Tag Archives: Life Lessons from Dance

8 Counts at a Time

Growing up as the daughter of a dance teacher has taught me so much more that just shuffles and plies. I’ve learned balance, focus, manners, perseverance. I’ve learned the importance of thank yous, the extra mile, and tradition. I’ve learned to accept critiques and to take orders.
It’s time to chronicle these lessons.

It happens at that stage of a project where I don’t yet know what I’m doing, but I can see the deadlines on the horizon.
(Or when I have a migraine looming.  Like now.)
Life gets a little… intense.  Panicky, even.  How in the world is it all going to get done?

My mom often feels this way when starting to choreograph a new piece.  There are 3.5 minutes of song waiting to be filled, and no grand ideas for how to fill them all.
What do you do?
You take the choreographing 8 counts at time.  

Fa-lap ball change, heel heel.  e-and-a 1 & 2. e-and-a 3 &4.
Fa-lap ball change, fa-lap ball change, fa-lap ball change, push turn
       Hey, there’s an entrance.

Without letting the panic well up again, she repeats the process.  I just have to choreograph 8 counts.  I can do that!

Slowly, slowly, slowly, she builds up the whole piece.  Sometimes inspiration strikes and she can choreograph the entire number in an hour; more often she pulls it together one section at a time.

My mom has taught me over the years how applicable her method is to, well, everything.  All big, scary, overwhelming projects can be broken down into smaller, manageable chunks.

Other (less graceful) writers have phrased this principle in other ways:
“You know, Rome wasn’t built in a day.”
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
“How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.”

(I prefer the dance metaphor.)

So how do I get through this PhD program?  This summer?  This pile of laundry?
Breathe.  Just take it 8 counts at a time.

Thanks, Mama.

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Life Lessons from Dance: The Show Must Go On

Growing up as the daughter of a dance teacher has taught me so much more that just shuffles and plies. I’ve learned balance, focus, manners, perseverance. I’ve learned the importance of thank yous, the extra mile, and tradition. I’ve learned to accept critiques and to take orders.
It’s time to chronicle these lessons.

The show must go on.

Everyone who has been onstage knows this simple maxim.

My mom begins training her dancers from the age of three with an increasingly hilarious set of questions:
“What do you do if the music stops?”
The chorus replies, “Keep dancing!”
“What do you do if your shoe falls off?”
“Keep dancing!”
“What do you do if the girl next to you runs off stage?”
“Keep dancing!”
“What do you do if you lose a shoe bow?”
“Keep dancing!”
“What do you do if the whole front row stands up and waves?”
“Keep dancing!”
“What do you do if Mr. Jeff runs onstage?”
Keep dancing?”

No matter what, you keep going.

A few weeks ago, we took the competition team to the east coast. In the middle of their big routine with feathers and colors and smiles and tricks, K’s hat fell down into her eyes. She kept dancing.
After the competition finished (and trophies had been gathered), we stopped to talk to K’s mother. My mom told her how proud she was. She said, “Years ago, that would have completely finished K off. Tonight, she just smiled and kept on going. What remarkable growth.”

Now, the life lesson I’ve gathered is not to keep working when your jeans rip down the middle. (It’s really okay to go fix that first.)
It’s this: when you are pressing on towards something big, don’t let the little things that go wrong stop you.

When you’re trying to make the audition, don’t let someone’s careless words tear you down. She’s probably never put on tap shoes.
When you really want to be Anne Frank in the play, don’t try to back out of the audition because you think the practice schedule might not work. They might change it for you.
When you’re aiming for that A in O. Chem, don’t give up when you see the 70 on your first test. Just work harder.
When you forget the simplest concepts in your thesis presentation, finish it out. They might not have noticed.
When your new friend annoys you by telling that same story just one too many times, hang in there. She may become your best friend.

Don’t stop. The show must go on.

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Life Lessons from Dance: Tradition

Growing up as the daughter of a dance teacher has taught me so much more that just shuffles and plies. I’ve learned balance, focus, manners, perseverance. I’ve learned the importance of thank yous, the extra mile, and tradition. I’ve learned to accept critiques and to take orders.
It’s time to start chronicling some of these lessons.

——

Some families always watch It’s a Wonderful Life on Christmas Eve. Some always play pick-up football on Thanksgiving, and some always shoot off fireworks outside of town on July 4th. My family? Our traditions revolve around the annual dance recital.

Friday lunch is always at Rosa’s. The senior teachers always put down tape. Backstage snacks always include Cokes and brownie bites. Saturday lunch is always from Home Plate. Seniors always get flowers from their dad onstage. Old DG family always comes onstage after the evening recital. And we always try (and fail) to watch the original Star Wars movies the next Sunday. It’s tradition.

One of the most hallowed DG recital traditions is The Purple Trunk. Anything important goes in The Purple Trunk: my mom’s shoes, tape for the stage, the first aid kit, safety pins, caution tape. If it’s really important (music or technical sheets), it’s in The Gold Folder in The Purple Trunk. I don’t think we can do the recital without The Trunk.

Well, two years ago, the hallowed Purple Trunk was abandoned at the stage. Some member of our crew didn’t quite understand how special this thing is. It was left up there, crying and alone, mourning its separation from its family.
We mourned for about a year. My mom searched high and low at every store for another Purple Trunk, but none could be found. Finally, recital time approached again, and we had to decide what to do.

Instead of abandoning the tradition and throwing the rightful occupants of the Purple Trunk somewhere else, we improvised. I sat in the floor of my mom’s office with a new blue trunk, purple duct tape, and stick-on letters. That trunk now has (beautiful) purple accents and a sign on its top. It reads, “PURPLE TRUNK.” It is now The Purple Trunk, by fiat.

In Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye declares that the people of Anatevka keep their balance with one simple word: Tradition.
(Now you have that song stuck in your head. You’re welcome.) Our family traditions of The Purple Trunk and Muppet Christmas Carol connect this year to the one before it, allowing us to remain strong as a family. Cultural traditions of celebrating Christmas and Easter connect our generation to the dozens proceeding it. For the first followers of Jesus, the tradition of the Lord’s Supper served to connect all Christians together as one body, and set them apart from those around them who did not celebrate the bread and wine.

So, one of the many life lessons I’ve learned from dance is the importance of tradition in connecting the present to the past. As G.K. Chesterton writes, “All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death.” I will value the meaningful traditions that I carry on, join in, or start myself for the rest of my life.

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