The Myth of the Natural

West Coast Swing Online Grab Bag

When your own dancing hits a plateau, it’s easy to become frustrated and jealous about the people who just “get it.” Every community seems to have someone who is a natural. This might be the person who keeps placing in J&Js despite never taking a lesson, or it might be the person who can see a complicated move once and then just do it socially. It seems that some people just have the natural talent for the dance.

Except…talent doesn’t work like that. In Genius Explained (Amazon affiliate link), Michael J.A. Howe examines the cases of apparently naturally talented geniuses, from Mozart and the Brönte sisters to Einstein and Darwin. In every case, the genius had put in thousands of hours of work before their efforts were recognized as exceptional. The reason Mozart composed world-famous symphonies in his 20s is because he began composing at age 5, under the strict tutelage of his father, who was one of the best musical instructors in Salzberg.

From my own experience, I’m amazed at how many of the “naturals” I have met in west coast swing have a story of hours of practice behind their skill. One person told me about doing triple steps his entire shift at the factory, day after day. Another person came from dancing parents, where “quality time with the family” meant dancing around the living room in the evening.

The bottom line is: talent develops with practice. The people who seem to be naturals may have a slight edge in natural ability, but it’s far more likely that they have put in the hours when you haven’t seen them. So, the next time you get frustrated, remember that now is another opportunity for you to put in your time, outside of the view of anyone else.

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