Self Confidence

Posted March 12th, 2010 by layla

Self Confidence.

When I started dancing, I had very little. Looking back, I observe that there was a positive-feedback loop between my dancing and my self confidence. As I became better at dance, I gained more self-confidence, and the more self-confidence I gained, the faster and more easily I was able to make progress in my study of dance. I became unafraid of learning new and advanced things. I became confident that I could easily pick them up and internalize them. And the more success I had, the better I felt, and the better I felt, the better I danced and learned.

Last Thursday, I had a lesson with one of the instructors I’m seeing periodically, to develop perspective. He expressed a great deal of confidence in my dancing and in my ability to make progress quickly. This made me feel even better (I was already on a cloud when I came into the studio), and consequently, I danced very well. He threw a lot of new things at me, and I was just able to follow him, without my own hangups about my ability/current level getting in the way. I got out of my own way, so to speak, and let myself reach further than ever before, further than I would have thought I could reach. I surprised myself, and I might have surprised him too.

Fast forward to Friday night. The last dance of the night was a Waltz, and my primary teacher asked me to dance. He danced Standard instead of the social dance he has been doing with me lately at the dance parties. He seemed to sense that I was really feeling good about it, and he started improvising with lots of higher-level stuff, towards the end of the dance, he must have done 8 or 9 pivots in a row, and the whole thing felt really really invigorating. He seemed very pleasantly surprised by how well I was able to follow him.

The next morning, during our private lesson, he (my primary) did the same thing. He pushed me, and did a lot of steps I’d never done before, including a bunch of open stuff (including steps that I’d seen professionals dancing at competitions – with my eyes wide with amazement as I watched). This was like the perfect icing on the cake that was my week dancing. I felt so good. I was having so much fun, I was smiling, and giggling, and I really couldn’t have been happier. For the next few days, everybody kept asking me what my big secret was? Why was I sooooo happy!? (It went beyond happy, I was downright giddy!).

I was happy about the dancing, and I was happy about the accomplishment I felt inside, for being able to learn all of this really advanced stuff that I was being taught. And I was really happy because my instructors were trusting me to learn it! And that trust that I felt from them, it made me feel that much more confident, not confident that I was this amazing dancer, but confident that I could learn this stuff, confident that I could put aside my hangups and smile and just do it, and feel great about it! Confident that I wouldn’t disappoint my teachers, and confident that in the future, if this mutual-trust (them trusting me, and me trusting myself) continued, I could become a really great dancer.

Fast forward to Tuesday. I took a Bronze/Silver International Quickstep group class. The focus of the class was on teaching the V6. I’d never done the V6 before, but I was confident that I could learn it. It seemed pretty simple, it goes natural spin turn, forward lock, change of direction with a brush, back lock, natural turn.

I didn’t have any problem with the way that the class was taught, but I did begin to realize something. Something that my primary teacher had actually predicted, back when I first mentioned that I was thinking about taking Standard group classes. He had said that he was worried that I might pick up bad habits from the other Amateur dancers, and that he thought I could get more out of taking one private lesson, than I could get out of taking many group classes. I said I wasn’t sure, because I wanted to learn what it was like to dance with other amateurs, and I said that I was curious about whether or not the format of the group class would help me to learn more quickly. I needed to see for myself.

Well, I learned that with respect to the way that I learn, he was very very right (as I explain, in depth, in this post).

So, after leaving that group class, I decided to visit him (my primary) for a quick chat (he had wanted to talk to me about coaching for our showcase anyway, so it seemed like a good time to talk).

The first thing I said to him was “Well, you were right! I’m cancelling my unlimited monthly group membership!” I went on to explain that after a few tries at taking Bronze/Silver Standard group classes, I was convinced that he was correct in his estimation that I would get more out of a single private lesson than I would out of many (International Standard) group classes.

To my surprise, instead of being happy that I came to understand and agree with his viewpoint, he shocked me with what he said next. He looked at me condescendingly, and said “I hate it when Amateurs compare themselves to other amateurs. You are not an open-level dancer either.”

I felt like I was about to cry. I was using the exact reason for cancelling my group package that he used to warn me against signing up for it in the first place! That other amateurs aren’t as good as him and might lead me to develop bad habits due to my heavily bodily/kinesthetic oriented learning style doesn’t make a comparison between myself and the other amateurs, it makes a comparison between him/other professionals and other amateurs.

I had mentioned that I felt like the students in the group classes were pushing me through the steps, and falling into me, and didn’t have good balance, and that these things were going to lead me to develop bad habits, instead of reinforcing the good habits that I form when I dance with him; but, I didn’t mention it to tout a comparison between them and myself — I mentioned it to illustrate his own point. He added, sarcastically: “and you are never off balance or falling through steps?”

Needless to say, I felt awful. I felt like the way he said what he said was meant to ‘take me down from my high-horse,’ though I didn’t feel like I was on one. I felt like I had the most confidence I had ever had in my dancing, and in my ability to learn, but by no means did I feel like I was a great dancer yet, or that there wasn’t a *ton* more for me to learn about every aspect of dance, or even that I was by any stretch of the imagination ready to begin competing in the open division. I just felt like I was finally waking up to my potential, and having the self-confidence to learn how to really tap into it and learn faster because of it. And that eventually, I would be where he felt the need to condescendingly remind me I’m not.

That he said that I’m not an open-level dancer shouldn’t, and doesn’t really impact my self-confidence. I already knew that I wasn’t. One lesson just starting to learn open steps for a showcase is exciting, but it takes time to really learn and refine any new technique.

But, the way that he said it, has really given me a blow to my self-confidence, and my general demeanor. Try as I might, I’ve felt low since he said it. Some other things that have happened in my life, which would have rolled off my shoulder amidst the glee that I felt last weekend, have not, they have really hurt, and in their own way, they’ve made my self confidence drop too.

During the last two days, dancing has not been as care-free and giddy, and I haven’t been performing anywhere near as well as I was last week/weekend. And my instructors have noticed, and commented. Tonight, on our third lesson together, my non-primary instructor was surprised by how badly I danced, compared to our last lesson, and he said he felt like he should teach me like I am a beginner tonight.

I trusted my primary teacher to be supportive. I thought, if to nobody else, shouldn’t a passionate, hardworking, dedicated student be able to turn to their teacher for support and encouragement? I went to what I perceived to be a safe place, to express what I perceived to be good news, and I left feeling stupid and hurt.

I left feeling like my teacher who I trusted and looked up to felt like I was a nothing who thought she was something special.

I’ve felt this way before. I felt it often while growing up. But I really thought that I was finally getting over it, finally moving past it, finally in a safe place, where I belonged, with people with whom I had developed a sense of mutual trust and respect. Tuesday night felt like a blast from the past, and it shattered my image of my relationship with my teacher.

I know that I have to talk myself out of this. I know that physically, I’m no different than I was last weekend, and in most ways, everything I had then, I still have now. The only difference is my confidence. I know that I should be able to feel confident in myself, even if nobody else does.

But here I am, feeling broken, because somebody else said something not so nice to me (with a few more bad interactions with other people mixed in). How do I disconnect my emotions, and my feelings about my relationship with my instructor from how I feel about myself? I guess this is what I need to learn most, right now.

The self-confidence I developed through dance, fueled in-part by learning that other people, like my teachers, believed in me, was the one of the main ways that I came to be self-confident in other areas of my life, where I had always had low confidence. I guess that maybe when one of the pieces of the foundation of your house falls apart, it’s tough to hold the roof up if you don’t have enough other pieces that are able to stand on their own?

That would seem to make the answer that you need to build a bigger foundation, with more pieces which can stand on their own if you lose one… I guess my other teachers might help in that way, if they had known me long enough to have really been integrated into my foundation…

I guess that friends should also fit into that foundation, but since my relationship and it’s ugly breakup, I’ve felt disconnected from a lot of people. And, I have lost a lot of what made me feel whole before… like my hamsters, the sense that I was understood by someone else, and the feeling of being comfortable and happy at home.

I guess I have a lot of work to do, an uphill climb to attain real self-confidence, and to not close myself up to the world…

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