Lessons On How To Dance To The Music Of Life From A 4 1/2-Year-Old

29 May

WRITEOUS CHICKS NEWSLETTER – May 2009

For the last few weeks, I was excitedly counting down to the season premiere of “So You Think You Can Dance” last Thursday, and planned to watch it with my friend who loves SYTYCD as much as I do.  We’ve watched the past two seasons together, play back our favorite dances repeatedly, and critique the dances as they are happening and see if what we have to say is in line with what the expert judges will say.  Cat Dealy and the judges have become like old friends I only get to see from May to August, and I was eagerly anticipating the two-hour television event.

My SYTYCD friend’s 3 and 4 1/2-year-old nieces were visiting from California and staying with her on Thursday, so she made the television event into a WYOT (Wear Your Own Tutu) Dance Party, and she said that every time she spoke to her nieces on the phone leading up to their visit and mentioned the Dance Party, they were so excited they would start screaming, and then the phone would drop to the ground.

So while “So You Think You Can Dance” was on mute most of the time and we missed many of dances last week, watching the season premiere dance party-style with a 3 and 4 1/2-year-old was way more fun and inspiring, in addition to requiring much more active participation.  And I quickly picked up some pointers on how to live more fully and dance to the music of life from Evelyn, my friend’s 4 1/2-year-old niece.

1)  Love Something With All of Your Heart

Later on in the dance party after Evelyn had performed several numbers as well as taught us some complicated choreography, we took a break from dancing and sat down to watch part of the show.  This episode’s auditions were taped at BAM, and during one performance, Evelyn sat at the edge of a chair, mesmerized and completely captivated by the dancer on screen.  “I want to beeeeee there,” she exclaimed, “their stage is so BIG!”  And later she elaborated, “I want to be a dancer in New York!”

She didn’t find reasons why this couldn’t happen or try to talk herself out of her dream or worry about what the critical response would be to her dancing, like so many of us do in adulthood.  As adults, rarely do we allow ourselves to have that kind of pure love for anything we do, whether it be because of practicality, self-doubt, or fear that if we pour our whole selves into something, we will be met with disappointment or rejection.  But Evelyn did not let any of these things taint or complicate her passion for dancing – she just purely loved it, and with all of her heart was certain that she wanted to dance across a big stage just for the joy of it. 

2)  Know Exactly What You Want and Ask for It

When we were kicking off the dance party portion of the evening, I asked Evelyn what kind of music she wanted to dance to and she immediately responded without any hesitation whatsoever, “Music for a Princess!  Do you have The Little Mermaid?”

As grown-ups, when someone asks us what we want, we often don’t even know because we haven’t allowed ourselves to explore our own preferences, wishes, and desires.  Or, we know, but we want to be low-maintenance so we say something like, “It doesn’t matter,” or “Whatever you want.”  Or we doubt ourselves or feel guilty for wanting something and spiral into indecision, unable to make a clear choice.  Evelyn had no doubt and was so completely in touch with her preferences that she could express them in a milli-second if asked.  Music?  Princess!

3)  If Exactly What You Want Is Not Available, Go With the Flow and Embrace What Is

As it turned out, my friend who is in her 30’s did not happen to have a copy of The Little Mermaid Soundtrack lying around.  The closest thing I could think of to “Princess Music” were the ballads on 106.7 Lite FM, which is what I selected for the dance party tunes.  Evelyn did not express any disappointment and instantly embraced the ballads as “Princess Music” worthy of her dance moves. 

In adulthood, this is another place we tend to get stuck.  If things are not going as we want them to, we have a very difficult time embracing what is, and spend much time and energy resisting and wishing things could be different; energy that could be better spent, perhaps, on a dance party.  Especially if we went to the trouble of expressing a preference, wish, or desire, and it is not met, we can take it as a rejection, and proof that we shouldn’t even bother expressing our needs in the future because they won’t get met anyway.  But this 4 1/2-year-old knew that when you don’t get real princess music, you make princess music out of what you have.

4)  Have Complete Confidence In Yourself

Several times throughout the dance party, Evelyn declared, “I’m a really good dancer!”  At one point she taught a dance lesson and warned me that “this part is really hard,” maybe so I wouldn’t feel bad if I just didn’t get it.  And she was a great dancer.  From watching reality dance shows I’ve learned that judges often comment on contestants’ musicality, and Evelyn had incredible musicality and a natural sense of rhythm.  My friend said that when they are driving and another car drives by playing music, she will start to move to the beat.  She was totally immersed in her dances, completely focused, and filled with emotion.  This is something she loved to do with all of her heart, and she did not doubt her ability in the least, nor did she expect unrealistic levels of perfection or expertise from herself. 

This is something that is really difficult to do after childhood.  As we grow up, we receive criticism from a wide range of sources, from teachers to peers to families to society, and it becomes close to impossible to maintain such a strong sense of self that outside forces never make our belief in ourselves waver.  As we are socialized we also get quite skilled in criticizing ourselves, and frequently place unrealistic expectations of perfection upon ourselves, mercilessly chastising ourselves when we don’t meet them.  Furthermore, displaying confidence in yourself and your abilities comes to be seen as arrogant, so we learn to downplay our abilities, fake modesty, and even diminish and put ourselves down so we don’t seem boastful.  But when you have confidence in yourself and aren’t bogged down by criticism or doubts, either from others or from yourself, you again free up energy to PLAY, enjoy yourself, and thrive.

5)  Sometimes Someone Will Bump Into You On Stage But You Gotta Keep Dancing

As Evelyn was twirling around on the “stage” between the TV, chair, and bed in my friend’s studio apartment, her 3-year-old sister Audrey was also twirling in sometimes competing pathways, and ricocheted off of her repeatedly.  Without missing a beat Evelyn said, “You have to be careful, sometimes someone will bump into you on stage,” as she continued to twirl. 

In life, people are always bumping into us, and it can stop us in our tracks.  At work, in our relationships, and even on the subway, someone bumping into you physically or emotionally can ruin your whole day, if not more.  We can get so upset by something someone else does or says that we completely veer off course and forget about our own goals and plans, and in our anger or our sadness or our whatever, we let this person or circumstance stop us from dancing.  Other people are not just an extension of ourselves, so we are not always going to like everything they do and say.  People will bump into us all the time, and we will have to set boundaries or let it go, but we don’t have to let it stop us from dancing to our own beat.

 

The day after the dance party, I ran into a neighbor on the subway who is studying Decision Making for his PhD.  I described the previous night’s events and asked him why we lose our faith and confidence in ourselves when we grow up, and why it is so easy to make decisions as children, and as adults even the simplest decisions can become something to agonize over as we weigh countless outside influences.  He said that as we get older, we gain several skills, such as the abilities for long-term, big picture thinking and weighing consequences, and in doing so, lose our childhood impulsiveness.  “Can’t we keep what works from our childhood decision-making processes, such as our trust in ourselves and what we want, and still incorporate what benefits us in adulthood such as big picture thinking and the ability to weigh consequences?” I inquired.  But he seemed to think that the two are mutually exclusive and that the gaining of these adult skills by definition requires the loss of the unwavering certainty in ourselves of childhood.

Obviously we can’t completely maintain our childhood innocence as adults, and we gain many benefits that help us effectively function in life as we mature.  But having a dance party with a 3 and 4 1/2-year-old reminded me of the wisdom, energy, inspiration, and excitement for life inherent in all of us in youth, and that we sacrifice too much of that spark as we acquire responsible adult skills.  So while we maintain the best parts of being adults, there is definitely room to break out that tutu, crank up the Lite FM, and DANCE.  There is a well-known quote that says “Dance like no one is watching,” but, as inspired by a 4 1/2-year-old, I’d like to modify it:  Dance like you are centerstage at BAM, you are the greatest dancer in the whole-wide-world, and EVERYONE is watching!

 

Wishing you pure child-like joy as you incorporate more of what makes you DANCE into your life!

Lots of love!

Jen xoxo

Copyright © 2009 by Jennifer Garam

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6 Responses to “Lessons On How To Dance To The Music Of Life From A 4 1/2-Year-Old”

  1. Al May 29, 2009 at 12:34 pm #

    Awesome post! Sounds like someone has found her true passion.

  2. Stephanie Karp May 29, 2009 at 1:47 pm #

    Hi Jen — As I heard you speak about this piece at class this week, I especially enjoyed reading it and got a real kick out of it. I hope you can share this with Eveyln’s parents to be part of her “scrapbook” as surely, they will love to read this one day. Such an important truth to hang on to. I loved your ending — Dance like you are the greatest dancer in the whole wide world and everyone is watching. Just beautiful!
    See you Tuesday!
    Stephanie

  3. Jennifer Garam May 29, 2009 at 4:56 pm #

    Thanks Stephanie!

  4. fcwdesigns May 31, 2009 at 12:25 pm #

    Wow! I love this post. Such great, simple advise. Thank you so much for sharing.

  5. Denise Abraham June 2, 2009 at 5:02 am #

    Thanks Jen, again, for writing such a brilliant and inspirational article. We truly enjoyed it and will treasure it – definitely a keepsake for the scrapbook. I will love reading it over and over again through the years. It resonates so well with me with teaching yoga. I’ve even talked about your article in my classes! When students become stronger in their bodies and minds through a regular asana practice, confidence is built up and self-doubt fades away allowing us to truly come in contact with ourselves (and inner child!)and to live out our dreams. So good to be reminded of this! Thanks.
    Live well,
    Denise Abraham (Evelyn and Audrey’s mom)

  6. Monica June 3, 2009 at 10:56 am #

    Hi Jen, I love this article! I also have a 4 1/2 yr old niece that loves to dance and will comment “I’m a good dancer” She teaches me, as yours does that believing in yourself should not stop at 4. I love the way she knows who she is “A Princess” and she lives and breathes it. As a personal style consultant I try to get my clients to bring out that confidence and love of self we women seem to loose. My niece, Karina will look at herself in the mirror and say ” I look beautiful” and she does. I love the ritual of looking in the mirror everyday and honestly saying “I look beautiful” So thank you Jen, for reminding us all that we can learn from this beautiful, self assured and very passionate little girls.

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