I recently read a blog post on Portland Flamenco Events entitled “Do you know what just happened?” and it reminds me of a little anecdote I relate to my students when I am teaching them shimmies.
Taking a trip into the way-back machine, there was a time when I was a baby dancer and was struggling mightily with my 3/4 shimmy–specifically my bicycle shimmy. I had some friends I danced and rehearsed with outside of classes, and one evening as we were warming up, I looked around and saw all the other ladies shimmying around the room like it was nothing. Every one of them had their shimmy down. I had been working really hard on my shimmy, and not just in class. I was practicing my shimmy in elevators, in line for coffee, vacuuming, walking the aisles of the video store…basically every little chance I got I was trying so hard to get my shimmy down. It was really demoralizing to look around and see my fellow students doing it so effortlessly (like the beautiful Mimi Fontana of Manhattan Tribal in the photo right).
“Argh. I can’t believe I still can’t shimmy yet!” I opined as we gathered together to start rehearsal in earnest. “I have been working at it so hard. And it looks so awful. Here, see what it looks like?”
I began to demonstrate my “awful” shimmy…and suddenly, it wasn’t awful. My shimmy made its debut appearance then and there.
“OH MY GOD! I’M DOING IT!” I gleefully exclaimed as I shimmied my way around the room.
And I haven’t stopped shimmying since.
When I tell my students this story, I explain to them that it is conspicuous that when I “gave up trying” to shimmy that it came to me (Come on, I know you can hear Yoda in your head: “Do or do not. There is no try.”). I use it as an example of how every skill comes in its own time. Things rarely develop as quickly or a easily as we would wish. Ultimately, everyone will learn things in different ways at different times. You can’t force it; you can only invite it.
I liken our shimmies to a timid woodland animal. It hides in its little cave. It’s in there and is waiting for the right moment to come out. Our job is to coax it out, leave a little breadcrumb trail for it to follow, nurture the ideal environment for it to make an appearance. Sometimes it will peek its head out for just a moment and then retreat back (frustrating!), but one day it will come out of its cave and never run back inside. It will be yours.
How do you gain the trust of your shimmy (or whatever skill you are trying to learn)? How do you create the ideal environment for your talents to thrive? You of course need to come to class and hone your craft regularly. You need to practice it not only in class, but also at home on your own. You need to turn it over in your mind and let your mind-body connection develop. Just as the blog post I read relates about the student who was working on her skills:
“She has put in a lot of time.
She has practiced and practiced that part. She has done it slowly. She has had it explained to her.
She has done it with music. She has done it without. She has done it in isolation. She has done it with other steps. She has done it by herself. She has done it with me.
And she has enjoyed working on it…
It has taken thought.
It has taken effort.
It has taken dedication.
To get to the point where her body could just take over and do it.”
In my personal example, it was through all those countless struggles (and failures!) that one day I was able to “suddenly” shimmy. All that work added up until my mind was able to get out of the way and my body finally knew what to do. There is no shortcut to skill and confidence in the dance. It comes from dedicating ourselves to the craft. And if that sounds like a horrible chore for you, consider this: the dance rewards those who find joy in repetition and commitment to growth. Our dance can only thrive if we feed it the fuel of determination and perseverance.
“The thing is, we do have to teach our bodies what to do.
We can’t go to bed one night having no idea how to dance a bulerias then wake up the next day knowing how.
But we can wake up the next day and begin teaching our bodies how.
We can learn the steps and do them over and over and over again until they flow.
Then we can add the arms and again do them over and over and over again.
Then we can put the two together and… yep, do it over and over and over again.
And soon our bodies just know what to do.”
Read the full blog post here: