It May Not Be Pretty, but It Sure Is Fun

Getting groovy, tripping over the cat, and letting go of perfectionism.

This aerobics DVD kicks my ass. The perky blondes who lead the DVDs do not stop long enough to explain their steps, and I cannot keep up with them. I particularly loathe the impossibly toned brunette who adds extra athletic zest to each move, stomping and shaking her ass vigorously. I miss steps and go left when I should go right. I know I look ridiculous, shimmying along with the instructor as she earnestly insists that we “get groovy.”

But the thing is, I don’t care. I’m terrible at it, and I don’t care! I’m re-learning how to just do and not think so much. I’m a recovering perfectionist, if you will.

As a child, it seemed easy enough: I did the things I liked, without much thought about whether I was good at them. This got harder somewhere along the way. I started to worry about what other people might think. I started to think, Even if I’m not spectacularly bad at something, what’s the fun in doing it if I’m not very good?

When I was a child, I loved to draw. I loved horses, too, so I drew a lot of them — buttery Palominos with flowing white manes and Appaloosas with spotted hindquarters. I could spend hours with a big box of Crayolas and some construction paper.

My second-grade best friend Maya liked to draw, too. Sometimes, during rainy-day recesses, we’d sketch people. Maya’s people had actual noses instead of a squiggly line. They had proportionate bodies with matching clothes and cool hair. She said I wasn’t drawing my people right. We decided to have a drawing contest. Another little girl decided (and rightly so, on artistic merit) that Maya’s people were better than mine.

Drawing wasn’t as much fun after that.

When I was a teenager, I loved to write. After reading Gone with the Wind about eight times, I started writing sprawling historical fiction novels. I’d spend hours lost in a world of my own invention, typing furiously into the wee hours of the night. I never worried about charting out the story’s course with an outline; half the fun was in seeing where these characters would take their stories. I didn’t concern myself with writing what I knew — I just read up on Civil War battles and the journals of Confederate women. And I didn’t worry about audience. My high school English teachers were thrilled and urged me to keep writing; a few classmates turned into devoted readers, eagerly asking for each new chapter. I was The Writer of my high school class.

Then I went to a college famed for its writing programs. Most of my friends were writers, too, and talented ones. They wrote poignant stories and beautiful little poems. My romance novels started to seem silly and derivative by comparison. My creative writing professor, an actual published author, wasn’t nearly as impressed as my high school English teachers, and I started to dread criticism with every word I typed. Was this line too cliché? Was this story going to appeal to my audience?

Writing had stopped being fun, too.

Just recently, I started thinking about how much I missed things like drawing and writing. I missed losing myself in something without worrying about the end product. I started missing the joy of just doing, not thinking at all.

Then I bought the dance aerobics DVD. At the time, I did not realize the connection.

I didn’t even know it was a dance aerobics DVD when I bought it; I just wanted a cardio workout while our apartment complex’s gym was being renovated. The last time I had done aerobics was in my high school gym class. I remember laughing with my friends down in the wrestling room as we tripped over each other and bounced on the thick blue mats.

The DVD is most assuredly not targeted at beginners like me. The instructors launch into grapevines and mambos, and after three reps they add hand motions, and after another three they add twirls. They say irritating things like “Shake it, girl!” and (especially toward the end of routines) “Remember, this is all about having fun!”

Panting as I tried not to trip over the cat and impale myself on the coffee table, I decided this hardly seemed like fun.

I was frustrated — that I wasn’t picking it up quickly enough, that I had to rewind half a dozen times before I could understand some of the steps, that it was hard and I was literally falling over my own feet. I am not a visual learner. It took me two weeks to learn how to mambo, and then I could have beaten myself over the head with the DVD because it’s really pretty simple. I was so frustrated I actually sat down and cried once because I felt like such a complete, uncoordinated dolt.

But then, after half a dozen infuriating sessions in which only my stubbornness stopped me from giving up … it actually started to be “all about having fun.”

It still takes me half an hour to figure out how to do a 5-minute Latin dance routine. I still miss steps and go left when I should go right. If my cat could laugh at me, I’m pretty sure he would.

But I’m learning more than the mambo and the cha-cha. At the ripe old age of twenty-five, I’m also learning to embrace the peculiar joy of doing things badly.

Article © 2006 by Jessica Emanuel