I am well aware of the common wisdom to dance like nobody’s watching and as one who has been terrified of dancing before anyone, I wholly embrace the concept of dancing for the sheer joy of movement without caring whether anybody thinks I’m good or not.
However, having been a professional horseman, both showing horses myself and preparing other horses and riders for the show ring, plus having a brother who once owned the largest ballroom dance studio in San Diego, I think there’s a deeper and more important facet to any endeavor.
Dancing like somebody’s watching pays homage to the effort put into learning to dance well. I was brought up with the belief that anything worth doing is worth doing well, hence my horses even at local shows were groomed to the highest standards they gleamed, and my riders were equally well groomed. When I competed in my first ballroom dance competition, my brother insisted that I too was groomed from finger to toe tip.
The time spent in polishing a presentation reflects the hours spent mastering the effort, from a correctly tilted hand or head, when working a horse, to the endless repetition of the box step before any fancy twirls or dips. If the foundation isn’t right, the performance becomes a caricature.
Moving beyond the show ring or dance floor, why, when doing something alone would the execution matter? Well for me that comes back to anything worth doing is worth doing well. There is a satisfaction in mastery and there is a contentment in doing your best. I heard a quote from Harry Chapin about good tired and bad tired, bad tired can be a day on which everything went right but you were accomplishing someone else’s goals, good tired comes when you worked hard at something you value and you put in the extra effort required of doing your best, even if it wouldn’t necessarily have been a “winning performance”.
Is it a matter of what we value, what’s worth the extra effort? Is it a matter of choosing what’s enough in each endeavor? Or maybe the answer is respect. When I compete, part of the reason I take time to polish the details, is respect for the judge, whose knowledge and time and ability to judge I respect, and my horse, who deserves to look his best after all his hard work. When I clean house with an eye to company, it’s out of respect for the people visiting who have made time to be with me, but I also respect that I deserve a nice place to come home to after working hard at my job. Choosing to do my best when no one is watching is about respect for my Self and the task before me.
How does this apply to art? It means having respect for your own hard work, skill and gift and not starting a project until you are passionate enough that you can feel that pencil, brush or clay in your hand calling to you. It means doing your best and trusting the right person will appreciate your effort and skill and hopefully take it home. Doing your best in both your art and its presentation shows respect for the people who spend their time and money supporting the arts and artists.
Showing your art at a market or gallery, it’s easy to doubt your choices when it’s not your day for that right customer to appear. If you can become at peace with whatever medium you employ, whatever style sparks your joy, if you can look at a finished piece and say “yes, I did my best”, then you will be good tired, whether you have a fabulous sales day or not.