What I got, unconsciously, from admiring Fred Astaire was that he didn't want what he was doing to look difficult. What was difficult, in my opinion, was making it look so genuine, so effortless.
It can be frustrating, can’t it, when you see someone doing something amazing without appearing to break into a sweat. With Astaire (and Gene Kelly) it was the stunning dancing; Frank Sinatra, the singing; Katherine Hepburn, the acting; Cary Grant … well, just being Cary Grant really.
All of them had natural talent, but that wasn’t enough; they put in the work and the time into their craft. The suave, elegant Cary Grant was created over many years by Archie Leach from Bristol until it became second nature. (Once, it is alleged, an interviewer told him, "Everybody would like to be Cary Grant," to which he is said to have replied, "So would I.”)
Astaire, who created most of his routines with other choreographers, once said:
“For maybe a couple of days we wouldn't get anywhere—just stand in front of the mirror and fool around... Then suddenly I'd get an idea or one of them would get an idea... So then we'd get started... You might get practically the whole idea of the routine done that day, but then you'd work on it, edit it, scramble it, and so forth. It might take sometimes as long as two, three weeks to get something going.”
(And that doesn’t take into account the lifetime of dancing prior to the creation of the dance and the weeks of rehearsal following it. And that to perform the dance to perfection, Ginger Rogers often had bleeding feet.)
But we don’t even need to look at such glorious performances by all the above mentioned. You can probably show me someone you know who just breezes through networking; for whom all the opportunities seem to show up at just the right time; who has work stacked up for months to come. And I can probably show you someone who behind the scenes has spent years going to networking events and building their confidence; making links and connections; and keeping an open mind so that when an opportunity comes up, they, seemingly effortlessly, grab it with two hands.
As Connie Willis once said of Fred Astaire, he was “willing to kill himself to make his art look effortless”. I’m not recommending that you work yourself to death, but are you prepared to make the effort to be effortless?
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