Jennifer A. Chin (cswallow) wrote,
Jennifer A. Chin

Designing Dance Practice (aka The Art of Not Fighting)

Another dancer in the studio came up to us last week and told us that she loves to watch us practice because we're "not like normal ballroom dancers." She told us that instead of fighting, we always seem to be smiling and enjoying our dancing (hopefully I'm not jinxing us here).  The truth is, there are a hundred opportunities for us to fight at every single practice. So why don't we?

It's been over two months of of 25-hour per week practices. Our first competition is this Saturday. C's mom and sister will be there to cheer us on. And I'll have the added pleasure of seeing many friends from the DC area and North Carolina at the competition. We can't wait, because for us, this is just the beginning.

In an article in The Atlantic about how Olympians stay motivated, the author points out 7 common factors for success. In one, she points out that those who reach the pinnacles of success are those who actually embrace practice as a joyful part of their process. And, who keep pushing through even when things become not-fun. As Dorothy Hamill said, "It's being able to get through those tough times. It's looking ahead and thinking —what the end result is supposed to be. That's where I think our minds can be pretty powerful."

I'm often told how strange it is that I, with my MBA, decided to pursue dancing so seriously. In fact, I believe that making a four-hour practice enjoyable and productive is not so different from managing a team. So much of "corporate culture" is intended to create the type of employee environment in which people want to be their best, to work their hardest, and to support each other at the same time. This is why bonus compensation is often tied to team or company performance. Managers are tasked with supporting people's skills and mindsets in a way that makes them productive beyond the average. At Fuqua, our final grades were always tied to team projects; we were rewarded for helping each other be better, whether at accounting, or public speaking, or building financial models.

Both b-school and dance have taught me that our minds are indeed powerful. It was our sheer willpower, and the support of our classmates, that got us first-year students through those first two terms, where four hours of sleep a night was the norm. How easily it could have turned, how easily we could have torn each other down in those times, instead of putting what energy we had left into building one another up.

I didn't have to be in business school. I did it because I loved the people around me and I loved the person I was becoming. I don't have to dance, either. I do it because the only time I feel whole is when I am on the floor. Because I care about it so damn much. For that reason, I sure as hell want someone to push me to be better and better every day. When faced with my shortcoming, my Fuqua teammates never once complained about how I was pulling them down. Despite my own initial belief that I would never be good at quantitative courses, my experienced teammates encouraged me to tackle difficult problems alongside them. Because of them, I discovered that I could succeed in and love finance.

I think it is human nature to want that feeling in all parts of our lives - the belief (whether true or not) that if we work at something hard enough, we are limitless in what we can achieve.

Psychology shows that when people feel attacked, they build emotional walls and become less open to feedback and to change. This is the opposite of progress. In order to be better dancers, and better people, we must change, or as our coach Charlotte said to us, "do things that feel weird." Some people seem to think that my lack of fighting with my dance partners is some kind of magical "you just get along!" And while yes, the fact that C and I get along is in some part due to how we click, there are also a hundred deliberate choices that we make during a four-hour practice of how we will say something, how we will ask for something from the other person, and most importantly, how fully we embrace and apply each other's feedback.

We have coaches that help us make our dancing better - technically, individually, artistically, partnership-wise. But 90% of the time, we have only each other's input. Partnerships must create individual, mini "corporate cultures" in a deliberate and thoughtful way, to make that 90% time extraordinary and productive.

BASE jumper Jeb Corliss said, before flying through Tianmen Cave: "If you want to do something special you have to work for it. The more special it is, and the more difficult it is, the harder you have to work."

C and I definitely want to do something special, and we are working hard for it. How we design our hours spent in that "work" is completely up to us.
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