You know all those classes that are titled “[A thing] for [People who don’t really do that thing]”?
Yoga for Dancers. Music for Dancers. Ballet for Contemporary Dancers. Physics for Chemists. Physics for Poets.
I’ve got some mixed feelings about the general concept. I definitely don’t want to dismiss every class with this title: I’ve taken some very good “Ballet for Contemporary Dancers” and “Statistics for Behavioral Scientists” classes. There’s certainly value in catering to the specific knowledge base and future needs of a group of people. And being in a setting with people of a similar background can make people more comfortable working on skills outside their area of expertise.
But I also don’t love the idea of approaching a class as a [person who don’t really do that thing].
For one, I personally like the sense that I’m get the full-on, non-watered-down version of whatever I’m doing in all with all its nuances and challenges. I like to do ballet with hardcore bunheads and pointe shoes, yoga with yoga junkies and extended meditations, and science classes with all the number crunching.
But also, that sort of title sounds like an excuse: “Of course I’m not good at [thing]–that’s because I’m not really a [person who does that thing].” But why set such low standards for myself? And frankly, why should anyone need an excuse to be bad at something–particularly something they are currently working on learning?
Being bad at things is great. People should do more things that they’re bad at. You learn a lot more than you do by being good at things. Also, I hate being bad at things. But I’m working on liking it more.
Right now I’m taking a hip-hop class. It’s great. I’m pretty bad at it, particularly when it comes to freestyling (appearantly, years of modern improv training don’t stop my brain from turning to mush in a freestyle circle). But I’m trying to get away from those constant thoughts of “but I’m really not a hip-hop dancer” in class.
I’m dancing hip-hop, so I am a hip-hop dancer. That doesn’t mean I’m a good one. But I would rather embrace my position as a bad hip-hop dancer, and work on progressing from there, than categorically position myself outside the genre (while defensively reminding myself that I’m good at other stuff).
To borrow some wording from Roxane Gay, I would rather be a bad hip-hop dancer than not a hip-hop dancer at all. A “bad hip-hop dancer” has a chance to become a good (or at least decent) hip-hop dancer. A “really not a hip-hop dancer” doesn’t.
I would rather be a bad [whatever] than not a [whatever] at all. Because at least that’s a starting point for becoming a better one.