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Practicing Courage

Last night I went to the Century Ballroom in Seattle for a night of salsa dancing with friends. As I mentioned in a recent blog entry, salsa dancing is a new hobby and one I am embracing with the knowledge that I will endure a significant amount of frustration with myself and my (lack of) salsa skills before I enjoy the pleasure of confident, care-free dancing. I wrote that this might be good for me since I have missed out on a lot of hobbies that require a certain level of initial “failure” or weakness in order to reach a more advanced level of enjoyment.

I am grateful for all the comments you left in response to that entry.  I was particularly struck by  JD’s wise comment that questioned whether my intentional pursuit of failure is really a good approach to life.  I found myself thinking about this as I watched men and women step and swing around the dance floor last night.
At Century, most people rotate dance partners every couple songs.  Consequently, most of the evening is spent dancing with people I don’t know.  This has great benefits: it is a fun way to meet folks and a great opportunity to dance with partners of various styles and skill levels.  Oftentimes, these partners are generous teachers who go out of their way to teach me new moves and encourage me with their affirmations and smiles.  However, some partners are more accommodating of beginners than others.  Sometimes when dancing with a great lead, I feel embarrassed as he clearly dumbs-down his dance moves for me.  I shouldn’t be embarrassed by my skill level, but I really am sometimes.  I want to seamlessly move like so many of the stellar female dancers there.
Fears about my impending embarrassment plagued me as I stood beside the dance floor at the beginning of the evening.  I was more nervous than usual. I had a realization during my mental pep-talk, though: Courage, I told myself. Every time you step foot on that dance floor, it is an exercise of courage. Keep doing this, then courage–and dancing–will come more easily. It was then that I thought about JD’s comment and realized that my blog entry about practicing failure should really be about practicing courage.  About “saying yes” to opportunities with precarious, unknown outcomes.  That is a more sustainable approach to life than “failure.” I need to practice courage by lacing up my shoes and going for a run, even though it may be the start of the worst jog of my life; it could also be the best.  I need to be brave and step onto the dance floor because it, too, could be the best dance yet.
Aristotle’s virtue ethics are based on this sort of practice. Find someone who exemplifies courage, he charged, and do what he/she does. After living out courage through repeated, mimicked action, one will eventually embody courage for oneself, as a second nature.  St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises also play off of this idea: by establishing a discipline of meditating on the life of Christ, we will exemplify Christ’s way of life more naturally.
At the end of the night, I was grateful that I took a step–well, many steps–toward courage last night.  It ended up being the best night of dancing yet, and I felt how much I have improved since the summer began. So I’m going to keep practicing my dance moves. Practicing courage.
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