Thinking (And Dancing) Outside The Box
While traveling extensively over the past year or so, I always check out “drop-in” dance classes when I get to a new city.
Seriously. I can’t claim to be the next Eleanor Powell, but I have the basic steps down for real tap dancing. And yes – I have real tap shoes – a couple of different kinds.
But I had a real problem trying to get enough “sound” out of my taps. After all, one of the goals of this art is to make some noise! Otherwise it’s just “the old soft shoe.” I believe, without too much in the way of pretention, that I was able to get my feet in the right place at the right time. Other students, obviously younger, just seemed to have more slap in their tap.
The sound is part of the great fun in tap dancing. I mean, come on, Fred Astaire danced on the radio and millions of people loved to tune in to hear him dance.
My dance-teacher in one city (I still have a tendency to call her “dance-Mistress,” in the European way” told me that if I imagined my feet hitting one inch below the floor, instead of on the floor, that would treat the problem. It did not. After a day of psychiatrizing it seemed to be hard for me to find the force to stomp loudly.
Out in a far more agricultural region somebody showed me shoes with double taps for clogging — A loud and easy tap. Now clogging, which I first believed could not possibly be done with these shoes since I had only seen wooden clogging years ago in North Carolina, is considered an easy and amateurish dance. But this mechanical aide on my shoes — well, I just had to get them somehow.
So my teacher, in my estimation, blew it. She had been a fine tapper in many troupes for many years and I think she really did try to help me. I can’t quite believe she did not try to help me. She simply could not think outside her box. She probably would not think of a mechanical aide from dance of another and somehow less “noble” thought. No ethics, no honor, not glam, not true to the craft.
I would not have cared. I was not planning on Broadway. Now I know I will get the sound.
Then, years and years before, there was Kidney Man. A true academic, the much-published professorial physician who had, when he first entered the field of nephrology, published what some thought the greatest nephrology transplant paper ever.
Surgeons were ultra-technicians in his world, where someone had to understand the immunology and other physiology and he loved that. This doctor even tried once to tell me that kidney cells were more complex than brain cells and I ought to change specialty (It didn’t work). That would be akin to me trying to convert the Pope to Judaism.
He asked me to see him for a treatment-resistant depression. He had recently relocated to a midwestern city where he was starting up a transplant unit and – not unusual for such surgeons — was known for his ego. Excuse me – I meant to say MASSIVE ego.
It turned out that he had been banished from a prestigious east coast university on charges of plagiarism and fled to the hinterlands. Kind of like finding a small pond so he could be the big fish. His story was a simpler one than he was willing to admit. When he was new to the field, he was very original, bringing ways of thinking from his previous field (internal medicine), with a particular interest in cardiovascular and peripheral circulatory function.
After he had been in it for a little while, he started thinking like the nephrologist he had become. Originality was elusive, and this appeared to have frustrated him enough to drive him to plagiarize a work he wanted to publish in a medical journal. When he was caught and called-out, he fled to a less prestigious place, seemingly to atone for his sins.
Of course he was depressed.
Fast forward to a luncheon with a friend, whose mother was a distinguished retired elementary education specialist. She learned of my most recent book about how I lost half my body weight and told other people how to do it. She was impessed at how I noticed who really lost weight and how it is accomplished without drugs, surgery, exercise or even dieting. She told her daughter, “this is a great way to think. How can we teach others to think like that?”
The answer is to teach people so that they never become either my tap dance teacher or my nephrologist friend. In other words, think of a profession, any profession, as something that encases a human being’s mind exactly the way that a plaster cast encases a fracture.
The answer may be as simple to approach a problem as if a member of some other discipline or profession. For the dance teacher, a shoe salesperson may have fixed my problem. And she may have been able to fix it if she THOUGHT of herself as a shoe saleswoman. Or at least went back to asking “what makes a sound in tap anyway?”
I was asking “Why the heck can’t I bang the floor like everyone else?” and could only come up with the answer “I am a little older than Debbie Reynolds when she did Singing in the Rain and I remember her saying once in an interview she had a heart arrhythmia after her wonderful “Good Morning” number and was stuck in bed resting for a few days. And she was only 19 years old!
I don’t know the exact answer for the nephrologist, only that a solution is possible because he had been so brilliant when he had been thinking like an internal medicine physician.
Many people recommend brainstorming of some sort for a creative problem solution. Suspending criticism, whether with shutting down your computer monitor or writing without reading or speaking without censoring.
For a directed response, try this. Try answering the question like someone from another field or profession who would be involved in the question only laterally. You have nothing to lose.
The answer may be closer than you would ever believe. Climb outside your box, knowing that the time already spent within is all it takes to lay claim to one. Don’t have to be a county away. Just climb outside.