|Deborah Bull (image courtesy of the Times online) - Pursuing perfection even as a child?|
I came across this definition of perfectionism in a book I'm reading:
Perfectionism is the setting of, and striving to meet, very demanding standards that are self-imposed and relentlessly pursued despite this causing problems. It involves basing one's self-worth almost exclusively on how well these high-standards are pursued and achieved.
(Shafran, Egan & Wade, 2010)
Anyone at the top of their game is, obviously, aiming to be the very best they can be, but the problem with perfectionism is that good can never be good enough. We've all done it, haven't we, when we've been praised for something good and dismissed it as fluke or thought that something else must have had a role in our success? Any classical art, especially one as potentially rigid and structured as ballet, has the potential to drive people onwards to better things, and this is good, this breaks barriers and forges new paths through the art(s). But, relentless pursuit of 'perfection' - that's not healthy, surely?
When I was little, my mum used to tell me a story about the women who weave Persian rugs: apparently, somewhere in every rug, they weave a deliberate imperfection. These women are highly skilled craftswomen, whose work is highly revered the world around; they are the very best at what they do, but they choose to make a mistake. Why? Because they believe that God (their Allah) is the only one who is perfect and it would be arrogant to suggest that anything man can do could be as perfect. They aren't shoddy craftswomen, they are apprenticed for years before they are considered skilled enough to make the highest quality rugs, but they are humble too.
I love this story: it captures my imagination and reminds me of magic carpets and stories from the 1001 nights. But I also think it holds a really important message: Pursuit of excellence is essential; it drives us onwards as humans; it makes our great artists (and ballet companies) what they are today - exciting and mesmerising to watch. But maybe, as dancers, instead of citing perfection as our aim, we need to change our choice of words, because, like the Persian rug weavers, maybe we need to acknowledge that mistakes are human, and that's what makes us man, not machine.