One of the benefits of travel is the humility it brings. I find that having my vocabulary reduced to less than a dozen words, my ability to understand the written and spoken words around me minimized, and my knowledge of basic etiquette and routines befeuddled works stagnant areas of my brain and reminds me how much a little kindness, patience, and assistance matters to someone in a new situation. It's healthy to be the minority once in a while. To be the stranger or the foreigner.
Rachel and I attended our first tap class last Wednesday, and as I struggled both with the basic moves and with being the one in the class who couldn't do even the basics, I recalled the humility in travel and realized that this class was giving me a healthy dose of humility in education.
I'm not used to being at the bottom of the class. The studio offers classes on a rolling basis and people seem to come and go as they can, so last Wednesday's class consisted of me, Rachel, and two other women who have been taking tap for several months, possibly a year.
This meant that when the instructor, a gray-haired lean and angular man named Dennis, had each of us take turns crossing the floor to practice shuffle-flap-ing or flap-heel-toe-ing (or my least favorite: step-toe-heel-heel-step-ing which takes you backwards across the studio), Juila in a spandex skirt executed the moves with little hesitation; Maria of the Yellow Shirt tap-tapped her way across in double time with little spins thrown in every now and then; and I ventured forth slowly, skipping beats, and cursing my left foot for its inability to hit with the same volume and finality as my right foot. According to Rachel, I also apparently twitch my hands in step with my feet, giving me a semblance to a marionette jerking on its strings.
I found myself entirely out of my comfort zone, but I was quite pleased to be there. I was nervous and embarrassed, but I was also having fun. It also felt really useful to be there as a teacher. Being the one who's behind, noticing which accommodations worked and which ones didn't, feeling frustrated when my mind understood perfectly what I was supposed to do and yet being unable to get my feet to do it right - these are good things to be able to recall when I go back to my comfortable classroom and encourage terrified freshman to stand up in front of everyone and act. By 30 minutes in, I decided that every teacher should be required to take a class in a subject they know nothing about as part of professional development every few years.
I was also gratified when Dennis told Maria of the Yellow Shirt and Lithe Julia that it was my and Rachel's first tap class ever.* They both exclaimed in disbelief (and kindness), and I breathed easier knowing that they knew we had a good reason for being so terrible.
Happily, when we returned tonight for class #2, I discovered that I actually improved! I am still nowhere near graceful, precise, or quick; but I understood the terms Dennis threw out, I was better at the floor work, and I even recalled a bit of the combo we worked on at the end. When I realized the hour was almost up, I was disappointed that we had to stop. I was sweating, and I was getting it more and more.
I'm really looking forward to next week's class.
* My mother will argue that it was not my first tap class. True, I studied tap for a bit when we lived in San Francisco. I had to give it up when we moved to Germany, and I truly do not recall a single thing from the class except for watching episodes of "Square One" in the back room after class, the way my shiny tan tights felt, and the fact that the two songs we performed at the recital were "That's Far Out!" and "Accentuate the Positive."
This was 26 years ago. I think I'm justified in claiming that last Wednesday was my first tap class.
Sadly, though, I did not wear a fabulous leotard tonight like the one I had before:
Nor was Rachel wearing a tiara and puffy sleeves, although I'm certainly going to encourage her to add them to her outfit for next week.
P.S. Rachel took a video of the combo tonight so we could practice and/or laugh at ourselves when we're tapping experts a year from now. Head over to her blog if you want to check it out!