How to Master the Art of Illusion

Master the Art of Illusion

Guest post by Carl Nelson from Drop of Change

Dancers flow gracefully through space, evoking images and emotions.

Free runners bound, flip and fly through urban space.

Magicians pull cards out of thin air.

Exceptional performance is the seemingly impossible made effortless. Exceptional individuals perform stunts that mystify, awe and regale.

Exceptional performers are Masters of Illusion.

The Truth

Behind every exceptional performance is not the power of positive thinking, but rather countless hours of discplined study, training and deliberate practice.

That card trick is not a feat of magic. That death defying leap from building to rail is not a feat of inhuman agility. The ability to dance is not something you were born with or without.

They are skills and domains of knowledge acquired over time with diligence and perseverence.

The Harsh Reality

He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and walk and run and climb and dance; one cannot fly into flying.

~ Friedrich Nietzsche

What looks impossible to you may be merely challenging or even easy to the Master of Illusion. Why? Because our level of performance falls into three general zones of performance.

The Panic Zone: Where you are outside your range of skills; what seems impossible to achieve and accomplish.

The Learning Zone: Where you are pushing your skills to the edges; what is challenging to you but is possible with effort and diligence.

The Comfort Zone: Where you are easily within your skill set; what you already know and can do casually.

When you are asked to dance, you might be suddenly pushed into your panic zone.

I can’t dance,” you stutter out.

But it’s not that you can’t dance, it’s just that you aren’t comfortable dancing.

With a little practice it’s possible, trust me. With more practice, your friends will be saying, “you’re such a good dancer, I could never dance like that.” You’ll smile and know better.

Mastering Illusion through Deliberate Practice

To master the illusion (of your choosing) you need to expand your zones of performance through deliberate practice.

What is Deliberate Practice?

"constantly trying to do the things one can't do comfortably"

~ Geoff Colvin

A Deliberate Practice is a routine of training, study and feedback in which you constantly push the boundaries of your zones outwards. What was once panic inducing becomes part of your learning zone, what was once in your learning zone enters your comfort zone.

Deliberate Practice is:

  1. Designed to improve performance
  2. Repetition
  3. Continuous feedback
  4. Highly demanding
  5. Not always fun
Let's put all of this into context, a dance context.

A deliberate dance practice would consist of the following:

Lessons and instruction is aimed at developing a core baseline of movement, establishing basic movements and patterns which are the building blocks for more advanced movements and patterns, and sketching the conceptual framework that underlies the style of dance.

Lessons would repeat key movements, exercises and patterns to ingrain them into muscle memory while feedback would modify and finetune the muscle memory to improve technique and push conceptual understanding.

It is not about the teacher imparting knowledge from on high, nor is it about the student being adorned with praise, it is an egoless pursuit for excellence.

Dancing is my favorite example of a personal expression of joy, yet the deliberate practice of dancing is rigorous and tiring. The act is mentally draining, occasionally disheartening, yet ultimately rewarding when the band opens with a killer number and the hours of training, study and practice let me express and create within the limits of my imagination.

Can You Handle the Truth?

Cheesy line out of the way.

Cause that’s the skinny of it.  To master the art of illusion you need to pick an art, a craft, a science and pursue it doggedly without ego.

You have to release yourself to a rigorous process of trial and error, curiosity and dead ends, and no magic bullets.  Be prepared for resistance: from yourself, from your friends and family, from the establishments you operate in.  Tackling the art of illusion has few proponents at first other than yourself because for most … it is merely impossible.

Are You Ready?

Carl Nelson is an all encompassed geek of life, movement, dance, design, reading, writing, whatever he can get his hands on or his feet for that matter. He is unendingly curious – oh yeah, he’s a professional dancer, designer and wordsmith. He writes about marketing and dance at The Dance Nomad and blogs on life at Drop of Change.

photo by Garry

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