On Learning To Be Serious

Sometimes, in the process of navigating your life, you look up and realize you’ve passed a bunch of waypoints without even really noticing.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately: I realized that I needed to update my dance resumé, which pretty much made me laugh out loud, because I’ve come a really long way in less than one year, and I totally failed to notice.

In short: this year, my life has suddenly taken off.

Or … well. It feels sudden, but when I think about it, it really isn’t.

(moar behind the cut; it’s long)

Three years ago I finally gave in to the most powerful of my yearnings and started dancing again. I harbored certain ambitions, but mostly believed they were unattainable and as such kept them buried.

Two years and change ago, I decided that pursuing Dance-Movement Therapy as a career sounded like a good way to harness my passion for dance and my love of neuroscience, and stepped my training up a little.

Last year, my rejected application to a grad program in Dance-Movement Therapy catapulted me into taking dance training more seriously. I could no longer faff around with maybe earning the dance cred to be afforded an opportunity to perform on some distant, possibly-imaginary day. I needed more performing experience (and any teaching experience) if I was going to think about going forward in DMT(1).

  1. If I had been really honest with myself (which I totally wasn’t until very, very recently), what I really wanted to be doing in dance was performing, creating: telling stories with movement; evoking feeling and painting sound with the instrument that I know best. I’m sticking this here as a kind of footnote because, really, it’s a different post.

I wasn’t 100% sure how I was going to make that happen, but I knew that it meant at least acting like I might, just maybe, take myself seriously as a dancer. It meant going to class more. It meant getting out and auditioning for things whether I felt ready or not (because I am a perfectionist, and I will never, ever feel ready).

It meant seeking out exceptional teachers, expanding my dance horizons beyond ballet, going to intensives by any means necessary, taking any master class that put itself in my path, and watching every performance I could.

So I did.

Curiously, it seems to be working.

Sure, I’m a work in progress (and always will be), but I’ve come a long way since last year.

I’m out doing things in dance now. I’ve learned more choreography than I know what to do with: a significant extract from a long modern work, two standard ballet variations, one original ballet piece for eleven girls and one boy, all the stuff from Orpheus that I’ve learned in a few hours…

I’ve managed to audition for something successfully (speaking of Orpheus).

I’ve staged a piece of my choreography in a professional setting and been invited to perform at a movement festival.

A dude from Pilobolus told me that I’m a beautiful mover.

If you’d looked into your crystal ball early last April, seen all this stuff, and then asked me if I really, really believed that any of it would happen, I would totally have said yes.

But I would’ve been lying.

I would have been lying in the way that I do when I want so badly to believe something that I can taste it. The way that I do when I feel that to admit that I don’t really believe it is the same as proving it false.

Regarding which: I am Jack’s terrified bravado.

At this time one year ago, I had learned to think of myself as a serious student of dance, even as a dancer—but not as anyone who really had any right to imagine doing the things I’m doing right now or pursuing the goals I’m pursuing right now.

~

I have always said that I’m not, by nature, a serious person.

And I’m not. I’m playful. I’m an otter; a happy little fox; one of those horses that snatches the hat off your head and then tosses it up in the air before wheeling on the spot and bolting off at a dead run.

I am the person that reports to you that his favorite instructor gave him a long, hard barre, and then promptly dies of his own unintentional pun, and then is revived by the prospect of some fresh hilarity.

And yet, somehow, in the depths of my being, I am also a deadly serious person.

When class is hard, I double down: if it’s hard, that means I’m learning. (The corollary in ballet goes: If it’s easy, I’m probably doing it wrong.) When BW asks me to hold attitude devant until my entire body wants to explode, I do it, because you don’t get stronger by giving up. When I fall on my ass trying for bigger tours, I keep coming back until I nail them.

When it comes time to receive the next combination, or to learn the choreography, I shut up and pay attention. When I get a correction, I don’t say, “Yeah, but…” (I do think it, once in a while, but I keep my mouth shut, because usually upon reflection it turns out that I’m wrong).

I dance because it gives me immense joy even when (or perhaps especially when) it’s terribly, terribly hard—and because of that joy I am furiously serious about it.

Being serious, in this current way, has carried me this far.

~

Today I was jumping rope because BW suggested it as a way to improve my stamina, and it occurred to me that there have been a million things I’ve done (horsemanship, muay thai, cycling, tae kwan do) that would’ve benefited from a bit of rope-jumping at home, but I didn’t bother because, on some fundamental level, I wasn’t that serious about it.

And I realized, as a result, that even where dancing is concerned, this is a different degree of seriousness.

I was jumping rope because I want better stamina. I am taking pilates because I need my core to be stronger. I’m paying attention to what I eat because it seems silly to expect high-octane performance on low-octane fuel. I have beautiful feet, but I am exercising them to make them stronger. All of these things are sustained efforts that I’ve undertaken in the service of dance.

Last year, the lovely Dr. K rewrote my understanding of my body by comparing me to Nureyev. That one comment rocked my foundations: it made me re-assess myself; it made me look very seriously at my strengths as well as my weaknesses. It made me willing to consider the idea that I’ve been given the gift of a body that is fundamentally well-suited for dance, and that I should learn to make the most of that gift.

It made me take the gift of my body more seriously than I had ever done. It made me see myself as capable, as spectacularly able, in a way that I had entirely overlooked.

This year, I’ve received a few votes of confidence that have pushed me just a little closer to believing that the mission I’m on isn’t entirely mad.

I’m not writing about some of them here directly for a few reasons: one, part of my mind doesn’t quite believe it yet; two, I think they fall into my “To know, to will, to dare, to keep silent” clause. I’m keeping silent about them for now.

All of these things, together, have refined my focus. The human mind, when carefully focused, is an amazing thing: it’s like a magnifying glass that can be used to spark a fire, transforming inert matter into flame.

This is what I mean, when I say that I’m learning to be serious. I’m focusing my mind; focusing my being. Dialing in the lens.

Jumping rope is the kind of thing that I enjoy once I get started, but have trouble starting, so it takes a significant push. I got that kind of push this weekend: the kind that says, “Take this instrument you have been given and polish it. Make it better. Make of it the thing it was built to be.”

It’s time to learn to be still a little more serious about this thing: not to lose the spirit of the playful fox, but also to channel the focus of the hunting fox; not to lose the spirit of the prancing, wheeling, playful horse, but to teach it cadence and collection and hone its play into dressage.

It’s time to ask, “What can I do if I make this little change here? How about this one over here?”

It’s time to approach those changes in a systematic way, in the service of a goal (knowing, as one always must, that a goal is still merely a phenomenon to which one should not cling; that goals change as we approach them; that goalposts are highly mobile things).

I still don’t know, of course, exactly where all this is going. Nobody ever does. I have hopes, aspirations, even a kind of a vision, but the vision isn’t all that clear just yet.

In the end, though, this lesson in how to be serious, in how to be moved by a passion that reworks your being from the inside out, is one of the best I’ve learned.

It’ll be interesting, in a year or so, to revisit this post. I’ve never really been a forward-looker, but now I’m sort of cautiously curious and excited about the future.

I’m in no rush to get there, though. The essential component of any journey is, in short, the present moment. This is where I am now: me, these words, the jump rope, the rain outside the window, the evening chorus of wild birds, my lazy sleeping cat.

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About asher

Me in a nutshell: Standard uptight ballet boy. Trapeze junkie. Half-baked choreographer. Budding researcher. Transit cyclist. Terrible homemaker. Getting along pretty well with bipolar disorder. Fabulous. Married to a very patient man. Bachelor of Science in Psychology (2015). Proto-foodie, but lazy about it. Cat owner ... or, should I say, cat own-ee? ... dog lover. Equestrian.

Posted on 2017/04/03, in ballet lessons, balllet, dance, goals, healing, life, work and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. OK, I’m with you on busting guts and destroying knees for ballet. But getting serious about something? Let’s not go overboard here.

  2. It’s that geek thing though, isn’t it? It’s not worth playing with if you’re not going to take it far too seriously:-)

    • this is certainly how it got me.

    • An excellent point! And I suppose there’s something about dancing that encourages obsessive devotion. Ballet especially—I don’t know many casual ballet people. I don’t think the culture of ballet exactly invites a casual approach, so of course it attracts those of us who are inclined towards nerdy obsessions.

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