Friday, September 18, 2009

We're Jammin'

Recently, I had a conversation about change. "You're always saying how much you've changed as you've gotten older," said my friend, who's a lot younger than me. I thought about this briefly--very briefly. "Well." I said. "Not changed, exactly. Just become more or less of whatever I already was."

I hope this is true. It felt true when I said it. Because as I've gotten older, I've become more...accepting? No, that's not quite right. I've become Sort of. I think what I've become is just a little more...aware that I'm not the center of the universe. And that makes me a little more compassionate. I don't rush to label everyone a jerk (or worse) the second they've wronged me, whether they're an old friend or another driver on the freeway. Now it takes me two seconds. Kidding. It takes me five.

But seriously, I really do work, these days, to see the flip side. And it really does help. I mean, it probably helps them in some small way, because I'm not yelling in unpleasant and time-consuming ways, but really it mostly helps me, because entertaining compassion makes the whole world--and everyone in it--easier, happier, BETTER.

I had an opportunity to practice some of this awareness this afternoon, and I'm not sure if I took it. But I could see how it would help, and that seems like progress.

I was teaching my Nia class, which I do every Friday, and having a pretty good time. I say "pretty good" because one of the students--an effervescent gal with a big smile--was standing really close to me and flailing wildly like she had Dance Tourettes. Everything I did, she did something else, and on a different beat altogether--perhaps one playing only in her head. A couple times I could feel myself losing focus while I was marveling at her crazed Elaine Benes-like moves. But I kept reminding myself that it was really no big deal and she was having a great time.

Then there was New Girl. There were actually two new girls, but for the purposes of this story, there's just one. I have no beef with New Girl Two. But New Girl One had a mouth like a seam and was one of those types who just stares when I say "Hi! I'm Sam." That always slays me. Didn't your mother teach you anything?

But it probably didn't help that I followed up with "And here's where you tell me your name!" Some people laugh that off. I mean, most of them do. She didn't. Maybe this is where I lost her. Some people don't deal well with my sarcasm after they've known me 20 years, let alone 20 seconds.

As the class progressed, I found myself checking in with her in the mirror. I do that with new students; I like to see if they're smiling. If you're liking Nia, you smile during your first class. It's fun. People smile when they're having fun. If they don't smile, they won't be back.

She didn't smile. Mouth still like a seam. But she was keeping up. Paying attention. Quite a good dancer, actually.

I called everyone into a circle and shouted (over the music) "Single kicks into the center! And singing is mandatory," I smiled. "Two words. We're jammin." (That's the name of the song.) Usually, they all sing loud and lustily, and they smile while they do. It's just funny that we're kicking in a circle and singing "We're jammin'." What's not to like?

New Girl did not sing. Mouth still like a seam. I guess I couldn't take it anymore. I thought I'd break the ice. I called her by name. (How cool that I remembered her name, right?) I said "New Girl, we haven't heard you sing yet!"

Mouth still like a seam, but she said--plain as day: "I'm not jammin'."

"You're not..what?" I sort of squeaked. I had heard her, but couldn't quite believe it.

"I'M. NOT. JAMMIN'." she repeated, louder, unwavering. Her expression didn't change.

"Okay!" I squeaked again, and realized with mortification that tears had sprung to my eyes. Luckily, I sweat so much no one could see. But I knew, and now I was totally behind in my directions and could barely remember what we were doing.

It took me the rest of the class to pull myself together. My face was burning, and there was a huge lump in my throat. The rest of the class sensed my distress, and sang extra-loud, and smiled extra-wide, and even--horrors--clapped for me at the end. New Girl Two made a point of saying "That was REALLY fun. I'll be back."

New Girl One stayed to the end, and then left without a backward glance. I still felt a little like crying. I wasn't sure if I was embarrassed, or hurt, or shamed, or all of the above. I knew I was shocked. How could she do that? WHY would she do that?

I wondered if I'd put her on the spot, but even if I had, why so hostile? That was the part I couldn't get my mind around.

I talked to Robyn about it, and she said something that had sort of been in the back of my mind. "Maybe it was the worst day of her life," she said. "Maybe just being in class was as much as she could handle. Maybe just following the moves was her way of feeling good."

Excellent points. And I thought about that. I don't know her. I don't know what kind of day she had. I don't know how she feels about dance teachers speaking to her in class. Maybe she was traumatized as a child in ballet, who knows? Maybe there's something big going on in her life. Here's the most important part of all: MAYBE HER RESPONSE HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH ME. Now that's a concept.

The thing is, it doesn't have to be about me. Whatever was going on there, I might have poked at an owie, or not. She wasn't trying to be mean. Because--and that's where I have a new layer of information that used to elude me--people don't do that. I mean, sure, very, very occasionally someone tries to be mean. But hardly ever. What are people actually doing? They're trying to live their lives. They're trying to get through the day. And they're trying to do it by interacting with a lot of strangers, and in this instance, I was one.

And I remembered that...eventually. Maybe next time I'll figure it out sooner.


Myrnie said...

So true! Thanks for the reminder...

Anonymous said...

This is the post I will be printing out and putting on my mirror to read every morning... :) Lix

Stephanie said...

Great post. You had a heck of a day!

The Wades said...

Oh man. Painful on so many levels. First off, the idea of leading a dance class makes me want to crawl in a corner and die. Elaine could teach me a thing or two.

And new girl, oh me oh my. I would have cried myself. I'll try to learn from your post and not write out a bunch of insults or rude comments about her. Thanks for sharing this painful experience. You are jammin'!