These words darted into my monkey mind as I gazed at Christmas lights, thinking back to high school days when folk dancing was a favorite activity. A motley mixture of adults and teenagers gathered each week at the Rec Hall for a medley of line and couples’ dances from many nations. College kids home for Christmas made holiday dances especially festive.
There were never any lessons – you just picked the dances up as you went, with occasional pointers from old-timers. Any athletic ability in our family went to my sister and brother. I was one of those kids always picked last for whatever team was forming in P.E., so, although I loved the music and the dancing, I was never a picture of grace. On some level I knew this, but put it out of mind. I was having fun. At least until the night Kelly gave me some startling advice.
“Quit trying to make like a ballerina,” she said with a sneer. “Do you have any idea how ridiculous you look?”
Ouch! Where’s the nearest hole? I fled to the ladies’ room to do battle with my Inner Critic.
Kelly was a couple of years older than I and home on break from college. She had studied ballet practically all her life, and she was good enough to turn pro. Undoubtedly watching my awkward attempts was painful for her, and tact had never been her strong suit. Perhaps she meant well, but her words stung. Fortunately she disappeared back to school, and I soon got over the humiliation and enjoyed dancing as much as ever, perhaps more.
I didn’t discount her message. After thinking it through, I did begin to relax into the music more, and seemed to move a bit more fluidly. If I was still a little awkward, so what? It didn’t seem to bother anyone but Kelly. We were there for the joy of dancing, not to put on a performance, and in general we were an accepting group.
Today as I recalled that horrific moment, I made the obvious connection to writing. There was a time when my writing was almost as awkward as my dancing. I have drafts of two short stories I wrote in 1978. They are utterly dreadful! I keep them as benchmarks for measuring progress. When I went to college I fell away from folk dancing, so I’ve had little opportunity to refine those skills. But I have continued writing for over thirty years now, and with lots of feedback, study and practice, I’ve made progress.
Today I often dance at home alone. I dance because I love to dance. I dance like nobody is watching, which is easy, because they aren’t. I write the same way. I write thousands of words nobody will ever see for every hundred I share. Maybe if I took up folk dancing again, I’d do better at it for all the private practice.
My advice for you: Forget the Kelly’s in life. Dance like nobody’s watching and write like nobody will read. If a Kelly wanders in, look for what you can learn and forget the rest.
Write now: about a Kelly experience in your life. How did you react? Did you shut down or keep slogging away? What did you learn then? What can you learn now for revisiting the event?
Image credit: Brendan Lally