I always remember Mecca’s birthday (April 10th), because it is the day after my own birthday. I often take my birthday as a reflective point in my life’s journey. A personal rather than universal New Year’s Day, if you will. I would like to share some of my reflections this year with the folks at Mecca, because I believe that they are probably applicable to most, if not all, practitioners of movement arts.
I spent the weekend studying with Zoe Jakes here in D.C. Her classes are high-energy and challenging. She has grown as a teacher so that her ADD style of practice now translates to a purposeful and well-balanced class that makes sense to everyone, not just other ADD-ish people (me). I was struck by this class in particular—in the 15 years I’ve been bellydancing, I have never had a class taught by someone that challenged us all so much. She emphasized endurance which is something few teachers do. But more than that was how challenging her layering drills felt. I am used to isolating body parts and layering those isolations, one on top of the other, and I feel like this is one of my fortes. But I’m used to doing 2 or 3 layers at a time. Zoe pushed us to layer 4-6 isolations at a time.
“Put your piston hips on autopilot,” she’d say. I’m good at this. Done.
“Add these arm patterns,” and I’m following along, no problem.
“Here’s some footwork to work in there,” -- and now it’s tricky. Still do-able, but tricky. She adds, “If you think I’m crazy, just do the hip work and the arm patterns, but to challenge yourself, here’s a head slide, shoulder pop, chest pop, roll down, roll up, chest pop combo to layer on all of that.” And, *poof*, all of a sudden I’m in a place I’ve never been before. I can’t feel my hips. What!? Yeah, those up-down hips I put on autopilot at the beginning?—I can’t feel them, I can’t tell without looking in the mirror whether they are still moving or not. This is crazy. I look in the mirror, and they are still moving, up, down, up, down, just like I programmed them to do. They are so on autopilot, that I can’t even check in with them to see how they’re doing without an external crutch (mirror). Checking the mirror means everything else falls apart, though, and I have to start at the beginning.
This goes on for hours. I’m following along just fine, enjoying Zoe’s ass-kicking, and then all of a sudden losing contact with part of the dance, checking in the mirror, seeing that things are going as planned, and instantaneously having all my layers of isolation collapse because I’ve become too mentally bothered with the process.
This is both frustrating and exciting. It’s frustrating because I’m not used to being bad at bellydance any more. This is a beginner’s mental and physical space to inhabit. Luckily, being a beginner at something means you have more to explore. This is exciting! I continue to study and learn new things in bellydance, but it’s been many years since bellydance has been truly difficult. I usually find this sort of challenge when I study a new/different form of dance that my body has not yet internalized. How brilliant that there’s still more in this genre to keep me going! The other exciting part about this occurrence is that it feels like “leveling up,” like in a video game. I may be a beginner at this new level, but that means I’ve mastered the last level, and I can be proud of that accomplishment. (Yay, hips on autopilot!)
I found this graph of Marc Dalessio’s learning curve as it relates to his painting career. I think it translates perfectly to dance, and probably to any skill.
[see graph below]
I am sharing this whole story as a reminder that to become good at anything involves a lot of time and a lot of practice. I am sharing this whole story as a reminder that, no matter how long or short your time in any genre has been, everything is relative, and there will always be things you’re good at, and things that you need to work on. Keep showing up and putting in your time. If you’re frustrated, chances are you are near or even inside a growth spurt—just don’t quit now! It’s an exciting time!
Much love to all of you at Mecca,