visit.  (A nice way of putting it.)

My problem was that this person subsequently started acting in a very kind, rational manner and needed a place to stay – and I get sucked into that every time.   My knee-jerk reaction is that of an orphaned puppy—if you make nice to me I’ll follow you home no matter how many times you kicked me before.  

This leads me to the question, “What is forgiveness—true forgiveness?”  I have always recoiled from the expression, “I forgive, but I don’t forget.” What the hell is that?  It always sounded a lot like grudge-holding to me.  And a kind of superciliousness. 

I would truly like to forgive our house guest because I do feel compassion for him.  

However, I’m also pretty angry.  And wary.

When I was younger, I thought forgiveness was saying, “Okay. Everything is fine now. It’s over and we can pick up where we left off.”  I have had instances in my life when  I was both the giver and receiver of forgiveness.  The bad stuff is just forgotten and we begin again.  And it’s worked. It has brought out in all parties a deeper understanding of ourselves and of each other.

But there is another kind of forgiveness where we can forgive and feel compassion for another person, but there is really no going back.  In other words, I know I cannot let this person back into my home.  Letting him into my space would be an instance of not loving myself.  

I can’t forget that this person has never learned to control his behavior.  It’s as if I couldn’t admit that I was executing a barrel turn poorly.  Then I’d never be able to fix it.  If a person is not able to recognize and take responsibility for his own behavior, it will never change.

And I don’t want that behavior near me or my loved ones.

So I guess I’ve joined the ranks of the forgivers who don’t forget.

Sometimes, no matter how much you love someone (or a song or choreography) you just have to let go.  

Sunday, October 7, 2012

See the Gorilla

Sometimes when I’m dancing, I see other people in the class doing something else with the movement—maybe adding a turn or a leap—that I hadn’t thought of.  When you are used to creating choreography a certain way, it can close your mind to other ways of doing it. 

It’s natural to become caught up in our own experience of the movement, the music, our own feelings and perceptions.  Sometimes a bomb could go off during dance class and half of us wouldn’t even notice because we are focusing on what we are doing.

It can be a bad thing to be so absorbed that we don’t perceive what’s right in front of us.  But I would argue that it can also be a good thing.  When I am focusing on doing something the way I’ve always done it, in some ways it can limit me, but in other ways, I really take pleasure in trying to perfect and truly enjoy what I already know.  

It’s a choice.

There was an experiment conducted by psychologist Daniel Simon, called The Monkey Business Illusion*, in which subjects were asked to watch a video of two basketball teams—with one team wearing white shirts and the other black.  The task was to count how many times the white team passed the basketball.  Halfway through the video, a woman in a gorilla suit came into the frame, beat her chest, and walked off the screen.  Fifty percent of the subjects literally didn’t perceive the gorilla.  

It seems that we narrow our focus so much that we miss a lot.  And this study reinforces the idea that in every moment there are many possibilities that we don’t see because we are choosing to believe in limits – we think that there are only one or two possible outcomes to any situation.  Therefore, we don’t see the gorilla.  There are probably solutions that we could never imagine, even though they are, literally, right in front of us.

I know people who are resolutely fixed on the positive, and it’s possible to become exasperated with such optimists. (“Do you see what’s really going on here??!!??”).  But these people usually seem happy.  So how bad is that?

If your world is falling apart, it is impossible to focus on what’s good.  We’ve all been there.  But I wonder if focusing on what’s good and real now – like practicing a dance combination – doesn’t make us better at experiencing the good stuff as we go on into the future. 

What we focus on is what we experience.  We can choose to widen our view of what’s possible, embracing the uncertainty.  Our point of focus can change from negative to positive, from worry to trust, from fear to love.  

So, what else do we need to see?

*Here is a link to The Monkey Business Illusion: