When “doing the best you can” isn’t good enough

When you’re playing on a sports team, and you lose the game, you lose the game.

When you’re taking a test, and you don’t know the answer, you just don’t know the answer, and there is no “A” for effort.

When you’re giving a presentation at work, and you mess it up or screw up the sales pitch, you’re done. You don’t get a second chance.

When you’re in dance class, you can apologize to your dance partners before and after an exercise.  You can explain what you were thinking when you screwed up.  You can try new things, and maybe they don’t work out.  It’s okay to make mistakes in class.  That’s what class is for.  That’s why you’re there.

But when you’re performing, you get one shot.

In class, Carolena talks about “feeling the fear” of being onstage, and how necessary that mindset is to provide a flawless show.  If you mess up dramatically and visibly on stage, I guarantee that almost no one in the audience will be thinking “well, that was weird and I didn’t really like that, but I suppose she did the best she could.”  Nope. The audience member leaves thinking “wow, that was weird and awful.” Or maybe they forget your performance entirely.

In other words, if you go on stage thinking “oh, I’ll just go out there and do the best I can,” frankly, you won’t. Per Carolena, you need to feel the fear.  You need to go onstage and be flawless.

Does this scare you?  It should.  Performances should be scary.

You might get to apologize to your dance partners, but you don’t get to apologize to the audience.  They already have their experience; they don’t care about your explanation or excuses.


Here’s an example.

I’d had a long day at the office, but I’d promised Carolena I’d show up to be a student for a taping for the PowHow classes.  So I came to the studio, put on some makeup, and tried to transition my brain quickly from Nerdy Day Job Brain into Dancer Brain.  It takes some time, you know, to transition mentally as well as physically.

But the taping started right away. Carolena had been there all day, as had some of the other “students,” and I was one of a couple people who was coming to provide a boost of energy at the end of a long taping day.  I had to make a really quick transition, because we started with recording the drill portion, and somehow I found myself in the lead.

“Ok,” I said to Carolena, thinking I was showing a great positive attitude, “I’ll do the best I can.

But that’s not what she wanted to hear, and rightly so.  There was no time or space or energy for “the best I can.”

“No,” she said, “you will do it.


If you’re practiced at feeling the fear, you can move past the sheer terror of stage fright and use the adrenaline of being on stage, combined with your skill and presence of mind, to bring the most high-energy, flawless, immersive performance that audience has ever seen.  There will be no room in your brain to make a mistake.

“The best you can,” in performance, is a cop-out.  As an audience member, I want you to be magical.

It’s okay to make mistakes.

In a Level One class I was teaching a few months ago, I had a new-to-me student. Let’s call her Ginny. She was excited to be in class, almost giddy. She’d taken a few classes elsewhere, and was really excited to be in class at FatChanceBellyDance®. She did a really nice job with the technique.

But when it came time to dance in formations, she balked and stood apart from her group. “I don’t understand what’s going on,” she said, “I’m afraid I’m holding them back.”

After a little coaxing, Ginny rejoined her group and went with the flow. By the end of the class she had gotten the concept of the lead change, and was smiling again. I was so very, very proud of her.

It can be really hard, learning new things as adults.

Our egos get in the way. We feel frustrated that our bodies won’t move in the same way as the teacher’s, or our fellow students’. Our brains get full and our feet won’t move in the ways we want them to move.

And we feel embarrassed with our own pace of learning. We can’t quite get a step right, or a formation change. Our own shame tells us we’re not good enough to dance with the other students, so we decide to step back rather than focus on what we’re there to do: learn.

This has happened to all of us, once upon a time. It’s certainly happened to me. I still experience that feeling sometimes, and my goodness, how incredibly frustrating: It’s so very, very hard to cultivate beginner’s mind about something when you’re supposed to be good enough to teach it.

Take this out of the studio for a moment: when was the last time you tried to learn something that you knew you weren’t going to be immediately good at? Me, I’m starting to do more bootcamp-style fitness classes, and BOY do I suck at ’em. I can do moderate-intensity exercise for hours in the dance studio, but ten minutes of high-intensity cardio and I feel like I’m dying. This stuff is really hard.

I’m also learning a new piece of software for my day job. I don’t understand some of the concepts that this software is based on, so when the documentation uses certain words, I have no idea what they’re talking about. Frustrating! Makes me want to throw the computer out the window.

This isn’t limited to adults, of course; I can’t tell you how hard it is to teach my favorite six-year-old to ride her bicycle when she’s so afraid of falling. But she’s got to be okay with failure if she’s going to learn anything. And so do we.

Tell me: what elements of ATS® are hard for you?