Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Expert Beginner

I am good at many things. I excel at few. In fact, I can only think of a couple of things at which I am excellent. I know the basics of a lot of stuff, but push me to the next level, and I ... balk.

The other day at tap dance class (have I mentioned this? That's for another post, I guess.) we were learning how to do pullbacks. It doesn't look like it should be that difficult, but to break it down into basics, then train your body how to do it, well, let's just say that I over think body mechanics on stuff I don't immediately get. Which is a basic problem for me and one of the reasons I get as far as beginning to easy-intermediate levels on things, then ... move onto something else.

Holding onto the barre and trying to train my body to do this step, I was struck by two physical memories of instances where I stopped trying to do something because I didn't succeed the first five or ten times I tried. Yep, I give up if I don't get something right after only a few tries. How lame is that?

For a second, I was back in jujitsu class a few years ago, trying to tell my body that it's okay and perfectly natural to do backwards rolls. My body called my mind a liar, and the sad thing is? The body was right. I was lying to it. It's not natural to throw yourself backwards, even if there is a nice, cushy gymnastics mat underneath it. There was no viable reason I could give my body to want to continue trying to learn how to do that. Not even the promise of progressing to the next belt level was enough to do it. "No," my body flatly said. "The only time I would use this realistically is if I were rolling out of a car, and then I will do it instinctively because it will save our life."

So when it came time to enroll for the next term of jujitsu, I didn't. Not if overcoming the obstacle of backrolls was a requirement.

The second physical memory I relived was as a child at the Burnham's pool. My sisters and dad were trying to teach me how to do a back dive. Every time I tried it, my body would bend at some weird funky angle, which hurt my back and made obscene amounts of water go up my nose upon entry. "No more," my body said. "I am not a fish, I am not made of bendy styrofoam, and I can enjoy a day at the pool just fine without thrusting myself at an unnatural angle into gallons of water."

And, that was that.

It looks like the backwards thing is a theme, doesn't it? Back dives, back rolls. And now a pullBACK. A backwards jump. My body just doesn't want to work that way, I guess. Let's eavesdrop again on what my body has to say about it. "Backwards just feels a little unnatural. And scary. And what's the point? We can fake it like we do so many other things." (My body knows me very well -- one of the things that I am excellent in is pretending that I'm good at something. This is how I became an excellent sight reader at the piano. I didn't practice, and when it came around for lessons, I had to pretend I was prepared, so I learned how to sight read. This has come in handy many times as I can actually do more than just fake being able to play music the first time I see it, I can play it. It also saved me from getting hit by my teacher.)

I need to find a way to win this argument with the body. I am determined to make it past a beginning intermediate level at something. Not because I think I'm going to compete with any tap dancing penguins or go on So You Think You Can Dance or anything like that. But because I like tap dancing too much to go back to a beginning level indefinitely for what will definitely be a boring experience. I know how to do that stuff already.

So while I won't be immediately successful at a pullback, I'm not giving up.

Though I may be singing a different tune (tapping a different rhythm?) when it's time to decide if I will participate in the summer recital...

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