The Drive To Be “Better”

After another hard class with Inna, and mulling over what to write on my 150th post, I am left meditating on where my drive to be “better” as a dancer comes from and what “better” even means to me.

Sergey Surkov and Melia Paso Doble

By Елена Зайчиковна ( [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Class was tough but great and very sweaty.  We started with rumba then worked to samba then a few killer minutes of jive.  In the rumba, we did our normal rumba box, rumba walks, cucarachas,  and a quarter turn to change direction and begin the pattern again.  Inna, as always, was admonishing us to show the rhythm, be sharp, especially with our arms and also on the quarter turn.  Man, I was trying.  I really was.  I know my arms are a mess (the bain of my existence) and I was really trying to get that quarter turn to be crisp and sharp but it just wasn’t working.  Finally, during one portion I asked her.  Like, I know I should be doing this but I don’t know how to do this.  It turns out, one thing I am learning about the rumba especially, is that it is really important to take advantage of the wind-up to create quick movements.  By this I mean using the spine, twisting it like a corkscrew in the opposite direction that you want to move and the allowing it to uncoil to add that extra “snap” to the movement.  That, and also moving the side of the body going forward as one unit, not as hip, then upper body as a separate section.  It did make it easier to do the job, but again, it’s going to take some practice before I’m really comfortable doing it, or competent at it.

So, not only did I get some insight into how to actually execute the movement Inna was asking of us, but I also learned, after class, that I wasn’t the only one wondering how to do it.  My friend Lady Gaga has rejoined the fold and shared with me after class that she was wondering what to do too, that she was so glad I asked.

In the samba, Inna made us do bota fogos backwards.  Boy was that awkward.  Add in stupid arms, and it was quite a challenge.  But hey, awkward, and uncomfortable means I’m growing…right?

Finally, just a few minutes of jive.  Reality check.  So freaking hard, and my cardio is so poor, I have kind of decided I should just do the little combo she gave us once through every day.  Then I can work up to doing it  over time, repeating it one time more weekly, until I can easily do it for a minute straight.  Seriously, not my favorite dance.  A major reminder why being the size I am and in the poor shape I am doesn’t work very well for me.

And this brings me back to this idea of wanting to be better at dancing.  You know it is interesting.  At the end of class, Inna called out one of the students.  For a minute, I totally thought she was talking about me.  You see, she said, “You know, I couldn’t believe it.  Everyone was working so hard and one person was standing over here being lazy!”  I had done the jive as much as I could but the truth is it is beyond my capacity at the moment.  I did one round of it then had to rest for two rounds, then joined in for one round and so on as I was able.  It really got my heart rate up so high, I thought it might jump out of my throat onto the floor.  But the truth is, I gave up.  Yes, I have physical limitations, but could I have pushed more?  If I had, would I push myself into an asthma attack?  Should I have hung on for even 5 more seconds?  When is it enough and when should I push more?  Cause, like, physiologically the body doesn’t change until it is challenged hard core, stressed diferently and more intensely than usual.  So anyways, there were absolutely moments where I, too, was just standing there and it was all I could do to breathe.  But that’s not an excuse, not really.  It so totally wouldn’t have flown with my childhood dance teacher, not for one second.  No stopping allowed.  So I thought she was going to make me do the solo she had asked of this lazy student, after we had all stopped to be watched by everyone.  But I lucked out, she was talking about another student of hers.  She probably could call him out more than the rest of us because he is one of her long-time students.  But even more interesting is that I shared my fear that Inna had been talking about me after class with another friend and she replied that she totally thought Inna was talking to her!  She was praying, “Please don’t let it be me that has to do a solo,” while I had resigned myself to the embarrassment that was shortly to ensue.

But through it all, I’m watching.  I’m watching the other really good students.  I’m analyzing Inna.  I’m looking for what I can do to make my dancing better.  I really want to do this in the moment in the class and yet, why?  Where does this drive come from?  I’m not quite sure.  And also, what is my goal for my dancing?  I look at pros like at competitions, or Inna in class, or even on DWTS, and I’m not sure I could ever even achieve what they do.  Why do I compete?  Why do I even want to do this crazy thing?

I guess there doesn’t have to be a rational reason.  I just see beauty in it and athleticism and musicality and rhythm, and expression and I want to be that.  I aspire to be that.  But when do I get to go from the state of wanting to be these things, in other words, being in a state of lack, to being these things.  What does it take?  When will I know I have achieved them?

I have no answers tonight.  I’m in the question, as they say.  All I know, is that there are magic moments when dancing feels expansive, amazing, alive.  These authentic moments matter to me, right alongside proper foot placement and hip action and counts and all the technique in the world.  I think that is why I train, even in the shoddy capacity I do, and maybe this has something to do with the “why” behind wanting to be better.  I want to be “better” because it increases the possibility of these magic moments of synchronicity and flow happening.  And, you know what, for me, it’s worth it.

But I’m curious….what drives you to be “better?”  What does “better” look like for you?

5 thoughts on “The Drive To Be “Better”

  1. bgballroom says:

    Stef – I think it is those special moments that keep us doing this. Looking for those elusive moments when you are in the zone, merged with music and partner and the world expands and your heart sings. If I recall my psychology correctly, it is all about intermittent rewards, which are the most effective in getting us to repeat behaviours. Gambling and golf swings are often used as examples. The big rewards are few and far between and we never know when they will appear, but when they do, it is so amazing that we want to continue to do that activity forEVER.

    I know that when we have a moment like that I break out into a spontaneous huge smile and often give a big sigh of happiness. I also know to not go too far into that feeling if we happen to be on a competition floor. Nothing like being in a blissful state with the sun shining, angels singing and a sense of being in synch with the Universe to make you forget which *****ing dance you are doing and where the **** you are! LOL!

  2. Paragon2Pieces says:

    A lot of the ballroom teachers refer to the wind-up stuff you’re talking about as contra body movement position. It’s pretty strange if you come from a ballet background where the idea is to stay square most of the time, but it really does create pretty contrast and fun momentum in ballroom/latin!

    To your question about why we want to do better… I think perceived progress is an element of happiness. In middle age, a lot of ppl have finished their degrees, created their family and have a career in place. It starts to feel, I think, like there’s no progress. Especially against that backdrop, it’s fun to work at getting better on the dance floor 🙂

  3. AMEN, SISTER! A) Haven’t we all had that moment in class where we’re sure the teacher is talking to us? [every class, ever] B) How? How how how to do it better/correctly? C) Why doesn’t it just feel awesome to do well, right away? D) What is The Goal?
    Amen… Just amen.

  4. Alaina says:

    My stupid email isn’t alerting me to your new posts. *angry face*

    Hey, I’m working on contra-body movement, too. It certainly isn’t easy because it just isn’t natural to twist one’s upper body while one’s torso is squared. You’re not alone.

    As for being better, I want to be a high-level (whatever that is…) competitive dancer someday. I don’t want to win or anything, just to hold my own on that floor. That’s my main goal.

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