I promised several friends and former/current dance students that I would post this entry as a way of letting my readers in on a little secret. The secret is that perfectionism will rob us of the ability to learn new things, will add to our stress levels, and will make us all around grouchy boys and girls. Please know I am talking to you adults out there. Children have no need for perfectionism until we adults successfully teach them they need to be perfect. Kids are more concerned with freedom.
I can think of no better example of how perfectionism can be a detriment than when trying to teach dance to adults. It doesn’t matter what kind of dance we are talking about, perfectionism is in direct contrast to freedom of movement.
Because I know the above statements to be true, there are a few fundamental rules that I lay down when I am at the helm. I stick to this pattern of steps (forgive the pun, please) whether I am teaching at retreats, workshops, or in dance studios.
First, I never teach class without the “Bucket of P.” The contraption is a round, plastic receptacle that saw its better days several decades ago. It was rescued, by me, from my husband’s treasures that he cannot live without because he might need them at some future date. The collective female sigh is duly noted. The bucket sports the largest printed “P” that my computer could provide. I place the bucket with the giant “P” on display at the front of the room from the beginning until the end of class.
Everyone who walks into my class must deposit their perfectionism in the bucket. I explain to my students that if we are so hung up on doing things right the first time, and easily frustrated when we make a mistake, we will derail ourselves on the learning track. I also let them know that when it comes to team dancing, we can easily transfer our impatience with ourselves to those we are dancing with. Trust me when I tell you that kind of behavior authors unpleasant experiences for everyone involved. Since our country looks to be leaning toward more conceal and carry laws, it could be argued that being less than nice to others may not only be viewed as unkind, it could actually be downright dangerous.
Second, because some people are initially very attached to their perfectionism, I offer students opportunity to visit the bucket throughout the class and/or collect any personal deposits when class concludes. In almost 15 years, I have never seen one person go sorting through the plastic container in order to retrieve their perfectionism treasure.
It has been said, and I believe it to be true, that we can’t just take something from folks without giving them something to fill the void. So that brings me to my third step. I teach people that when tempted to criticize ourselves or others (especially Miss Laura, the teacher), we can benefit from some positive mental imaging. Simply build a bridge and get over it. Many bridges have been constructed and crossed in my classes over the years, or so I suspect.
The fourth step, and perhaps the most important, is to try taking this philosophy into other places of our world. I think the actual expression is, “lighten up.” So I say lighten up on ourselves and on others. We all want to do our best, but we must allow for the failures that come along on the learning curve, right?
Please allow a disclaimer here. Although I strongly believe in the above philosophical step dancing, there are some people I do not recommend it to for daily practice. Those include, but are not limited to, brain surgeons, dentists, auto mechanics and, of course, tax accountants.
So there you have it folks, a little romp through the world of a dance teacher who is more interested in teaching the love of the art than in hammering dancers into precise and flawless performers. I feel myself to be a successful instructor not when students know the difference between a jig and a reel, or between Messianic and African dance, but when I see my dancers being gentler with themselves and others.
The advice offered here is free. No doubt, in some opinions, it’s worth every cent. However, whether you believe me or not, I can promise that we will find more enjoyment in life, play better with others, learn with more ease, and reduce our personal stress if we can just remember, “pobody’s nerfect.”
Copyright Laura L. Padgett
August 11, 2013