super-womanHave you ever wished you could be perfect? Do you cringe every time you make a mistake?

Let’s talk about that. Chances are, it’s holding you back and suffocating your confidence.

This post is a letter to myself, one I badly needed to receive about six years ago. It addresses my struggle with both the dance scene’s expectations of and my inner need for perfection.

I’ve always known that perfection is not actually achievable. But intellectual knowledge apparently didn’t stop my deep seated desire for the appearance of perfection, and all the angst it brought me.

Sadly, I forgot to go back in time to give Past Rebecca this letter. So I’m giving it to you instead.

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Dear Rebecca,

So, you wish you could be a perfect follow, eh? I get that. I’ve spent my whole life trying to obtain perfection, pining after it like it’s a drug.

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Rebecca from way back, trying to get perfect skin.

I know what you’re thinking deep down.

You think everyone will like you if you follow perfectly.

That no one will ever be displeased dancing with you.

That you’ll finally feel accepted.

Or maybe you think that by the time you’re perfect, you’ll have total confidence. And then you won’t care what the naysayers think of you. Unfortunately, if you continue clinging to this mirage in the desert, it will take you a long time to find the truth.

Let me explain what the future holds for you:

Those women you call rock stars? I know they look perfect to your untrained eye. To you, they have an aura of infallibility. Their creativity appears to fit flawlessly into the structure they are given. Virtual mind readers! Or are they?

One day, you’ll begin to notice all their flaws, the last minute decisions, the “Oh shit!” moments on their faces and in their bodies. Once you begin seeing them, you won’t be able to un-see them. Every dance you watch will be reduced to a collection of mistakes, no matter the skill of the dancers. You’ll think, “They aren’t as good as I thought they were!” rather than accept that perfection is the wrong metric.

These people you obsessively watch on Youtube are walking imperfections. They never do a movement precisely the same way twice. They’ve spent years training, not becoming perfect, but developing compensations for their natural asymmetries.

But failing to realize this, still you will strive. One day, you’ll reach a point at which you follow as well as your idols. You’ll find you almost never mess up, that the lead nearly always has a pleasant time. Unfortunately, you’ll be dissatisfied many nights, wondering why this does not make you happy. Worse, there are still people who don’t ask you to dance!

A hollow victory that sits motionless in the pit of your stomach.

heirloom tomato 2

Heirloom tomatoes: Flawed, but oh-so-delicious!

But you know what that feeling is? It’s your first inkling that dancing is something much more than a process of attaining perfection.

Two realizations will settle upon you:

  1. The ideal of perfection is not just impossible, it’s boring and a time-waster.
  2. Even worse, you’ve been using it as an excuse. All these years you’ve have been searching for perfection, when deep down you needed to face your fear of being you. Ouch.

Learning lindy hop is an inner journey toward confidence and self understanding. Many teachers will harp on your mistakes and weaknesses; few will have the gift of identifying and encouraging your strengths. Discovering and honing these unique qualities will be mostly left up to you. What is your voice? What do you uniquely add to lindy hop?

After years of ironing yourself into some false image of perfection, answering these questions will feel like skydiving without a parachute.

Yikes. Best to begin now!

Throw your attachment to perfection out the window. Replace it with a zeal for excellence, and decide what that means for yourself. Take lessons from instructors who praise your hard work and show you the way to better practice. Find friends who share your passion and support your creativity. THEY are your parachute.

Perfect following is a myth. Stop striving for it as soon as possible. Only then will you be able to do your absolute best; then you’ll be the perfectly imperfect YOU.

(Spoiler alert: You turn out pretty awesome and figure a lot of shit out. Stop worrying so much.)

Sincerely yours,
Rebecca from the Future

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Follows and leads, do you feel pressured to be perfect? How have you dealt with this?

Please leave a comment below. There are lots of other dancers who can identify with and learn from your experience.

Photo credit: Jackie Alpers (tomato)