Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Good lessons from strange places

Some time ago, I wrote a post based on one of those “All I Need to Know I Learned in…” things. This one was about the ballet, and it had been sent to me from a friend. Now that I’m a bit further along my path, I realize there are some things – sadly, not in cute, quip form – I learned from ballet that really made a difference in how I approach things. The parallels between ballet and writing may not be obvious, but I’m glad I had these lessons before I started writing…

Frustration is a waste of energy. I’m not saying I have some zen-like calm that keeps me from getting frustrated. Everyone gets frustrated. But frustration really is just anger turned inward. Anger and frustration are not your friends. It takes energy and brainpower to be frustrated. If you are trying to accomplish something, the frustration only makes it harder to do, which also means you’re going to be doing it longer. When you know you’re not leaving the studio until you push through and manage to hit the most complicated sixteen counts of choreography you’ve ever come across, you realize the energy and brainpower you’re using to fume and be frustrated is better applied to just figuring out those damn sixteen counts. And when you’re working with a partner or a corps and you all have to hit those sixteen counts together, frustration will get you nowhere. At all. Whatever it is, it is. Being pissy and angry won’t fix it, so take a deep breath, let it go, and go again. The lesson – You may think your editor has set you on Mission Impossible, but they wouldn’t have told you to do it if they didn’t think a) you could, and b) that it will be worth it. Swallow your frustration, and get on with it.

Do. There is no Do Not. There is no Try. (Yoda was almost right.) Those sixteen counts aren’t going to be changed because you can’t hit it. You will hit it, because there’s no other option. You do what you need to do in order to hit it and make your Artistic Director happy. The lesson – same as above.

There’s a gap between “Good” and “Good Enough” Sometimes “good enough” is a phrase we use when we mean “it’s enough to get by on for now.” In ballet, you can be “good” but not “good enough.” If you’re not good enough to hit 32 fouettes on demand and on tempo, you will never dance the Black Swan pas de deux. Period. Thirty-one fouettes is good, but not good enough. Thirty-one fouettes keeps you in the corps. The lesson – there’s a standard you have to meet. Don’t expect the bar (barre?) to be lowered for you. There's no reason why you should think you can't hit it.

A rejection isn’t the end. I was cut from an audition before the music even started. First cuts were made on body type, I didn’t fit the type they were looking for. If I'd let that convince me I was fat, I'd have developed a brutal eating disorder. The lesson – You have to shake it off or it will destroy you.

Critique is not criticism. Critique points out your flaws, your weaknesses, and shows you where you can improve. As a student, not getting corrections and critiques in class is a bad thing. It means the teacher isn’t looking at you or doesn’t care if you advance. The lesson -- Critique is good. They're looking at you and want you to do better. Take the critique, apply it, and get better. It still hurts your feelings sometimes, but at least you know what you need to work on.

You will survive that horrible costume. I still have nightmares about my costume for Coppelia. I have never seen such a travesty in tulle. We’re talking so bad, that my friends would laugh every time they hooked me into it. I was ashamed to go on stage wearing it. (It’s one thing to picture the audience in their underwear, but they’re really seeing you in that hideous outfit.) But I put a smile on my face and acted like what I was wearing was the most beautiful tutu I’d ever had on. The audience didn’t care that I hated my tutu. They were there to see me dance. The lesson – If you have no control over the title or cover of your books, there’s no sense in getting upset over one you don’t like. It may not be as bad as you think, and it may look really good to the reading public. Marketing, like costume designers, usually know what they’re doing. And even if they’re having an off day, a good book can overcome a bad title or bad cover. It's the content that really matters.

Don’t look down. Your body normally goes in the direction of your eyes. If you look at the floor, you’ll be landing on it very soon. Find a spot to focus on, or else the turns will make you dizzy. Look up and out in front of you. Act proud, even if you don’t quite feel like it at the moment. Smile – even when you’ve just landed on your butt in front of 500 people. The lesson – Remember where you want to go and where you want to be and keep your sights on that.

If you worry you will fall, you will. You have to believe you can do this. If you’re worried you’re going to fall out of a turn, I guarantee you will. If you’ve done this choreography before, you can do it again. Worry and fear of falling shift your focus, and if you lose focus, you *will* be on your butt in front of 500 people. The lesson – don’t set yourself up for failure by worrying you will fail.

Go all out, all the time. Half-assed efforts get half-assed results. Half-assing it is also a good way to get hurt. Go all out or go home. Every class, every rehearsal, every performance may not be your best, but you should have given it everything you had in you. You owe it to yourself and everyone who is working with you. And you especially owe it to the people in the audience. The lesson – don’t let fear hold you back. Don’t fall back on excuses. Don't allow yourself to play the half-assed game. Show respect for yourself and your CP/editor/reader/spouse-who-supports-your-dream by always giving all you've got.

So, ballet may have twisted my perception of my body, messed up my feet and caused me to have irrational attractions to men in tights, but it gave me some strengths, too.

Have you ever looked back at an experience and realize it taught you a lot more than you thought? Even if it took years to make sense to you?



Playground Monitor said...

Before I could comment I had to look up fouette. 32 of 'em, huh?

And I can answer your question in one word: divorce.

Great blog.

Problem Child said...

Yep. 32 exactly. It's a well-known part of the pas, so people in the audience will actually count them and woe betide the ballerina who doesn't get them all in.

robertsonreads said...

Yes, my aunt would constantly wash her hands and insist that I do so also. As an adult I can appreciate that so much!!!

Smarty Pants said...

I like to think my writing journey will teach me life lessons. I believe in reincarnation and that in each life, you're there to learn a specific life lesson until youve perfected your spirit and become a guide to others. I've always thought that in this life I'm to learn patience. No naturally, I pick the worst possible industry.