Over the past year, my perspective has shifted away from valuing/wanting material things towards valuing/wanting experiences. Is it a coincidence that in the past two months I’ve suddenly developed in interest in performing arts?
First I picked up Astrojax (thanks Jessica!), I’ve tried singing for the first time in years, I’m suddenly practicing dance every day. I was just in a movie as a favor to a friend (and for fun). Earlier this week I even tried hopping on my friend’s rip stick – not with great results, but I tried it! Which is more than I would have done three or four years ago. For a minute I considered acquiring a skateboard.
When I say performance, I don’t necessarily mean “something you do in front of an audience,” since you could practice guitar alone or with a small group of friends if you wanted to. I know that there are tons of writings about the nature of craft and performance, so I might not be using the accepted terminology, but for the purposes of this discussion I would consider a “crafting skill” to be anything where you work towards building an end product which is a thing (drawing, design, sculpture, writing, software), that you can chip away at, erase, and redo in pieces over time. I’m considering a “performance skill” to be something where you have to execute a precise string of actions competently all at once (gymnastics, piano, Ultimate Frisbee, martial arts, competitive gaming, public speaking). Obviously, at some points the line between them is fuzzy (doing live portraits, or acting for film), but it’s a sufficient classification for this article.
I’ve never been that into performance type skills for most of my life – I wasn’t good at sports, I shied away from presentations, I quit all of my performance based lessons when I was a kid and got out of music as soon as I was allowed to in high school. There is this pressure in having to do everything perfectly at this exact moment, on cue – when everybody is watching you – that comes with performance, and that lead me to avoid those types of experiences in favor of craft based skills. If I messed up a drawing, I could redo part of it, or scrap it and do another one – people would only judge the final product, something external from me, and that made it safer. I suspect that many craft based people might know what I’m talking about.
So, what has motivated me to want to practice these types of skills only recently? It’s probably a number of factors. Once you don’t have to worry about acquiring material things, what is there left to do? Well, one area you can explore is training your body, learning skills, expanding your capabilities. Practicing dance isn’t the least healthy hobby I could take up. And I’ve always seen performance type skills as being “cool” (perhaps due to their unattainability for me) – and I’m not immune to wanting to be cool, even if it’s only in my own eyes. ;) There’s also the fact that I’ve pretty much made my hobbies my job – which is awesome, but if I’m doing them for hours professionally, I also want a different type of activity to play with in my down time! The physical nature of performance is a refreshing break from the cerebral nature of academic learning or solving design problems.
As for the ‘material‘ nature of craft vs. the ‘experiential‘ nature of performance – I’m not sure if this is directly related to my shift in attitude away from materialism, but it almost seems like a convenient metaphor. Performance still requires equipment (music instruments, gadgets for maintaining musical instruments, sports equipment, etc) and some craft based activities (like programming) don’t use many physical materials. I still like my material things (have you seen my room?!) and I still like making things (comics in the works)! But I think I’m becoming a more balanced person creatively. I want to have a huge portfolio of projects that says “look at all of the awesome stuff I’ve made”, but I also want to be able to say “look at all of the awesome stuff I can do“. It’s like a whole other world of expression and games to play has opened up for me.
How to start with performance skills if you’re a craft based person:
Embrace your learning style.
When I first thought about taking up dance again, I thought about signing up for lessons, but that really turned me off. Maybe it was because of less-than-stellar experiences with lessons in the past, but I’m really not a “must go to this location at this time every week in order to do something” type of person (unless it’s for a fundamental like school or work). I love learning things on my own, it’s how I taught myself drawing and web design/development. (Disclaimer: I have taken a few art classes, as a kid and in high school, but I’m pretty sure that 80% of my skill is from teaching myself and practicing on my own.) While I haven’t mastered either of these skills (yet!), and I might be missing some basic knowledge that everyone who takes lessons knows – I’m good enough at them that people pay me to do them. I want my dance practice to be about playing and exploration rather than someone telling me what to do and evaluating me. I don’t have any aspirations of performing for an audience or dancing professionally, so if that means that I never achieve mastery, then I’m okay with that. It’s better than not doing it at all. If I get stuck or get more serious about developing my skill, or if I find a class that seems to be perfect for me, I’ll consider trying lessons.
Remove the pressure of doing it for an audience (unless you want to).
Remember, you don’t even have to do it in front of anybody if you don’t want to! Learn the skill for fun and personal development. You can do it in front of other people when you get more confident. I’m practicing dance alone in my room for now, and I’ve only sung in front of a couple of other people! You can do your activity alone, jam with a few friends, upload a youtube video, or perform informally on the street. There are tons of ways to have fun with your skill outside of a traditional performance setting.
Remember how long you had to practice your craft based skills.
Remember that just like craft based skills, performance skills need to be built up, developed and practiced over time – when you start learning something, you’re going to suck, and that’s fine! Own your newbie status. :)
There are instructional videos for just about anything online.
Yup! Try YouTube or Google.
Pick something simple and fun that doesn’t require a huge time/money commitment.
I can pick up and play Astrojax five minutes at a time as a break from my regular activities. I don’t have to schedule practice, I do it anyway because it’s fun and I can see myself getting better!
Start with something quirky.
In fact, Astrojax is a great way to get started because, 1. many people haven’t heard of so nobody expects you to be good at it, and 2. the learning curve on it is great and it will help build your confidence! It’s been amazing to see my muscle memory slowly and steadily pick up things.
Then, pick an activity you always wished you could do!
Have you always wanted to play a rock song, run away and join the circus, or become a Street Fighter champion? Choose an activity you’re inspired by, even if you don’t currently see it as “something you could/would do”. That way, if you practice consistently enough, it WILL become something you do, become a part of you, and you will accomplish a life dream and feel AWESOME!
If you don’t think you could learn a performance skill, maybe you need to remove some limiting beliefs?
David Seah‘s Piano Karaoke Blog Night – I found this reflective article by David super interesting – a communication designer/analytical thinker’s perspective on music and how musicians/singers think. I totally identify with him in that my interest in dance may have been rekindled by certain videogames. ;)
“Right now, she’s working out how to sing Bonnie Raitt’s Give Them Something to Talk About with Elise, who is improvising and transposing the song on-the-fly as they look up lyrics on her iPad. They’re both having a good time, and as a result I’m having a good time too. There are a lot of goofs and hitches, but no one minds at all…it’s part of the process, and it strikes me that the people here are actually playing with music. They’re not fixated on correct performance or proper technique. Instead, they are part of the experience of music. This is a bit different from how I’m used to thinking about music. My mom was an organist, played hymns at church, and taught piano lessons to seminary students. I grew up surrounded by church music of the traditional variety, everything in the key of C major. Musically, I think of C major is being the equivalent of the “Times New Roman” font in graphic design, and it doesn’t exactly move me.”
“The seasoned musicians sometimes stop and wax enthusiastically over a particular arrangement of notes…”it’s a weird transition that happens right in the middle! The whole song is C major, and then it goes into D minor; what you’d expect is it to do THIS instead. Wow. It’s genius!” This is followed by a cheerful wave of acknowledgement from the others in the room. It’s a kind of awareness that mirrors some aspects of graphic design: the suspension of completion, the playing against expected patterns, and the use of our ability to discern the direction of a change to guide our emotions. Pretty darn cool stuff.”
If Tim Ferriss is good at one thing, it’s learning how to be good at many things. (Haxx!!) See his How To Breakdance 101: Unleash Your Inner B-boy, and How to Feel Like The Incredible Hulk (swimming, tango, language learning).
Check out this TED video: The LXD: In the Internet age, dance evolves… “The LXD (the Legion of Extraordinary Dancers) electrify the TED2010 stage with an emerging global street-dance culture, revved up by the Internet. In a preview of Jon Chu’s upcoming Web series, this astonishing troupe show off their superpowers.”
Lastly, a selection of articles by the ever-fabulous Steve Pavlina. Most of these are more oriented to hardcore rapid skill development, if you really want to kill it with your new skill:
- Branching Out
- Master the Basics
- Rapid Improvement
- Progressive Training
- Overcoming Fear of Public Speaking
- Videotape Your Performance
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