I fancied myself a dancer when I was a kid. Flashdance was important. I watched a lot of the television show Fame. I listened relentlessly to my Flashdance and Fame records every single day, filled with longing.
I made my friends call me Alex for a while. My perms were tight as screws. I wore leg warmers long after they were stylish. I mean, long after. Even in the summer.
I badgered my dad to take the car out of the garage so I could practice tap dancing on the smooth concrete. I made up my own dances, dancing for hours, practicing and practicing.
The slow realization that I had no talent broke my heart at first. There was an existential jump to gymnastics for about six months. I was even worse on the mat, so back to dance I went. The other girls in my classes rolled their eyes at my off timing, my clumsy spins, the way I managed to lose my costume gloves two seconds before it was time to go onstage.
Dancing was so fun, though, I couldn’t help myself. I kept going back.
My senior year of high school I found a wonderful studio run by two gorgeous, kind, and patient women. I took a couple of classes a week and never had to perform in dreaded recitals. I could just learn dances to practice in the garage later by myself. It was perfect.
When I missed one class, one of the teachers, a dancer named Aggie, invited me to make up the time in her evening group. It was an advanced class, but I’d been dancing for over ten years by then. She thought I could handle it. I could hang in with the serious dancers.
Nope. Couldn’t hang. I tried to follow the teacher, but the music was so fast. I was still spinning when everybody else was on pas-du-bourrée already and moving across the floor. I tried a leap that was way out of my league and landed wrong. Fell hard on my butt.
I scooted to the nearest wall and plastered myself against it.
I’ll just sit here, I said. I’ll watch. I’ll learn by watching.
The other dancers were visibly relieved that the mad flinger had left the dance floor. I was too debased even for embarrassment. It was just over and that’s all there was to it.
Aggie stopped the music.
Get up, she said.
I got up. Without argument. She was a goddess. Terrifying in her beauty and power.
Never quit, she said. Never just give up and sit down.
I’m getting in the way here, I said. This class is too advanced for me.
Aggie turned to the other dancers. She said, Maureen is the only one in here dancing with her heart. She’s the only one trying her hardest.
(This did not endear me to the other dancers, in case you were wondering.)
Then Aggie said something I have thought of every day since:
If you never fall down it means you aren’t trying hard enough. Never be ashamed of falling down.
So let’s dance.
Life in general often feels like a dance class that surpasses my skill level. So? Once a goddess told me it’s good to fall and get up.
So get up.
- What are some things you love to do but are no good at? Is there freedom in being lousy at something?
- What was your attitude towards practice when you were young? What is it now?
- What do you need to practice to improve? What would you like to be good at?
- Whose skills do you envy the most, and in what capacity?
I wrote The Ghost Daughter , available online now. I’m a better writer than I am a dancer.