If you haven’t spent enough time with millennials this season (or actually…maybe five years ago), FOMO stands for “Fear Of Missing Out”. I know this fear well, not so much because I’m a millennial, but because I was a hyper-extended asian kid. I was the kid who racked up extra-curriculars on top of straight-A grades. I collected so many community work hours that I fulfilled my senior community assignment by just writing down the ones I had completed so far THAT MONTH. I was excited about graduation because I got to sleep over for the first time at my best friend’s house. And unless you think that I was some oppressed and miserable child, I can tell you that I was happy to do all of this. I enjoyed camping with the Girl Scouts, choreographing dance routines, learning ASL, playing basketball tournaments, and yes, early-morning band practice. The thing you have to understand is that not only did I not sleep over at my friend’s house until graduation, but it DID NOT CROSS MY MIND TO ASK over four years of friendship. I had internalized the go-go-go pace of a structured, enriched, incredibly privileged childhood and anything off-schedule was literally unimaginable.
I know, #firstworldproblems.
The thing is, this is a great way to foster some overwhelming FOMO. If you’ve grown up thinking you need to do ALL THE THINGS, then swing dancing is going to be a starry constellation of opportunities and too little time and money to take advantage of all of them. Add a little bit of old-fashioned-keeping-up-with-the-Joneses (or is it the Skyes in our case?) a sprinkling of Instagrams and event posts reminding you how much you’ve missed, and you’re all set for this niggling thought:
Everyone can do it except for me.
In my time dancing I have definitely said the following: “I feel like I’m not as good as I should be for how long I’ve been doing this”, “I’m too old to be a really good swing dancer; I should have started in high school”, “They make it look so easy! How do they find the time to do all of these workshops?!” Most of these statements were made because I was frustrated with my progress, saw myself getting “lapped” by newer dancers, and started to feel ineffective, stuck in an eternal plateau. I wondered if I should just give up, since I would never get as good as I wanted to be. Was dancing just committing myself to a lifetime of disappointments? Banging my head against the establishment?
Let me encourage you not to give up.
On the other side of that wall of frustration is this hopeful idea: I have a lifetime to do the things I want to do. Not for awards. Not for glory. Just for me.
I came home one night to my loving SO and devoted dog and I made a sweeping declaration: “I’m going to be a lifelong dancer. I hope you’re okay with this, because I’m going to be doing it for a long time.” My SO looked up from her tv program with a mildly amused face and replied, “Yeah, I know.”
It was a small thing, but looking at dance as an experience over the long-term, instead of comparing myself to others, was incredibly freeing. I don’t need to be a wunderkind. I don’t even need to win awards. If I make my first 1st Place medal in a Silver category, I don’t care. I focused more on the dances that made me feel good, day-to-day. I focused more on how I could give back to the community little-by-little. I allowed myself room to make mistakes, and room to sit on a plateau, look around and just be pleased it was a different plateau than the one I was on last year. I made the choice to be the kind of dancer who gets better a little at a time, who maybe doesn’t make it to ALL THE THINGS, but can be a steady, hopeful force for change in the place I am right now, in the ways that I’m available for right now.
I’m not sure if this perspective is of any help to anyone, but in my experience, there are more long-term dancers than there are rockets to superstardom. We don’t have contests for persistence, or medals for positive change, or podcasts about quietly contemplating that one thing we’d like to improve in our dance for ourselves. But when I look at a healthy scene, the ones with new ideas and great traditions, I know there are lifers in the background, patiently pumping its veins with their steady enthusiasm, care, and presence. And we are not afraid.