Can you remember the first time you danced salsa?
I can remember how awkward I felt, how clumsy my movements were, how hard it was to learn the basic steps… and (importantly) how much fun I had.
I can remember my first year of dancing too. How nervous I was dancing socially, the fear I felt of making mistakes on the dance floor and the difficulty I had in asking people out to dance. I even remember the horror I felt the first time I stood on a girls foot (sorry Lucie).
Thankfully times have changed.
The desire to improve
Like virtually everyone I know who started dancing salsa in classes (i.e. most people from a non-latino background) I was taken over by a desire to get better.
Whenever I saw the veteran dancers doing their magic on the dance floor I always felt a mixture of two emotions;
- disappointment at my own dance level and…
- STRONG motivation to get better
That’s the great thing about being exposed to good dancers; it makes us want to improve. It gives us something to aim at.
I wrote an article when I first started blogging about “How to be Great at Anything and the Rule of 10,000 Hours” which is basically an observation that people who achieve the absolute highest levels of skill in their respective fields (be it golf, piano, dancing or professional air-guitar) have all put in ridiculous amounts of practice to get where they are. The whole gist of the article is that if you want to be good at something, you just need to practice (a lot) and you can achieve it. I can sum up the entire article with one of the lines from it:
“CONSTANT, DELIBERATE PRACTICE MAKES MASTERS. IN ANY FIELD!”
“But I’ve been practicing for years! Why aren’t I a master yet?”
Sometimes I ask myself that (and then I realize that I haven’t been practicing much at all… stupid life, getting in the way of my fun). I am, however, aware that I should be a lot better for the amount of time I’ve been dancing…
Luckily, I recently had a little revelation. I read an excellent article by a man named Greg Nuckols entitled “What it Takes to Break World Records” which I highly recommend that every human being with physical goals reads (after you’ve finished reading this one of course ;-) ).
Now, Greg’s not a dancer (nor would you ever mistake him for one if you met him in a club). No, Greg is a Powerlifter, a man who lifts heavy things… and then puts them back down again… for medals. In fact, he is one of the best powerlifters on Earth and has held 3 all-time world records and now works as a coach and exercise science blogger.
Powerlifting and Booty Shaking
If you’ve failed to make the connection, don’t worry, I’m getting there.
Greg’s article about breaking world records basically explains that he (and all other world class powerlifters) wouldn’t have achieved what they had if they hadn’t been naturally blessed with a “knack” for lifting heavy things. That’s not saying that they don’t train like beasts to be as strong as they are, they probably train harder than anyone else but they just have a natural capacity to lift heavier weights than the vast majority of other people.
He goes on to say that most people who lift weights will never reach his level of strength because they simply don’t don’t have the natural gifts necessary, no matter how hard they train… ever!
(I’m expecting some rather confused looks at this point)
“So you’re saying I should just give up?”
Not at all. What Greg goes on to explain next is what’s important.
What he has seen from his experience as a trainer is that with constant training and hard work, everyone will get better… in their own context.
Not everyone who starts lifting weights has the ability to become an elite-level powerlifter like Greg Nuckols but they certainly will be able to lift far heavier weights than when they began… with practice.
Correspondingly, not everyone who starts dancing has the ability to become the next Frankie Martinez or Magna Gopal or Oliver Pineda… but they can become far better dancers than when they started… with practice.
If you’re a pessimist the message of Greg’s article might depress you. In my case, it motivated the hell out of me.
You’ve come so far
Remember at the start of this post how I asked you to think of the first time you danced? Compare your dancing then to your dancing now.
Look at everything you’ve achieved; all the skills you’ve learned, all the insecurities you’ve overcome. You probably went from having two left feet with no sense of rhythm whatsoever… to being a salsero. You’re F@£king Awesome!
Never forget who you’re competing against
Wanting to improve and get better is a great thing and setting your goals high is a great way to motivate yourself. Keep those goals high and take inspiration from the great dancers that you see around you or online but never forget “They’re not your competition, YOU ARE!”.
The only person you need to be better than is the old you. If you learn to do something new today that you couldn’t do yesterday then you’re already winning.
We may never be as good as we want to be, unfortunately that’s just part of being human (we’re greedy). But we need to learn to stop comparing ourselves to others and instead be happy for how far we’ve already come as dancers and to be excited for how much better we can get if we put in the practice.
Everyone is capable of achieving incredible things… just in their own individual context.
Keep dancing folks.