Monday, July 12, 2010

More Dancing!

Sorry about the lack of activity here -- we've been gone for a week of family dance camp. Totally, fabulously, fun. Have I mentioned that my New Year's resolution this year was "More Dancing!"? Maybe yes. Anyway, although it's no doubt a tangent from whole behavior science theme, I would like to point out once again that "More Dancing!" is a highly worthwhile motto. Dancing, of course, is good for you physically, since any form of dance pretty much provides aerobic exercise, and since it's fun, you do it for longer than something tedious, like running on a treadmill. Most kinds of dancing provide mental exercise as well. Learning steps involves spacial awareness, memory and the ability to connect intellectual and physical learning. It also provides the opportunity to enter a kind of meditative focus in which everything but the dance disappears. Better still, most forms of dance are social, so you get to have fun and connect with other people at the same time you exercise your body and mind. As blueberries are the perfect food (exceptionally healthful and delicious), dance is the perfect activity. Although I could make a good case for dark chocolate and choral singing.

The best part of dance camp is the chance to hang out with people who like to dance and make music. I find it a very sad thing that most of Western, or at least American, society seems to think of music and dancing as something to be consumed, not something that we produce. Now, I'm all in favor of enjoying the gifts of those more talented than I, and my family is pretty crazed about the dance competition show So You Think You Can Dance, but it's kind of sad to me that most people don't seem to think of music and dance as things that you do. Yourself. With other people.

So here's my behavior science question of the day: Given that music and dancing are inherently reinforcing, why doesn't everyone make music and dance? Perhaps it's because you have to get past the threshold of being "bad" at it before you have a really good time. Certainly playing an instrument is a lot more fun after you've reached a certain level of proficiency. Even comparatively simple kinds of dance take a bit of practice to get the basics to a point where things flow. So what gets people to put in the effort to get to the fun part? Can we sustain effort when it takes a long time to get to the payoff? (Most people, especially children, don't do well at this.) Or do we manage to take joy from small successes, even if it's one clear note or a couple of times that we turn the right direction?

What have you taken joy in learning, and how and why did you choose to learn it?


  1. "Given that music and dancing are inherently reinforcing"

    That's a big given, and I'd say not so true. Not for me, anyway. Certainly with music, it's not for lack of trying: 3 years of piano lessons, 2 of guitar, 2 of clarinet, 2 of banjo, and I can't play any of them worth a damn. My lack of inherent ability is just made clearer and clearer. I'm a tolerable singer - but only for a limited time in any day (after my lungs have cleared, and while I've got enough energy to have some breath control). And my very good ear makes it painful to listen to myself.

    Likewise, dancing is painful. Yes, there is some disabled dance, but it's pretty unsatisfying, and it all hurts one way or another.

    What I have learned to do, that didn't come naturally or easily, is sew. I'm a decent seamstress now, which would probably shock the poor woman who tried to teach me to sew at school in Hong Kong.

    Some of the things that have allowed me to (slowly) develop mastery: when I started I had enough money to afford a good sewing machine, so I wasn't faced with the combination of my clumsy skills and tools that made the task harder. (My pet peeve is that it's so much harder to make student instruments sound good, when those starting students are the ones who most need the reinforcement of a beautiful tone.)

    I started with muslin that was 20 yards for $10 so the stakes were really low. I could afford to screw up. No one but me would ever know, and the worst case was that I would have extra rags for cleaning the house.

    The rewards in sight were huge. I'm a short fat woman and I don't want to wear black or red polyester, so shopping is always frustrating. If I sew, I can always wear fabrics I like in styles I want. And oh the compliments I get on my clothes, and have since the first dress I made for myself and wore out of the house.

    Nobody watches, nobody has expectations, nobody pushes. I can do it at my own pace, and won't disappoint anyone.

    It's a very forgiving skill: what I screw up in the pinning I can fix in the cutting; if my cutting is sloppy I can fix it with the sewing. Even when the sewing is done, I can change the fit with alterations or add an embellishment to mask a flaw.

  2. Thanks, Hillevi. Lots of good points. I have to say that I do envy people who create things that are actually THINGS. I don't spend much time on activities that produce tangible results, so I miss out on the reward of a pretty dress or afghan or whatever as the result of my efforts. Of course, given that I have Kelsey to sew for me, I'm not particularly motivated to take it up myself....