What if I have two left feet?

We hear it ever so often. "What if I have two left feet? Can you teach me to dance?"

Learning to dance takes two things: time and patience. If you give yourself the time, and can practice patience with yourself, the dancing will come. Over the years we've been teaching, we have seen all possible skill levels in our classes. Some students who walked in tripping over their own feet ended up becoming very skilled dancers. Others quit after a few lessons. What made the difference? Patience.

One student always comes to mind when I consider this question. We shall call him Xavier, because I've never had a student by that name. Xavier started off really struggling. From day one, he had a hard time remembering the patterns and even the basic step. But he came to every class. He repeated the beginner session a second time, so that he could get more comfortable with the moves. He took notes after each lesson. He attended each dance, and he practiced on his own at home, even though he didn't have a partner. He just worked on his basic step and arm leads. We never saw Xavier beat himself up over his struggles, he just asked questions, practiced, and persevered. Xavier became a dance regular. He mastered a lot of complex patterns. Five years later, I still see him dancing frequently.

Xavier is an excellent example of managing the "two left feet" syndrome. He didn't judge himself or get frustrated and give up. He just kept plugging away, finding a sense of accomplishment in each new skill he acquired.

I think this is true in any field of life. If we expect that we ought to instantly excel in any new activity, we're setting ourselves up for failure. By the same token, if we expect to fail at an activity, we most likely will. I'll use myself as an example. I perceive myself as being "bad at math." I'm really not all that bad, but I went to school with a bunch of math geniuses, where I was just about average. So all my fellow students were operating a few grade levels above me, and I felt bad about being exactly where a kid my age ought to be. I allowed myself to have the perception that I was "bad at math," which wasn't correct--I just wasn't as good at math as the kid next to me, who was exceptional. I carried this perception forward through school. When I learned a new math-related subject, I expected it to go poorly. I listened to the teacher's explanations with the idea in the back of my brain that I wouldn't get it. I took tests with the expectation that I would fail. I did my homework anticipating that I would end up wanting to throw my book against the wall.

As you can imagine, I created my own self-fulfilling prophecy. I stopped taking math classes as soon as the schools would let me, and I went merrily on my way in other classes where I expected to excel.

It all worked out in the end, but the down side of this story is that by convincing myself I was "bad at math," I ensured that I would always just get by. Instead, I could have said, "Hey, here is a new challenge. I will spend twice as much time on math as I do on writing, because I've already nailed the language thing, and I really need more practice with numbers. I could have asked teachers for help, or gone to tutoring. I didn't put in the time, so I never reaped the reward. I spent as little time on math as I could, and therefore, I never got better.

It's exactly the same with dancing. So, if you're asking the question, "Can I learn to dance even if I have two left feet?" The answer is a resounding YES! But it's also important to note that I am not the one who is going to make that happen. It has to come from you. You have to be willing to accept yourself right where you are. Enjoy the small progresses that you make. Reflect back often on where you were day one. Take a little more time to practice. Come to the dances. Take notes after class. Make up the classes that you miss, and don't be afraid to re-take the beginner class a time or two. You pick up something new each time. I personally have taught the same beginner class for five years, and I'm still learning new things each time!

So, if you have two left feet, we welcome you! Come dance with us!

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