I strongly dislike reality TV. It is so uninspiring and ridiculous that I can’t believe how much of it there is and how deeply it has infiltrated the television landscape. I rarely delve into the reality realm, trying instead to stay away from the black box altogether, but traveling and racing and being on the road, cooped up in random hotels in random cities, it can be a good mind-numbing time passer.
For the past few days I’ve been in Richmond, B.C. for the first real races of the season, trials for the fall World Cup circuit. Racing can be pretty intense and require a lot of focus, but for a relatively short period of time. As such I am often left with plenty of time for things like philosophical reading, deep thought, the pondering of my absurd existence and more realistically, channel surfing. Enough clicking already and I get stopped at ‘So You Think You Can Dance’, a nationwide dance competition TV show. Kids from across Canada cut up the rug the best they can to impress the judges and make it to the top 20 for the big showdown in TO. Somehow this one catches me hook, line and sinker.
I am captivated, I think, by how incredibly well these dancers can move their bodies, how quickly they can learn new styles, moves, steps, and choreographed routines. Having never developed my own dancing ability, or lack thereof – I am woefully devoid of any noteworthy rhythm, moves, or curves – I am amazed at their body awareness and athleticism in combination with dance and music. They make it look so easy, but I know how skilled they must be and watching these kids dance makes me think about how incredibly specialized the movement I try to master on a daily basis truly is. Instead of always learning new dances and choreography, I repeat the same motion over and over and over again.
I am constantly honing the miniscule details of every aspect of my skating technique, trying to improve my efficiency, power transfer to the ice, optimal body position, arm swing, knee angles, and even how I hold my fingers… Like any skater, or dancer for that matter, I do have weak spots. One aspect of my skating in particular that requires a bit of special attention is my start. This has always been a weakness of mine and I am quite intent on improving this skill so I can be more competitive in the shorter races. The only way to improve it is by practicing it over and over again, a hundred times, a thousand times.
Enter Xiuli, my coach from China. Her eye for technique combined with very high expectations leads to incessant focus on technical improvement. This is a good thing. And it takes a certain disposition to digest her constant technical cues without getting demoralized. I personally thrive on this feedback and am so intent on improving that we work well together. Her imitation, or caricature rather, of my technique is so spot on it makes me laugh and cringe at the same time, but I know she’s right, so I go back out and do it again. Xiuli’s grasp of the English language, while commendable and impressive, also occasionally makes me laugh and cringe at the same time. But she gets her point across, often more effectively than someone whose native tongue is English. She finds true and simple words to explain what she means.
Like for my start, she’s figured out a perfect visual for me to understand what I do wrong. During practice one day a couple of years ago, I did a start and when I came around for some feedback Xiuli said to me, “You look like old lady”. We laughed, but I knew what she meant and I knew she was right! Off the line I am sometimes fragile and tentative, like I’m walking on sharp pebbles. This is not the fastest way to get going, and unfortunately for me, this old lady likes to hang around. These days Xiuli calls her Grandma. The thing is, she’s never invited, but keeps coming anyways! I try to think of ways to politely tell her she’s not welcome, but it’s awkward because she’s family.
Now, these kids who dance, they are young, hot, and talented and they can move! I don’t think they’d even let Grandma in the door to watch the show! Old ladies are nowhere to be found… But still, when they are finished dancing, they step up to the panel of judges for feedback, and listen to words like “you need to step it up”, “the rhythm isn’t there”, or “show me more passion”. And then I think, maybe our worlds aren’t so far apart after all. The performance and feedback may be entirely different, but the goal is the same – get better, do better, be better, be your best, be the best.
I suppose we all have our ‘Grandma’s’ to improve upon, for one thing or another, and in the end somehow that seems to me to be the point. Sometimes it’s a quick fix, and sometimes it takes years. No matter how many times I practice my start, Grandma still shows up from time to time. But she comes less often these days, and I’m plenty glad about that. I’m working on having her stay on the sidelines permanently – I don’t mind if she comes to watch, I just don’t want her along for the ride.