My Weekend with Ms. Jackson – The Belief Tug of War (Part 2)

The Belief Tug of War – By Rishone Todd

Trying something new on any level presents a hurdle never faced before and the fear of failure has the power to cripple the process of learning about yourself in a new light. For me, taking classes from choreographers/dancers that you normally see on TV or Youtube is my own challenge that I am working through. The speed at which they teach is at a different level, which is a challenge for any dancer, but for me specifically it has been a working progress to get where I am today. Don’t get me wrong, I do very well at these workshops in my own right, but at times I fall short of nailing the whole routine, and I am hard on myself the rest of the class.

In general, I know I need more exposure of being a student in master level classes to become better at processing the speed of detailed visual information. Throughout those classes, there is always an internal conversation that takes place that no one really documents, but I wanted to give you an inside look as well as some encouragement through my transparency of what I go through when trying something challenging that has to do with a new dance experience. The workshop hosted by Janet Jackson’s dancers was a one of those internal conversations that was so loud with nervousness and temporary disbelief that I had to tell it to shut the hell up so I could step the hell up.

Within all the internal excitement of the workshop hosted by the State of the World tour dancers Dominique Battiste, Denzel Chisolm, and Allison Buczkowski, there was an initial reservation that made me question if I had the processing speed or even the necessary skills to keep up with these precision, based musical athletes. Now I am sure I didn’t lose years of skills gained through dancing hip hop, but during that moment, I questioned everything due to the caliber of professional dancers that were in the building. I believe this happens on some level for those who also want to try something new or is a little out of practice with a passion they once excelled at.

The day of the workshop gave me this adrenaline rush that can be compared to the first climb on a roller coaster before the gravity defying drop. During this climb or build up before the start of the actual classes, I convinced myself to back out many times up until I realize I paid the $45 admission fee to take all three classes. Therefore, I was strapped in till the end of all three classes. Knowing that, there was still a scapegoat to get my money back and just watch, but I mentally convinced myself that I needed these classes to grow. I yelled countless profanities inside my head as the climb before the drop reached the pinnacle of the first class.

As soon as Dom entered the room, I remembered why I love and seek the challenge to learn from professionals. I was in her exact position a day before teaching the kids one of my newest routines, so it gave me another reason why I should and needed to be there. Momentarily all my fear transformed into complete appreciation as she addressed us all after stretching. Her teaching style and choreography was everything I anticipated. That theme extended throughout the night with each class.

However, during each class I had multiple moments that made me want to give up, but I kept countering that feeling by giving myself credit each time I nailed a series of eight counts. Each class had about 8-10 eight counts of intricate moves and seamless transitions. I came extremely close to executing an entire routine in one class but by not getting to that desired accomplishment, I knew I had room to grow. By the end of the classes I accomplished enough small victories in each class to keep me believing that I do have a gift after all. Of course, I used other methods of freestyling in between choreography to increase my confidence and working on the choreography while other groups were executing it for the choreographers. It was an experience that I will never forget; it helped me to realize I can never be comfortable or complacent when it comes to improving.

Additionally, if I continued to focus on biggest challenges as a dancer, I would not have showed up to the workshop, but my belief in myself, my trust in the process, my love for dance, and not being too hard on myself gave me the courage to not only show up but I also give myself the opportunity to learn from 3 amazing choreographers. I entered the workshop with some internal battles, but with a positive attitude and a open-minded approach, I left with the inspiration to work harder.

I have had so many meaningful conversations with individuals from all different age groups that are looking to get into dance but are scared they may not be good at it. Some say they have two left feet, some claim dance was something they did as a child but not as an adult, some say there is no time, and some say they just dance at home most of the time. However, they all agree that it would be great to do the things they see on those YouTube videos out in the LA scene.

With each conversation I can feel the eagerness and genuine desire to learn hip hop from each individual but the fear of stepping into a class room is more potent than the desire to try something new. Trust me, as you can tell from my experience above, I go through those same thought processes myself. Whether you are a trained dancer of a different genre, a freestyler at home, a dancer that grew up dancing but stopped after you left your old studio, or even someone looking to get into dance for the first time, give yourself the opportunity to learn. Focus on learning and less on perfection, because perfection has the power to stop your progress before you even start.

For example: The process of learning how to walk took many steps (pun intended) and failed attempts that ended on my butt. However, we didn’t just give up when we fell the first time. We kept going until walking became more and more natural. I use that same mindset when learning choreography from someone new or even someone who is on a different level than I am. Falling multiple times allowed you to strengthen the muscles in your legs, gain the motor skills necessary for each step, and visual connect what you want to do physically in your mind before walking on your own without needing the help of furniture to get around the house. We often forget that life is a continuous learning process and if you have parents/teachers/mentors and experience to help you in time you can walk, run or even dance.

From my 13 years of teaching experience, people sometimes want to be successful on their first attempt at anything new, especially dance. I know I have had my fair share of moments with unrealistically high expectations that proved repeatedly to be the wrong approach. The reality is that it is extremely rare to try something that is a learned skill and master it on the first attempt especially when your body does not move like that normally. My relationship with improving the visual processing speed of learning, executing, and performing choreography is an ongoing process that will take me many more learning experiences to improve upon. I have accepted that some will be good experiences and others will be experiences I need to work harder at, but if I stay committed to the process and expose myself to plenty of opportunities, I know the results will eventually reflect the work I put in.

The New Year is right around the corner, and if there is a belief tug of war inside of you that is holding you back from trying something new, then it’s time to win that battle with yourself. If taking some time off has made you not as sharp as you once were, just know that enough exposures to that very thing you love can build your skills back up to where they were. I am saying this because it is time for you to make that decision internally for your own happiness. You have someone inside of you that wants to learn and grow. Give yourself credit for all the amazing things you can do. If you need to yell a few profanities to get out of your own way at times, then do that so you can give yourself the permission to grow. Who knows what you are going to achieve when you do that. I know it has helped me grow into the dancer I am now, and it is allowing me to grow even further as I continue with my passion of dance as well as other areas of my life. One of my favorite quotes that I will bring into 2018 is by Fred DeVito that puts it all into perspective is that, “If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.”

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