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November 25, 2009

Filed under: music»performance»dance

Nostalgia Break

I miss a lot of things about college--the classes, the sense of intellectual engagement, the unreasonably late hour I could roll out of bed in the morning--but one of the things I miss most is the opportunity for obsession that comes from a flexible schedule. The more I work on learning breaking and popping, the more evident it becomes that I just don't have time to vaccuum up skills at the same rate that I did as an undergraduate.

I tell this story a lot, but I started learning to play bass around the end of my junior year, and I was completely obsessed with it. I spent three or four hours every day practicing. I took it to class. I played along with my roommate's awful techno music. I drilled the same basic riffs--Flea's slap routine for "Higher Ground" and his solo during "Aeroplane," Commerford's simpler runs in Rage Against the Machine, every song from Stop Making Sense--and simple scale exercises over and over again. I got blisters, put superglue on my fingers as prosthetic calluses, eventually grew thick skin on the first two fingers of my right hand from plucking the strings.

I was, in short, pretty hardcore about my practice routine. The result is that while I claim no particularly exceptional skill as a bass player, I'm pretty sure I'll be able to play the instrument at some level until the day I die. It's totally-engrained muscle memory at this point. But looking back on it now, I'm pretty sure that there's no way I could have learned to play at the same depth--even allowing for a slower pace--if I were to start today. I just wouldn't be able to make the time, or the intensity. And when it comes to the speed at which I'm learning to b-boy, that's a hard mental adjustment to make, because I unconsciously expect to improve at the same rate.

Clearly, it's just a symptom of adult life. I work an 8-hour day with two hours of commute, so I don't have blocks of time between classes or shifts that I can devote to hobbies. Since the CQ purchase and resulting transition shakeup, I've gotten a few extra responsibilities (including some team management), and when I get home often the last thing I really want to do is sweat profusely in my apartment's laundry room. So at this point I practice popping and breaking two, maybe three times a week for around an hour at a time. Progress is slow, my footwork is still awful, and my shoulders are still way too stiff.

That said, what can you do? I enjoy my work, and don't have any desire to cut it short in any way. It's already hard enough to coordinate with Belle between my classes and the ones she teaches at the gym. And let's face it: my goal for dancing can't be (and isn't) to be the greatest, since I'm starting it late and from a very poor foundation. There's a lot to be said for aiming high--but just as much value in keeping excessive expectations from ruining the learning experience as it changes.

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