When I started regularly working out at the gym, I was given the introductory “tour” by one of the trainers. For those who haven’t experienced this particular form of initiation ritual, it was a pretty demeaning form of high-pressure sales tactic to get me to sign up for what would amount to several thousands of dollars of personal training. During the get-to-know-you conversation, the salesma… err… trainer asked me what my motivation was to start coming to the gym. In addition to the fairly obvious answer—as one gets older, regular exercise changes from being a good idea to a matter of maintaining one’s life—I mentioned that I wanted to be able to “keep up” with my then new girlfriend. She was a few years younger than I was, and at the time, a competitive tennis player and cyclist. The trainer chuckled in that smug, knowing way (which endeared me to him even less) and made some snide comment about how I might compare myself to the gym rats who frequented the place with respect to the girlfriend; he may also have used the word, “competition.” That sealed the (non-)deal right then and there.
He’s long gone as a trainer there, where I still work out several times a week sans personal trainer.
Making comparisons is not always the best motivator for sustained progress, although it’s often the impetus to dip your toe in the water, so to speak. In the case of Salsaholics, it’s not unusual for people to come initially—to stick their toe onto the dance floor—for much the same reason I first went to check out the gym. They often have a partner (often a new partner) who dances and they want to “keep up.” They come to a class or two, in many cases with the partner, who joins the Foundations class to be a good sport and offer encouragement. While the new dancer struggles with feet that worked perfectly well up until the moment that I called out, “One. Two. Ba-sic Go!” the partner is doing double-spin travelling turns and S-turn copas with ease. In many cases, after two or three lessons, the newer dancer is frustrated that they still can’t keep up with their partner’s skill; that there are so many other people in the class dancing the same role who are not experiencing the same degree of challenge they are, and we never see them again.
The dance scene is fraught with comparisons and competitions. Go to a club or social, and chances are there will be some time during an evening of dance when you might be dance-sizing yourself up against another dancer’s skill. Or, if you’re not someone who picks up choreography easily, you can almost guarantee that you’ll find yourself in a class with other students who think the teacher is moving too slowly through the lesson. Especially if you are a relatively newer dancer, and even more especially if you are with someone who is an experienced dancer, making such comparisons is a sure-fire, one-way ticket to a different joint activity.
There’s only one comparison that really matters, and that’s comparing against your earlier self. It doesn’t matter what the other students are doing. The important question is, “Am I dancing better this week than I did last week?” Another useful question might be, “Is the dance I just had with this partner better than the previous I had with the same partner?” If you can answer, “yes,” to both these questions, keep up the great work! As your more-experienced partner will tell you, s/he was a beginner once, too. It was the perseverance, the determination, and the desire to continually and steadily improve that made them who you now experience, and indeed, who you, too, will become both at lessons and when we…
See you on the dance floor.