LINES and Limitations: Ask Yourself This Question

Melanie Doskocil is back this month with another addition to Ballet’s Un-X-pected Lesson Files. This one isn’t about summits (see I’m A Better Backpacker Because of Ballet for that). It’s about limits. Read on…

For the first time in 15 years, one of my all time favorite teachers/choreographers had brought his company to Aspen. Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet was here for one night only. This man who I trained with and learned so much from, who I hadn’t seen in years was in my hometown, and I was sick.

I lay there on my sofa sniffling and groaning and bumming that I could not get up long enough to drive to the theater and watch the show. I’m mad too! I’ve been sick once in the last 2 years and now, NOW I get some nasty bug that knocks me down.

As I lay, drifting in and out of a fevered stupor, it came to me that some of the greatest lessons about life I learned in Alonzo’s studio. From him, from Arturo Fernandez, from simply being in that great facility.

IMAGE A dancer looks tired and sweaty during her dance rehearsal. IMAGE

Photo by Steven Depolo; CC BY 2.0

I was at the very first summer workshop put on by Alonzo King’s Lines Ballet. I won’t tell you how long ago it was. But it was two weeks of the most life altering and gratifying training I’ve ever received.

One particular lesson has stuck with me my whole life:

It was the end of the day. We were in Alonzo’s choreography class, working on putting a whole bunch of movement phrases together.

Everyone was fading. Alonzo was going over time. He asked us to do it one more time and I rolled my eyes looked at the clock. I was STARVING, I was EXHAUSTED, I was really wimping out!

Others started moaning and whining too. With all my body I wanted to flop down on the floor and cry…my eyes welled up with tears and I looked at the clock again, trying to send out that silent plea to let us go.

He was a task master, heartless! Couldn’t he see that we were fading? That our concentration was lagging? Our energy depleted?

He looked me in the eye, and then at each one of us, and very kindly asked us if we were about to give in to our “self-imposed limitations.” We all looked at each other, a little hurt, a little dumbfounded. Couldn’t he see we were just plain DONE?

He didn’t lose his temper, he didn’t make a long drawn out speech, and he didn’t embarrass or humiliate us.

He told us how strong we were, what beautiful dancers we were. He reminded us that we had been well fed throughout the day, that we had beds to sleep in and roofs over our heads. He reminded us how lucky we were to live in a free society that allowed us to dance. He told us that what we were experiencing was nothing but our self-imposed limitations.

He thought we COULD go on, we WEREN’T going to starve, or die and that the best was still inside us, waiting for us to let it out. All he was asking for was one more run through. The only thing holding us back was our self-imposed limitations.

My eyes dried, my frown lifted and my spirits soared. I felt like I had been set free!

All of us came together and danced like we’d never danced before. It was the best it had ever been.

From that point on as a dancer I found that I always had more to give than I thought I did. I learned through my dance career that we must always go beyond our self-imposed limitations.

IMAGE Airplanes in formation rise upward like an arrow IMAGE

It is breaking down these barriers that allows dancers to create magic on stage. Any audience can see when a dancer has been trapped by their self-imposed limitations and when they transcend those limitations. It is the joy in breaking these barriers that has kept dance as an ever evolving art form.

Living on the Lesson

Now that I don’t dance anymore, I probably use that little bit of wisdom almost every day.

I constantly ask myself if I’m at a REAL limit or a self-imposed limitation:

Am I really too tired to go to yoga? Is this mountain top really beyond my ability or is it my fear talking? Can I really push myself one more day or do I need to take a break?

This kind of lesson goes to the core of everything we feel we cannot do, are not good enough to do, and don’t deserve to do.

How many of those “can’t’s, don’t’s, and won’ts” that you and I saddle ourselves with are nothing more than our self-imposed limitations?

  • This lesson has helped me face the reality of where I am in any given moment.
  • It has helped me assess what is a real need and what is a perceived need.
  • It has helped me determine what limits I am willing to push through and what limits are real boundaries.

The mere fact that I can ask myself the question “is this limitation real or is it self-imposed?” has opened a thousand doors for me that may have remained closed.

I’m sure it can do the same for you.

I am so grateful for Alonzo King for this priceless lesson.

A truly creative person rids him or herself of all self-imposed limitations. ~ Gerald Jampolsky

We want to hear from you… tell us in the comments:

What are the limitations you’ve imposed on yourself?

What life-long lessons have your mentors taught you?

IMAGE Melanie Doskocil, director of school at Aspen Santa Fe Ballet IMAGEMelanie Doskocil directs the School of the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet with over 20 years of professional dance and teaching experience. She began her professional dance career in 1989 with Ballet Arizona and continued on to dance with Oakland Ballet, Nevada Ballet Theater, City Ballet of San Diego, Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, Mia Michaels RAW, and Odyssey Dance Theatre in Utah. Ms. Doskocil began teaching in 1995, for City Ballet of San Diego, under the mentorship of Steven and Elizabeth Wistrich. She continued teaching and began directing at Center Stage Performing Arts Studios in Utah, where she created their pre-professional ballet program. Melanie has mentored with master teachers Jean-Philippe Malaty, Tom Mossbrucker, Hilary Cartwright and the excellent faculty of Marcia Dale Weary’s Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet. She shares her teaching stories, ideas, and some favorite ballet classes on her blog at balletpages.blogspot.com.

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