Ruth’s Truths – Ruth Morris

GBalanchine1No Holds Barred —

George Ballanchine, said to be “the 20th Century’s most prolific and famous choreographer,” and considered the “father of American Ballet.”

He said to his students, “Why are you stingy with yourselves? Why are you holding back? What are you saving yourself for – for another time? There are no other times. There is only now. Right now.”

I woke up to this quote today, which came rolling up on my Facebook, posted by a new dance friend. No wonder that dance quotes posted by other dancers might appeal to me; this spoke so directly to me that my writing muse slid into cruise control immediately!

The quote and its sentiment reminded me of when my mom used to say to us, “What are you waiting for, Christmas?” It was her way of telling us to jump-start, get a move on, and it was always extra funny when she said it in December. It was doubly ironic, because our family never used Christmas as an excuse to wait for presents or special occasions, even though it was my parents’ anniversary. It was just another day off to us, and we were usually schlepped off to Las Vegas, where things were open, and which was my parents’ favorite place for R&R.

Ballanchine speaks loud and clear to me. Too much restraint in academic, professional, leisure and romantic pursuits is about fear, and can lead to frustration, and failure to achieve success. The opposite of stinginess is excessiveness, of restraint: addiction. Addictive behaviors lead people to lose control, which is not good all the time, but IS good some of the time. As Oscar Wilde said, “Moderation is a fatal thing; nothing succeeds like excess.”

Students regularly “hold back” in the form of what I’ve heard called “Perfectionism Paralysis.” Some of the hesitancy I encounter with middle school students is absolutely developmental; their minds and bodies are changing, and they are often unsure of themselves, as I likely was at that age, too. However, some students don’t speak or write much, because they are blocked by emotions. I see this not only in my middle school students, but in the many adults I have taught Japanese language to over the years. There too much noise, too many questions, going on in people’s heads, including worry about embarrassment, which just relates back to the perfectionism. Students perseverate about things like penmanship, spelling, pronunciation and grammar so much so, that that they won’t even try to put a sentence onto a paper.

When my parents and sister went off to Italy in 1981, my father and sister took six months of Italian before the overseas assignment. My mother could not be bothered to take the class. When I went to visit them, we went to a train station trying to buy some tickets. My sister and dad stood in the corner of the lobby consulting their phrase book, while my mom came back holding the four tickets she’d bought in her hand. With virtually no Italian, she’d marched up to the window, raised four fingers, and likely mispronounced our destination, but they’d understood. She communicated. The job was done, and without the hesitation of getting a sentence right.

I think the unwillingness to at least try to jump in and act becomes habitual. When people “don’t want” to do something, and then find that they “don’t have” to do it, an inertia is created that becomes self-fulfilling. Some parents will use the term “lazy” when speaking of their own children, but, in parent –teacher meetings, I always object to that term. I think that “laziness” has somehow become a socially acceptable label that actually masks something deeper, a lethargy that borders on depression.

I see “holding back” or, too much restraint, in the workplace, too. I have often envied colleagues who seem to have, perhaps, more of a “life” outside the job. They act calm all the time at work, seem positive, and nobody can ever complain about their job performance. I, on the other hand, tend to get too passionate about every little thing. I’ve laughed raucously, I have even cried, and I have lost sleep about things that worry me. On various issues that have come up in both of my careers, I often find myself in the minority opinion. This is not to say that I’m not loyal to my job; conversely, I care too much! At the risk of being thought of as a pain in the butt, I have sometimes lobbied for what I have thought was “right”. This is a scary position for a “salaryman” (direct translation from Japanese) like me, but I believe that I became this way from my years working in Japan. One of my former bosses from Japan once came to visit me here. He said, “I wouldn’t want to work in America,” and when I questioned him why, he said, “Because Americans are ‘dry,’” whereas Japanese are ‘wet.’” Hmmm, “wet” and “dry” as adjectives for human personalities? Yes! Ballanchine, in his quote, was looking for his dancers to be “wet,” not “dry.” Dry people seem always to be saving themselves, but, for what?

In relationships, you witness “hold back” constantly. Anybody who has ever attempted online dating at all, even those who have been successful at it, will tell you about the number of “lurkers” who exist. These people are happy enough to exchange written messages, or speak by phone, but, who has not been no-showed on, when it came to actually coming out and meeting a person? I’ve never understood what that phenomenon was about, like, either not being willing to set up a time at all, or, actually going ahead and making plans, but then breaking them? What is up with that? Then, there are the tons of people who do get dressed up and primed to come out, only to go on and on about how “injured” they are from past relationships, or, for whatever reason, “are not in a place to date right now.” All of this is a “cop out;” a 70’s slang term meaning: failure to face a difficulty squarely. Or, maybe they are trying to be polite, but “just not that into you,” which is possible, but maybe a little dry, also.

People wait until some perfect magical age to get married, or have kids, and then, when they get to that artificial moment, they cannot or might not be able to go forward with such plans. From my past-fifty vantage point, the same perch from which I write everything, you start meeting plenty of others from your same age range who never managed to take the risk of at least seeing what it would be like to be married…victims, again, of saving themselves for the day that never comes.

Ballanchine’s quote was meant for dancers in the first place, and the world of dancing is where you can so viscerally encounter those who do not fully invest in the activity. They have what we call “spaghetti arms,” they don’t plant their weight squarely on the dance floor, nor are they able to give you that so-desired push-pull feeling. Above all, they can’t seem to look you in the eyes when you dance with them. All forms of dancing require both leads and follows to be resolute in this posture.

I don’t know what it is like for other kinds of people, but I can tell you that I feel every surface of my body, inside and out, when I dance. If I am raising my arms up, my elbows are locked and my fingertips are extended. When the move calls for a kick, my leg and foot are raised as high as possible into the air. I have written much about the connection you establish with another partner when you Contra dance, where eye-to-eye contact is de rigueur. It may only be for a few moments, but you literally are looking into the other person’s soul. You commit, at that moment, 100%, which people sometimes call flirting, but I think is much deeper than a flirt. At that moment, you have no fear. You are not afraid of the other person, nor, more significantly, are you afraid of yourself.

The leader of one of my dance organizations called it, “an intensely focused piece of humanity like no other.” He claimed that so many of our dancers have the “skill, grace, passion and a desire to make a connection in time, space, music and motion.” And this, I believe, is the essence of Ballanchine’s message to us: don’t be afraid to make a connection, not only if and when we dance, but in all of life’s challenges and pursuits.

The Actors' Gang


  1. Shout out to “the leader of one of my dance organizations,” Dan Vilter, thank you for the inspiration!

  2. Ruth- what a well written article. Your words are a reflection of your thoughts and feelings that touch me and my outlook of life. We are so very similar and we
    love life. You are so fortunate to have such a gift – of words and of soul. Again- a great work !

  3. Ms. Morris, what you wrote was very inspiring and a motivative article to read. I personally can relate to having fear when the time comes to be brave. Some of those moments are when I have the chance to speak up for myself or when I have everyone’s eyes and ears on me. I’d rather sit in the back of the class and not say a word. However, reading this article made reflect on past decisions and I got to think about whether i have the opportunity to speak up and go for it or if i should just hide away in a shell forever. You are absolutely right about speaking up, showing who you are, and expressing yourself not only in the art of dance but also in everyday life decisions and choices. Everyone deserves a choice to be heard but sometimes they need a little pep talk, motivation, and a little push to help them get to where everyone wants to go. That place is success.

  4. Ms. Morris, I agree that everyone should speak for themselves when they get the chance and not just his in the back of the room not talking at all. They should still be quite when someone else like the students or a teacher is talking but when they are asked a question they should answer it and not hide away. You should make your own decisions and not have people tell you what to do unless it is your parents or a teacher.

  5. Ms. Morris, I agree that everyone should speak for themselves when they get the chance and not just his in the back of the room not talking at all. They should still be quite when someone else like the students or a teacher is talking but when they are asked a question they should answer it and not hide away. You should make your own decisions and not have people tell you what to do unless it is your parents or a teacher.Ms. Morris, I agree that everyone should speak for themselves when they get the chance and not just his in the back of the room not talking at all. They should still be quite when someone else like the students or a teacher is talking but when they are asked a question they should answer it and not hide away. You should make your own decisions and not have people tell you what to do unless it is your parents or a teacher.

  6. Ms. Morris,

    I liked your article and I could relate to this in alot of ways. The first way is that I”m a perfectionist and as as perfectionist I do like things to be organized and put together well. Sometimes I want it to be done so well that I don’t do it at all. This might like I’m not doing my work but really it’s because I’m afraid to turn something in that’s less than perfect. And also like you said that middle school students tend to care about other things besides what they are doing. That happens to me all the time. One of the main things I worry about is how I look because I”m worried people might tease me and plus I think I”m fat because I have a bad eating disorder and it’s really hard to concentrate and do my work because I’m thinking about it all the time. So I really relate to your article and the things you said. Thank you for posting this.

  7. I like your article a lot. I like to be organized so I do not lose my tools for school. Students should not be afraid to raise their hand to ask a question. They should be proud of themselves to ask questions because if you don’t then you will not learn. If you have a lot of thoughts in your head then it will be twice as hard to memorize something you learn in class. Do not worry a lot about being perfect if you make a mistake, then you can learn from your mistakes. I make a lot of mistakes because I always try to be perfect. I am making less mistakes because I do not try to be perfect but I try my best even if I do not get everything correct the first time.

  8. Ms. Morris, I used to do ballet when I was younger and my instructor would often use that quote to us, saying that we need to put more passion when we were dancing, not be little limp noodles just flopping around. To me that quote is very inspirational because it not only applies to dance, but to so many other things such as not waiting to the last minute or to put a bit more “soul” into something rather than it being mediocre, even possibly a cold limp noodle.

  9. I really like this quote and of holding back and shout and not. In my experience I don’t like to hold back. The quote would enspire people because kids should not be afraid stand up for themselves that’s right. Sometimes it’s good to hold back because if it’s something that gets you mad you should hold back.

  10. I to this can relate to this article because I am a perfectionist and a neat freak . I can’t stand it if something is unorganized. I am a here organized person and love to have everything in its place. I have tried to go a day without being organized and I don’t understand how people who are in organized find anything in their room. I always like to stay as neat as I possibly can.

  11. I do have a tendency of holding back, especially when it comes to tests. I hold back because I feel like I’m going to do bad on the test. I lack the confidence in myself. I’m trying very hard to do better in my classes. I think the reason why my grades aren’t where I would like them to be is because I hold back. Now I know I need to change my habits when it comes to studying but it’s been very hard for me to change.

  12. I can easily relate to this post because I usually do hold back whether it be with chores or just school like homework, projects, etc. The quote from the dance teacher was actually an eye opener to me. I know I might forget it but right now, it is actually pretty interesting to me. Usually, I don’t think much of when I’m holding back and him saying, “Why are you holding back? What are you saving yourself for – for another time? There are no other times. There is only now. Right now.” is really inspirational because it is true. Most of the time, the only time to prove your abilities is at that moment but what I was thinking was that maybe it just takes yourself time to not hold back or basically let out your abilities for those who do hold back at the time. I might be wrong but should we always show our abilities at that exact moment. Maybe, and maybe not. That is up to you to decide whether you want to show if you can do it with excellence or not.

    The part in your blog that says, “Addictive behaviors lead people to lose control, which is not good all the time, but IS good some of the time.” is also completely true to me some of the times because I get so attached to something like a certain video game or website which I then forgot about some homework which I then work out at some later time. That is easily when I can say is when I lose control. I get indulged with it so much that I forget. The only times when it is actually good to me is when I get to see something that reminds me about my duties or activities I have or had to do. This is actually the first post that I’ve read of yours and this one is really took my breath way. Hope you enjoy the rest of your day! – Dylan, Period 6

  13. Hello Ms. Morris,
    Your article was very inspiring and I can relate to it. I feel that I’m shy in class and I should express myself more effectively. I usually hold back when I should be more communicative. I agree that you should not hold back and wait for another opportunity. I am shy by nature, and have encountered many situations where I feel I should have spoken my mind freely. After reading your article, I am encouraged to bring about a change in myself by being more confident in expressing myself. I got to learn a lot from your article, which will reinforce my determination to bring about a positive change in me. Thank you once again for your words of wisdom.

  14. I loved your article I dont really like dancing but it makes me happy to see other people happy do that makes dancing special because it makes other people happy and that makes it really special to dance and just relax sometes that can make a difference in someone’s life as for me I’m working on finding my own beat and making myself happier

  15. My connection-
    One time I was in class and I new all the answers but I didnt raise my hand because i was shy and new at the school.

  16. I agree with George’s quote in the story. In basketball there is a similar saying” You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”In my life I can relate to the recent vocabulary test.
    There were questions in the test I wasn’t sure on since I don’t speak fluent Spanish. I was going to leave some questions blank but I said to myself “I should put an answer even if I’m not sure , and if I get it wrong no problem there’s nothing to lose.”Another example of not holding back is with these blogs. In the beginning of the year I was always doing blogs and Ms. Mortis was taking note of it and would complement me in class. Some of the other students were making fun of me and I begin fallback soon I was hesitating because I was scared of what someone thought of me when the reality is that someone isn’t going to be doing your test or on your job interview. Now I am trying to get back in the grove and continue to blog with out holding back.

  17. hi ms. Morris
    George’s quote reminds me of if I don’t study for my test and I don’t know an answer I would just put in an answer even if it wasn’t correct I would have a chance that that answer was right. I also wanted to know if ballet was named after George Ballanchine.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.