The Bottomless Pit
By Eric Dahlman
We’ve often heard the adage “the more you know, the more you know you don’t know.” Whenever you learn something new in dance, you also find out how much there is left to learn or improve on. There’s a bit of a catch for ballroom though: no one ever fully ‘learns’ ballroom dance. There will always be something more to work on in order to attain unattainable perfection in dance. Even the most decorated competitive couples still work on ways to improve themselves.
For many beginning dancers, this vastness of knowledge can be intimidating. I feel we can all recall a time when we either practiced or social danced with someone far ahead our skill level. One part of you is excited since you see how much more one can do with their dance. Another part of you may be scared or embarrassed. Experiencing other aspects of dance might make you feel inept or insignificant about how you currently dance. Regardless of how you feel at first, remember the good feelings of the experience and use it as a reminder to keep dancing. It takes time to improve. Everyone needs space to learn, and everyone was once a beginner.
Instead of groaning “I have more to more to learn,” I like to think about learning ballroom dance (or really any skill) like learning how to fly. Cheesy, I know. Figuring out the first steps of a dance is like discovering you have some strange power to levitate. You know that you should be able to do something amazing, but you’re still only feeling your way through it. You will fall a couple of times, crash into a tree or building, etc. The whole time you know that you are building up to something greater. For dance, this may be learning enough steps to be comfortable social dancing or it may simply just be learning how to dance without looking at your feet. You feel a little proud. You now have a skill that many others only dream of.
As you start looking away from your feet, you also see that other people have the ability to “fly”. A gift you were once proud of now seems a little less impressive when you see another person appear to fly around the world in an instant. From here, there are often two ways of viewing this. You could A) stop flying because you realize you will never be the best at flying or B) keep flying because it’s cool and can still show you places you would have never otherwise seen. The answer seems obvious when put into an amazing context, but the same remains true about learning how to ballroom dance. Who cares if you’re not the best if you can still have fun or show off some already shnazzy moves?
Once you know the basic mechanics of dance, your goal should be how much more you can experience. Back to flying, once you feel comfortable in the air, you begin flying to see where you can go. People will always be able to fly to their destination faster or further than you, but what does that matter if you are still able to get there and are able to enjoy the scenery along the way? There will always be more places you can go, so why don’t you start by visiting what you can?
Although my analogy is a little convoluted, the idea of the journey or experiences being more important than the destination still stands. In ballroom dance, there isn’t any final test where you receive a banner declaring that “you have mastered dance.” Dance is a bottomless pit of knowledge. No matter how much information or how many skills you dump in, the pit will never completely fill. There is always room for improvement. You will always find more things you don’t know. If that’s the case, doesn’t it make more sense to be proud of what you already do know and work to expand that rather than beating yourself up for what you still need to find?