I want you to take a few moments to look back at your dance life. If you don’t dance, think of another skill important to you. Singing, piano, drawing, education, knitting. Just try to remember what it was like on day one to know nothing and have everything ahead of you still to learn. Think of all of all the practice, hard work, lessons, setbacks, frustrations, and victories. Think of the road they built to lead you to this place you are now. It may not be even or straight. In some places it might be rickety and questionable, but in the end it stood firm. Now go back to Day One You again. Could he or she believe where you are right now? Could they possible have ever imagined every step of that road you laid down? If Day One You saw someone like you now, could they have seen the road that lead them there? Imagined anything beyond the abstract idea of “hard work and practice?” Probably not. Why? Because for Day One You, there was no road. Nothing between you and the lofty goals because you hadn’t built it yet.

This is The Gap.

It’s a concept a bit difficult to explain without falling into the rambling trap, but something everyone has experienced. When you look back, you see the road that got you there. It’s all laid out and simple (maybe not simple). But someone starting at the beginning can’t see it. They can’t see the road you built because it’s just for you. All they see is you right now. And the ability gap between you. Soon they’ll start building their own roads and bridges as they work and improve and close that gap. But chances are your journey isn’t over either, and your road is still going forward, and that gap is still there. Maybe bigger, maybe smaller. From your perspective, you don’t see a gap because you have your road to bridge it. You don’t understand why they’re comparing. You don’t understand why they’re chasing you when they should focus on their own journey. And because it’s a journey you’ve already made, you can see what’s ahead of them. You can see when they’re headed in the right direction. You can see there’s no reason for frustration because they’re building their road so well.

But then you look ahead. You see your next goal, that move you’ve been dying to nail or that dancer you admire who has somehow gotten even more talented and spectacular. And there’s no road. Just a gap where it needs to be built. Without that person or move or goal to chase after, you would never even see the end of your gap: just the daunting and never-ending expanse called improvement. And it’s so much easier to jump when there’s something to reach for.

I remember the first time I truly felt the frustration of The Gap. I was watching my teacher and his partner rehearse for the first time. Because he was always teaching at my level, and it was the only capacity I had seen him in, I never appreciated that I had never truly seen his level. Until that moment. I was in awe. I found myself facing a huge chasm of a gap between us. It was massive and intimidating, and I had no idea how I could even begin to span it. I was already standing as far as I could go, leaning forward with my toes on the edge, wanting nothing more with my whole body and soul than to be over there. Yet knowing, at least not for a long time, I couldn’t.

I wish I could say I took it well. I wish I could say that it sparked a fire in me, motivated me anew to work harder. Eventually it did, once I came to my senses, but in those first reactions all I felt was a little sad. It suddenly seemed so lonely on my side, with such a long way to go. Fortunately, I didn’t wallow in this for long. Their rehearsal ended and my lesson began, shaking me right out of it. My teacher wasn’t over there anymore, but next to me on my side, helping me build that road he once did a long time ago. I was on my path again.

As a student, the gap is often felt for the first time between you and your teacher. Or between you and the more experienced students. In either case, the gap is constantly looming. It shows itself in every new thing you learn, of every old thing you improve. In every aspiration. It’s a driving force, that thing you have to bridge to reach your goals. Those goals don’t have to be to close the gap between you and teacher. They could be smaller. They could be bigger, but it’s mostly likely your teacher that first makes you feel the gap between where you are and where you want to be. Even if you surpass these people, there’s always another gap ahead to bridge.

I spend a lot of time thinking about that gap: about where I am, how far I’ve come, and what I need to do to close it a little more, but I always try to think of it in small terms. Step by step. One goal to the next. I try not to find how far that gap really spans, because I know that gap between me and my teacher is just a symbol, a placeholder for the real gap. Between me and the me I’m working to become. And that is not a gap at all, but a horizon: always moving forward and always finding more to reach for. The wonder and terror of the never-ending goal.