Permission granted to not know what you’re doing (and have fun, anyway)
By Jasmine Jones
I am a recovering perfectionist. In high school, my problem was at its worst, so naturally, I was drawn to participate in the art form centered around perfection: ballet.
When you’re a ballet dancer, every movement is inspected, corrected and practiced until you can’t possibly get it wrong. Ballet is about building perfection into your muscles. You start every class at the barre with the basics, ensuring your feet are pointed, your hips turned out, your shoulders down, your pelvis tucked, your chin level, your arms up. But make it look easy.
Then, come out to the floor and dance on the tips of your big toes for hours, but don’t roll off the box of your pointe shoes — you’ll break your ankle. In ballet, perfection is necessary to protect your body from the insane unnatural positions you put it in.
As someone who saw minor flaws everywhere, ballet was my ideal match. I was naturally inflexible, but I could stretch for hours every night, stack books under my feet and eventually fall into a full split. I could dance a combination until my muscles refused to mess up, until the right way was the only way. I absolutely loved it.
To spend more time in the dance studio, I joined our competitive dance team, where we traveled to compete against other studios and participate in workshops. It was during these workshops that I was exposed to the antithesis of ballet: hip hop.
Hip hop was everything ballet wasn’t: It was loose, imperfect, and not every movement could be counted with an eight-count beat. Sometimes, you just had to feel it; it was unquantifiable. I was absolutely horrible at it.
I dreaded those classes. I knew how strange I looked, throwing my lanky limbs around and looking like an electrocuted puppet. All the rhythm I thought I possessed dissolved. My brain forgot every choreographed move.
I hated hip hop dance solely because I was so bad at it. I longed for ballet classes again; I longed for the things I knew, the things I was “good” at. But what I didn’t realize then was how freeing it is to be flawed. It wasn’t until college, specifically during lockdown, when I realized I didn’t have to be perfect at everything I chose to do. I could do things simply because I liked doing them. Then, I could fail miserably and laugh at myself.
One thing I laugh about is my painting. Two years ago, I tried to paint a subtle sunset for my mother’s birthday, and instead, it looked like the sky was combusting in a nuclear, neon explosion. My boyfriend pointed it out to me, and at first I was defensive, but then I looked at the sunset again and began to laugh. Why did I get so defensive about this? Why did I feel the need to defend my painting skills? I’ve never claimed to be a painter, and not everyone who paints has to be good at it. I can paint simply because I like putting color on canvas. I can paint for no reason at all.
A year after the painting incident, I continued to learn the freedom of pursuing things I’m “bad” at. The chess-centered mini-series “The Queen’s Gambit” had just been released on Netflix; I watched it and decided to become a chess master. I read up on techniques and started playing a virtual chess game with my boyfriend and an in-person chess game with my dad every night. Both of them beat me constantly. For months, I never won a game. It was frustrating at first, but then I grew to love it. There were no expectations. I was not Jasmine, the chess master. I was just Jasmine, a person playing chess.
Each of these activities taught me the value of seeking out the things I’m “bad” at. With ballet, I would constantly be refining and critiquing myself in my head, but with hip hop, there was no refining. It felt impossible to get any better, so I learned to give up and let my body live in the moment. With painting, I learned to laugh at myself, to not take everything I did so seriously. With chess, I learned to spend time, spend it all and not regret spending it. I could feel what it means to put energy into something, with no expectation of success.
Because honestly, perfection is boring. I want to be messy. I want to paint ugly sunsets and lose my queen on the first four chess moves. I want to take more hip hop dance lessons. Actually, about a year ago, I took a hip hop dance class online. I tucked my fear and animosity away; I started dancing. I was just as horrible as I remembered, but I danced, anyway.
Chase your own imperfection. Make a list of all the things you’re “bad” at, and then, start doing them. (Be sure to share your list with us on Facebook and Instagram.)