Let me start this post by coming clean: I love beginners. I get deep satisfaction from watching people learn—seeing the concentration, the frustration, the triumph on a face during an “aha!” moment. I also profoundly love to help facilitate the learning journey, which I know from personal experience isn’t easy.
With beginners in dance, often I witness concern on a face and hear angst in a voice so genuine it makes my heart ache. “I can’t get it; I’m no good at this.” “I’m the worst in class.”
The anxiety and the self-judgement is palpable. Like some sort of surrogate dance parent, at times I wish I could press a fast forward button and make the pain of being a beginner simply zip away and disappear.
I can’t, of course. And deep down I know that I wouldn’t, even if I could, because I believe the emotional pain we feel as beginners has a purpose.
Let me explain.
In A New Earth Eckhart Tolle writes “any negative emotion that is not fully faced and seen for what it is in the moment it arises does not completely dissolve. It leaves behind a remnant of pain.” We experience and re-experience this pain whenever we judge ourselves.
By this point in our adult lives, I’m betting that if there’s one thing most of us are very, very good at, it’s judging ourselves, especially when we try something new. I’m certainly no stranger to the feeling of foolishness that wells up whenever I struggle with the unfamiliar. The feeling—foolishness—is fuelled by thoughts along the lines of “I’m horrible at this. I should be better. People must think I’m an idiot.”
In her book Loving What Is, Byron Katie brilliantly outlines a strategy for handling the painful emotions that arise from our negative thoughts and self-judgement. Let’s use the thought “I’m a terrible dancer.” It’s a thought that definitely doesn’t feel good.
In a process she refers to as The Work, Katie asks a series of four questions that dissect the thought. The first question is simply “is it true?”
Ask yourself, “This thought I have, that I’m a terrible dancer—is it true?” Take a moment to really inquire into the question and reflect on it. There’s no right or wrong answer.
If you answer yes, the second question to ask yourself is “can I absolutely know that it’s true?” In this case you’d ask yourself something like, “I’m a terrible dancer—am I absolutely, unequivocally, 100% certain that this is true?” Allow yourself to think of any examples to the contrary. Has anyone ever smiled at you, or thanked you for a dance? Can you think of one thing that you can do now, that you couldn’t do before? Again, there’s no right or wrong answer.
The third question in the inquiry is to ask yourself “how do I react when I think that thought?” So, when you think the thought “I’m a terrible dancer,” how do you treat yourself? How do you treat your partner? How do you feel? What do you do? Reflect on your answers. If it helps, do this work after class and write your answers down.
The fourth and final question to ask yourself is “who would I be without the thought?” If the thought “I’m a terrible dancer” had never occurred to you—if you didn’t have the ability to think it—how would you feel? How would you act differently? Who would you be?
This four-step process helps loosen ourselves from the thoughts and emotions that can seriously hinder our ability to learn, and to enjoy the learning process. Much more than learning moves and steps, learning to dance offers us a unique opportunity to learn to love and accept ourselves. If you decide to see it that way. And I truly hope you do.
Interested in joining us for dance classes? We’d love to have you.