Control. It comes in many forms, and is a both an impossibly high standard to meet and also a seductive marketing ploy often performing the very act it promises – that is, controlling us through the tantalizing offer of letting us control. We crave control of so many things – data, weight, money, children, lovers, coffee. There is little worse to hear from a friend than that their lives are “spinning out of control.”

The problem is, that implies that there was ever any control to be had over the spinning in the first place.

Freaky Is as Freaky Does

For some, the craving becomes a compulsion – the “control freak”, who tries to micro-manage every aspect of their environment. They are lovingly lampooned in the media, a Sheldon Cooper or Adrian Monk, trying desperately to control everything they can get their hands on whether they want to or not.

I’m very thankful that is not one of my vices; I am more than happy to let some things go, and I feel sorry for those kinds of people. But that’s not to say I’m immune to the seductive fantasy of control.

For me it lies in the organizational porn I consume – the day planners, the new Getting-Things-Done lifehacks, the promise of a fresh moleskine and a shiny pen. “This will stop the chaos” these things whisper to me. “We are the tools with which you can turn the maelstrom into a ballet.” My fantasy of control lies in one of the few personal mottoes I’ve ever come up with and liked: Dance, don’t scramble. It lies in the idea of calm, and grace, and everything sliding into place with a loud and satisfying click.

Dance, Dance, Wherever You May Be

It’s important, though, to recognize that pairing of words: fantasy and control. One of the first mistakes new lead dancers make is the idea that they are supposed to control where their partner moves. That’s silly. There are far too many variables in the human body for someone to be in control of themselves, much less another, and when you add in time, action, and environment the idea of “control” with any measure of precision becomes ludicrous.

Instead, you create a space for your partner to move into and you invite them to partake of it. You suggest, you cajole, you entice. At a certain level of skill, your partner doesn’t feel your hand at all in the dance – they simply move where they ought to go because no other choice seemed available.

“The key to strategy, little Vor,” she explained kindly, “is not to choose a path to victory, but to choose so that all paths lead to a victory.” – Lois McMaster Bujold, The Vor Game (1990)


That’s the closest you can come to control: the ability to increase the probability of a certain outcome. The advantage of practice and years of performing is the cultivation of resilience in the face of all the things that can go wrong; it’s the ability to stay flexible and graceful and give the appearance that whatever is happening is exactly the way you planned it.

Usually that fools any audience, and occasionally it may also fool your fellow performers.

But god help you if you believe it too.

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