Here’s a loaded question: Should you be practicing lindy hop more?

Lindy hoppers and other dancers often get stuck on this anxiety-inducing question. And then we fret over how to practice, where, when, with whom, and so on.

We’re going to answer this question, but first we have to take a step back. Begin by asking yourself, “Do I care about being good at lindy hop?”

The 3 Types of Lindy Hoppers

There are basically 3 types of lindy hoppers. The first group are those who dance recreationally and don’t care as much about being “good.” The second group are those who care a lot about being good and practice the hell out their dancing…

And then there are the majority of us stuck somewhere in between. We harbor vague aspirations of “getting good,” but we lack the actual practice to get there. We feel torn between “fun” and “work,” between “mediocre” and “phenomenal.” I became this type of dancer about 6 months into my dancing.

You might say we limbo-dwellers need more certainty or more determination. I think you just need to make a choice.

The purpose of this post is to help you get out of limbo. Do you value enjoyment more than excellence or vice versa?

It's hard to equally prioritize both excellence and enjoyment.

In a moment I’ll explain the difference. But first let me explain four things that may not be obvious. When it comes to recreational dancers vs. committed-to-excellence dancers:

    1. The two groups have a similar level of enjoyment of lindy hop. They may enjoy dancing for different reasons or in different ways.
    2. The two groups have an overlapping level of ability. You can be pretty good at dancing and yet care more about having fun. You can be committed to excellence, and still be only a beginner.
    3. You can change types over the years. Just because you choose one now doesn’t close off the opportunity to switch later.
    4. Both recreational dancers and highly committed dancers are important in a healthy community. Anyone who tells you one is better than the other is a jerkface.

What’s the Difference, Then?

I am a recreational yoga practitioner. While I enjoy my twice-yearly yoga sessions (and try really hard when I’m there), I otherwise don’t think about yoga much.

I am also a recreational gardener, sewing enthusiast, and cook. In fact, most of my interests are mainly for fun. That doesn’t mean my food tastes like poop, or that I can’t sew a straight line. Every time I practice gardening, sewing, or cooking, I try to learn more and do it a little better.

On the other hand, I am a committed-to-excellence lindy hopper and writer. When I wake up and go to sleep, I think about dancing and writing. I scrutinize everything and catalog my mistakes to work on later. I have a vision of where I want to be (although it seems to change every so often). I care what others think, and I want to help people.

If I had the money, I’d gladly hire a gardener or a cook. But I’d NEVER hire someone to write my blog posts and books. I’d never pay someone money to choreograph my routines, or make up my class syllabus. I WANT to do the work myself. No magic bullets for me.

That’s the difference.

Which One Are You?

Recreational dancers care most about enjoying lindy hop—having fun. If things gets frustrating or un-fun, you can take a break without constantly thinking about dancing. Your self-esteem is not dependent on “getting good.”

Committed dancers value excellence. You are willing to sacrifice to get good at dancing. You feel like you’re letting yourself down when you don’t try your hardest. Doing hard work is fulfilling and gratifying. Indeed, it is a necessity.

Can’t I Have Both?

Yes and no.

You can prioritize excellence, and you can prioritize enjoyment. But not at the same time. Here’s the thing:

Excellence requires hard work. Hard work is often enjoyable, but not always. Hard work takes time, focus, and a willingness to fail. In the mean time you must sacrifice other desires.

You may not get to be the most fun lindy hopper while you’re working on something.

You may be tired and sore after preparing for a performance or competition for several weeks. You may social dance less. People might think you are snobby or boring if you show up to a dance and just chill out because that’s what you have energy for.

So why do it? Why be committed to excellence?

Because the initial high wears off. Because there has to be more to lindy hop than having fun, and you have to know what that is. Because you’re an artist at heart. Because amazing dancing opens up a whole new set of options, emotions, and inner rewards. Because you want to inspire people. Because you can’t stop thinking about it.

I’m More Stuck Than Ever!! Now What??

I knew you would be, after reading this. It’s okay to not have all the answers. But one thing should be clear to you:

'Uh, guys? I don't really have the flexibility for this.'
Photo credit: JD Hancock

Limbo sucks.

I suspect that many of my readers are committed-to-excellence dancers who are playing the role of a recreational dancer. You don’t hear enough validation that it’s okay to work hard, okay to really care about dancing, okay to make mistakes, okay to struggle. Okay to not have fun sometimes.
Lindy hop is the most joyful dance there is. It took me many years to woman-up and fully act on my desires for excellence. I had to learn to accept and even (gasp!) enjoy the bumpy spots. I do this at a direct contradiction to the prevailing idea that “lindy hop should always be fun,” because I know it is the right thing to do.

So, what will YOU do?

Naturally, I have some advice. Or rather, my friend Seth Godin has some advice:

Don’t wait for the right answer and the golden path to present themselves.

This is precisely why you’re stuck. Starting without seeing the end is difficult, so we often wait until we see the end, scanning relentlessly for the right way, the best way and the perfect way.

The way to get unstuck is to start down the wrong path, right now.

Step by step, page by page, interaction by interaction. As you start moving, you can’t help but improve, can’t help but incrementally find yourself getting back toward your north star.

You might not end up with perfect, but it’s significantly more valuable than being stuck.

Secrets of Better Dance Practice tileIf you’re not happy with your level of dancing, try practicing for the next month. If practicing hard is stressing you out more than you’re willing to endure, back off for a bit. If you need help getting your practice groove on, download my course: Secrets of Better Dance Practice.

Try something, anything. Just don’t stay here in limbo.

So what did you decide?