Satisfaction Versus Complacency
By Eric Dahlman
At my last practice, my instructor asked the room, “Who here is happy with their dancing?" Looking around I realized I was the only one holding his or her hand up. The instructor quickly retorted, “No one should be happy with their dancing, we all still have something to learn!" Granted that we were preparing for a competition the following week, our coach’s rhetoric was not meant to be malicious. However, I still believe that there is a difference between being satisfied with your dancing and being complacent.
Being “happy" with your dancing does not have to mean that you are no longer striving to improve. Instead, I like to think about being happy with your dancing as “appreciating" your dance. There is no fault in appreciating how much you have learned and how you are able to apply it. I think that it is perfectly acceptable to feel satisfaction about your ability. The important aspect is that feeling satisfied is not the same as being content.
Complacency in a skill is when you are content with the way things are and are no longer working on improving. For a dance example: you feel that you have learned everything there is to waltzing, so you stop attending waltz classes as they have nothing more to offer. The issue of complacency is not that it is hard to understand, but rather that the fear of complacency leads to stress in a lot of ballroom dancers.
One of the greatest life lessons that ballroom has to offer is that the more you know, the more you know you do not know. In other words, the more you learn, the more you find out there is still more to learn. This lesson is fantastic because it teaches us to be humble. As dancers, we know to always keep practicing and that there are infinite more ways we can improve. At the same time, I see a lot of dancers develop bad habits because of this. Many dancers focus on the negative space of what they still have left to learn rather than on how far they have improved.
In this sense, the idea of never being “happy" with your dance is very unhealthy. Working toward something without enjoyment is not worth the effort in the long run. Without motivation and excitement for the activity, there is no reason to really continue pursuing a pastime. By simply looking back and seeing how much we have improved, dancers can avoid burnout. Every so often, I recommend looking back on the milestones you have passed. We should feel proud of the accomplishments, no matter how small. Having pride in your waltz or any dance is a good thing. It does not matter if you still have to improve your rise and fall or that you could have fixed your frame better. Appreciate how you are currently dancing along with your flaws. Satisfaction only turns foul once it leads to complacency. Enjoy your dance with the fact that you have much left to learn.