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Life Through Dance

Using the Right Tools

By Elizabeth Dickinson

There’s a new move in my Viennese waltz where I segue from an assisted arabesque into a pique position. It’s a quick pas-de-deux move I’ve seen done but never have performed myself.

When done well, it’s incredibly graceful. There’s something avian about the feel. The lilt and quick sliding twist from the extended body position into an upright position is like a bird folding its wings to glide on a branch. Of course, when it’s done awkwardly it’s like a cow attempting a high-wire act—and there’s a reason they don’t fly cows in the circus.

Turns out, I’ve been trying to do the twisting motion using my extended leg. My teacher said I needed to use my hip to initiate the movement. Then the leg quickly resolves itself and there’s almost no impetus needed to turn. The difference between focusing on my leg to execute the movement and focusing on my hip to execute the movement was stunning.

There’s a popular saying: “If all you’ve got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

For many decisions we make or actions we undertake, we only have partial information or a limited set of tools to handle new challenges. Sometimes it’s unavoidable. So we use what we know, whether it’s a hammer or a leg. It’s impossible to know everything or to be completely prepared for everything life throws at us. (My teacher says he remembers writing things early in his career he was completely convinced about that he now knows to be either wrong or incomplete. It happens everywhere.)

There are many forms of grace at work in our world. There’s the grace that so many things in life work out when so many of us simply don’t have the information or tools to ensure optimal success. And there’s the grace of sometimes having the right teacher to provide the right tool at the right time. And when you get the right tool and things suddenly get easier in life or dance, it is a little like flying.

To grace and effortless flight.