Last year I won a hula hooping contest at a friend’s birthday party – Thank you, John Harmon, for having the birthday and sending me the wonderful pictures! – I put that thing around my waist, spun it, and I could make it go forever with very little effort. There I was spinning and spinning as the others’ hoops hit the ground. Someone said, “Wow, you’re a natural at this.” A natural who spent an entire summer when she was ten doing nothing but hula hooping out in the backyard. What happens if I do this? How do they do that trick? What do I have to do differently to walk and hula? Round and round and round. Things didn’t always work out … normally not at all in the beginning with a new trick … but I was a determined little girl, and I got better.
My dance partner for 5 years, dance instructor extraordinaire, Kurt, always smiles when students tell him they can’t do something and that he can “because it came naturally” to him. After practicing his posture while on guard duty, after performing his turns in the narrow gap between his couch and his glass coffee table, after spending hour after hour on a cement floor in the studio basement repeating each figure he’d learned… After all that, yes, it came naturally.
It’s easy to dismiss what we perceive as the innate ability of someone doing something that we admire. The self talk gets very loud: my balance isn’t good enough for that, I’m not fit enough, I can’t concentrate long enough. ENOUGH already! The fact is, you can’t do it right now. Neither could they before they started.
I can say this because I was that person. I looked at dancers and wanted to be out on the floor, but I wasn’t “insert every quality under the sun here” enough to do it. Then one day I actually tried. I sucked. I mean REALLY sucked. But I liked it. That caused some cognitive dissonance in my brain. How could I like something I was bad at? This was a case when I actually had the courage to do something for me and not the people I thought might judge me as less for not being good out of the gates.
Some people do have innate abilities that make the initial learning curves for something easier. That wasn’t me in dance. I fought for every step, with hours and hours of practice. I wasn’t as willing to just throw myself into a new movement as Kurt would have liked, but with time and thousands of repetitions, I got better. In the vernacular we shared at the studio, I sucked less, and was VERY proud of that fact.
I help Kurt with a dance class in San Diego (shameless self promotion of Diversity Dancesport!). As I was working with a student to learn a particular movement, she said, “Tammy, of course you can do it. It comes naturally to you.” I smiled and realized that life had come full circle and that all of those hours had paid off! I could make my effort look effortless!
All of this reminds me of a story I heard a while back. I wish I knew the original contributor so I could give him/her credit. It was backstage after a piano soloist’s performance. A man approached the soloist, and after congratulating him said that he would give anything to be able able to play like that. The pianist smiled and said, “I have given everything to be able to play like that.”
Now that an injury has taken dance away, I’m wondering what my next “natural” talent will be. I guess I could take up hula hooping again … or not. What skills do you have “naturally”? What are you working on right now that you hope will become “natural” for you?