Back when I was a bunhead, I developed a huge block when it came to pirouettes. They were the bane of my existence. I could do a single turn with very little trouble, but when it came to double turns, forget it.
I couldn’t get enough momentum for multiple turns while still keeping the correct form, and when I did make it around, I would be so startled that I would fall out of the turn.
My teacher, obviously, wanted me to be able to overcome my block. She was training me to be a professional ballerina, and multiple pirouettes are a basic requirement. She found my block intensely frustrating…
…and she let me know it.
“Single turns are unacceptable!” she would snap, “DO IT AGAIN.” I would try, and fail, and she would sigh in a way that made me feel about 2 inches tall. “No. Do it again,” she would growl, seeming to tower over me.
…It occurs to me in hindsight that she was actually several inches shorter than me by this point, but she seemed very, very tall.
But no matter how much she yelled, how many hundred times we did the exercises, how frustrated we both got, my turns, if anything, got worse.
When I went away to study at Walnut Hill, I was astounded. My teachers sensed my desire to improve, and they empathized with my frustration and self-criticism. They offered suggestions based on their experience, and if their initial suggestions didn’t help, they thought outside the box. For example, one teacher suggested that toning my core muscles and my arms would help my turns, and that made a huge difference.
Their approach slowly helped me realize that, while pirouettes were definitely a problem area for me, that was OK. Dancers have strengths and weaknesses. It didn’t mean I was hopeless, it just meant that I needed to work on that particular area even more. It was OK to fall, so long as I got back up and tried again.
The best teachers know that yelling and threats only make a challenge seem more scary. Instead of losing patience and screaming, they say something closer to “It’s OK. I see that you *insert problem here* Why don’t you try again and this time *insert possible solution*?” I’m not just talking about ballet here either.
I did manage to do consistent doubles (on the right side, at least) by the time I’d spent a year with the teachers at Walnut Hill. Their multiple viewpoints and corrections -coupled with the fact that not one of them ever lost patience or yelled at me- helped me to work through the block and make progress (although I admit that I dreaded pirouettes for the rest of my time in ballet class).
I’m telling this story for a reason, of course.
When you’re trying something new and you can’t quite get it, what approach do you take with yourself? Do you mentally tell yourself off, shaking your head at your own incompetence and your sub-par performance? Or do you dust yourself off, acknowledge your feelings of frustration, try to see the problem from another angle, and try again ?