Monday, January 26, 2015

On getting off the ground

I have a new year's tradition of doing a class in something terrifying that I'm no good at. Last year it was stand-up comedy. This year it's vertical dance class. In harnesses bouncing off walls sideways and upside down. Well done it looks something like this:

The reality as an out-of-shape beginner is something of a different story.

I'm like an aspirational chicken trying to blend in with a group of swans.

When I get the rest of my 15 classmates are warming up. One is doing handstands and splits in all directions seemingly effortlessly. I can sometimes sort of stay upright if I'm against a wall. And splits don't happen, right side up or upside down.

The class is mixed level, which is actually quite nice. We started with warm-ups and safety talks. The most important thing really is not to fall on your head and die. In order to make sure of this your harness gets triple checked by you, your climbing buddy and an instructor before you leave the ground.

There are four of us newbies, and we started out by working on ropes in the middle of the room. Once I'm up I'm pretty happy. I may look like a sack of potatoes, but I enjoy playing, flipping upside down and spinning. There's a wonderful freedom to being in the air, knowing your triple checked harness has you safe. The least dignified part of the whole ordeal is getting up there. We have an 'ascender' which grips the rope above us, and lets us pull ourselves up a bit at a time. At least, it lets people with coordination and upper body strength do that. I think my biggest mark of improvement is going to be whether I can manage it myself in 8 weeks, instead of having an instructor helping hoist.

I read an article the other day on how excessive praise can be bad for children. Or more specifically certain types of praise. Studies have shown that when children are praised for talent ("you did great, you must be good at this!") rather than effort ("you did great, you must have worked hard!") they tend to develop a fear of failure... and in their attempt not to be seen as anything less than perfect they'll hold back, and try only things they know they can safely accomplish.

I catch myself doing this sometimes, both personally and professionally. If I'm worried about not performing well I'll lurk on the sidelines watching. "I could do that any time I want... I just don't feel like it at the moment."

Part of my new year's ritual is to do with reminding myself I don't have to be the best. The stakes are, in many ways, lower, because I'm not working at something I'm ever likely to be a professional in. I'm just there to see how far I can get (though I'd by lying if I said I didn't wish I could just naturally be amazing at it. Life isn't fair sometimes.)

I don't expect to be asked to join the dance company any time soon. At best I'll become more fit, learn a lot and make it up the rope by myself. At worst it's at least a good exercise in humility.

I like this message even if I'm not exactly sure what I'm hoping to become a master of.

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