My first car was a gift from my parents and was a red 1990 Toyota Tercel hatchback. I named him Mr. Bucket. I was 18 or 19 when I got him and while I knew how to drive, I couldn’t take him for a spin right away: Mr. Bucket had a manual transmission and I had yet to learn to drive stick.
Do you know how hard it was to be a teenager with a car and not be able to drive it?! It sucked big time and was totally embarrassing having to tell my friends I had a car I couldn’t use. But the hard part was having to learn the whole clutch-shift technique and that taking my foot off the pedal too early or too late would result in either grinding the gears or making the engine go out. And the hills. Oh, the hills. I still remember that sick feeling I’d get whenever I was at an uphill stop, praying I could time it just right to keep from rolling backward. I grew impatient and increasingly frustrated, and at times I just wanted to give up. All I wanted was to show off my new ride to my friends and go for a carefree cruise by the beach without worrying about when to go from second to third or getting stuck between third and fourth.
This is kinda how I feel about the dance. I’m feeling a little like that clutch-challenged college freshman as I realize that having shiny new dance shoes and not knowing how to really use them is kinda like having a shiny new car and not being able to drive stick: You want to show off and go faster, but when you try, you either grind your gears or come to a halt. That’s exactly what happens when I do my footwork. When I try to speed up or do something fancy, I lose compás or trip over my feet and have to start over.
When I was learning how to maneuver Mr. Bucket, I had to practice every day until I finally got it. I know the same is true for dancing: I’m not going to improve my footwork technique unless I can work on it every day. That’s not so easy when you don’t have daily access to a proper dance floor. And practicing in character shoes in the on-campus studio, while that’s still an option for me, just isn’t the same. So what’s a girl to do? Well, either I adjust my expectations for my progress or I get creative in finding ways to rehearse.
I’m on my third car now and it’s a stick just like the previous two. I can’t imagine driving an automatic; I love that it takes dexterity and timing, and I love having greater control of the vehicle than I would if it were automatic. The dance also takes dexterity and timing, and I look forward to the day I finally have greater control of my feet. And I will get there. For now, it’s back to the studio … or the kitchen … or the ladies’ restroom at work … or anywhere else I can get in a few rolling golpes.