I recently overheard a conversation between two girls in an Amsterdam art store. Normally conversations like this don’t stand out to me, but since they were speaking English, everything they said was bolded, italicized, and underlined.
They chatted while perusing the bottles of naturally-sourced inks. One girl turned to her friend saying: “I’ve always loved art. I wish I did it more. All I can draw are stick figures.”
Her friend agreed as they continued down the rows of shelves, whispering things like: “Wow. This is so fun. I wish I knew how to use this. I love this place.”
Initially I didn’t think much of their conversation. I hear similar lamentations all the time. But for some reason, their words stuck with me. I’ve always loved art. I wish I did it more.
So why don’t they?
Other than art and a few other things, dance is one of my favorite activities. It’s the perfect blend of athletics and artistry. I love dancing in crowds under colorful lights, by myself in the kitchen, and with my husband at the grocery store. If I think back on the best nights of my life, they all involved dancing.
Growing up, I loved ballet. I loved caressing the air with my fingers, perfect posture, elegant leaps, the whole thing. I started dancing so young I can’t ever remember thinking Am I good at this? I just danced. As I grew older, being a “good dancer” started to be more important to me. I remember being stressed that my splits weren’t as deep, and my arabesque wasn’t as high as my classmates’ –not to mention the fact that physically I started to shoot up like a bean stalk. In a sport where you’re staring at a mirror with a group of girls all day, this was bad news. I eventually quit dance. Though I loved it, next to my tiny, flexible classmates, I realized I’d never be prima ballerina.
When I was in high school I returned to the dance studio, joining a relaxed modern dance class through the University of Utah. It reminded me how much I loved dancing. With more accommodating dance moves and ability range, I looked forward to class every week. At the end of the term, we performed at a Salt Lake City theater. Other than the harsh lights and backstage whispers, I remember my teacher giving me a handmade note that said: “I can tell you dance with your whole heart.” I treasure her gift and still keep it under my bed.
This month I realized that my version of the Amsterdam art store conversation would sound like this: I’ve always loved to dance. I wish I did it more. I can’t do half the moves other girls can.
But is that really why I don’t dance?
Pop quiz! Complete the following sentence by choosing the accurate ending: I don’t dance because…
Classes are late at night.
It’s not a convenient time. Maybe next year.
I just don’t have the physical build of a dancer.
I told myself I’m bad at it, and even the slightest amount of friction is enough to dissuade me from engaging in an uncomfortable learning process (this is the correct answer).
This thinking didn’t sit right with me. It felt defeating and passive. Let’s use another example. Someone could think: I don’t play the piano because I’m not very good. They then cover that discouraging thought with more reasonable-sounding lies: I don’t play the piano because it’s expensive. Or, I don’t know a good teacher. People in my family just aren’t very musical. If I had a year of free-time I would totally get into it, I just can’t right now. The lies feel sensible– convincing even! Though seemingly benign, I believe that to a certain extent we can voluntarily inch towards hopelessness and depression by telling ourselves little lies which gradually take us away from the things we love.
Don’t let not being prima ballerina keep you from dancing. Being on the stage will always be better than watching. (Finally, a good place to put my cheesy dance metaphor!)
I don’t mean to say that we should act on every passing fancy and see it through till the end. That’s an unreasonable demand to make of yourself, and pretty soon your life will be so full of clutter, you won’t have space to breathe. But that thing. The one you keep coming back to. The one you keep putting off till you’re richer, fitter, or less busy. Why not do it now?
A chance visit to a small Amsterdam art store resulted in me researching ballet classes in Cambridge, and signing up for the Cambridge University Ballet Club. My first class was humbling and uncomfortable. My hips didn’t want to splay like the lifelong dancers, and I’d forgotten nearly all the French terminology. Ballet is like classical piano for the body. From a distance it looks effortless and fluid, but from the inside it’s unimaginably meticulous, physically grueling, and strict (that’s the fun of it). I tried an easier class the following week, and had a much better experience. The teacher told me I was very out-of-practice, but had good “dance intuition” and athleticism. That’s all I needed.
I’ve been reflecting on a Brené Brown (all hail the queen) quote this week. It’s about creativity, but I think it applies to anything:
“I’m not very creative” doesn’t work. There’s no such thing as creative people and non-creative people. There are only people who use their creativity and people who don’t. Unused creativity doesn’t just disappear. It lives within us until it’s expressed, neglected to death, or suffocated by resentment and fear. The only unique contribution that we will ever make in this world will be born of our creativity. If we want to make meaning, we need to make art. Cook, write, draw, doodle, paint, scrapbook, take pictures, collage, knit, rebuild an engine, sculpt, dance, decorate, act, sing—it doesn’t matter. As long as we’re creating, we’re cultivating meaning.”
You may not have aspirations of painting or scrapbooking, but the things that interest you are still creative in the sense that they create value in your life. When you acknowledge those things, you’re confronted with two choices: you can either face the discomfort of doing it, or face the discomfort of watching others do it instead.
That thing you’ve been putting off? It’s time to do it.
A journal page from this past month... Dance photos to come soon!