the four stages of competence in dancing; also known as “that time when you realized you actually still sucked”

In training for my current job, we looked at a learning paradigm called the four stages of competence as it describes the process of learning a skill:

Unconscious Incompetence
Conscious Incompetence
Conscious Competence
Unconscious Incompetence 

While this is more or less self-explanatory, let me summarize: first, you don’t know what you’re doing wrong, and you don’t really care. Second, you realize you lack a skill, and you have a desire to improve that knowledge. Third, you have learned the necessary information, but must make a conscious effort to use the skill. Finally, you have mastered the skill or knowledge so that it is second nature, and may even be able to teach the skill to others.

four stages of competence, uncoscious incompetence, conscious incompetence, conscious competence, unconscious competence

A line graph, because it spoke to my nerd-ness.

What I find interesting about this model of the learning process is its relation to swing dancing. The interesting part, I believe, is that this paradigm is described as a linear scale of learning; in dancing, however I believe is more like a revolving door.

Think about it – hark back to your first beginner’s lesson, when you weren’t even sure if you wanted to learn this new thing called a “swing out.” After all, you were dragged there by your friends. Or maybe you were perfectly content with your ballroom-style east coast swing. It doesn’t matter. For whatever reason, you weren’t particularly interested in learning lindy hop (step one).

Then, you found some reason to want to learn: you saw a cute boy or girl; you envisioned yourself as Baby in Dirty Dancing; you loved the music; you saw a killer jam circle; you met a new friend. Whatever the reason, it gave you the desire to learn to swing out (step two).

We all know about the third step – taking classes, private lessons, and tips from friends in the slow and laborious process of learning to dance. A swingout might take weeks or months to learn, depending on the amount of instruction and your individual athletic ability. And you have to think of every single step: step, step, trip-ple step, step, step, trip-ple step, trip-ple – wait, shit! Step, step again! Next time, I’ll get it!

Or something along those lines.

But finally, it’s something you don’t have to think about – you’re just swinging out, and it is maybe the most glorious feeling on the planet (step four). Definitely the best basic known to mankind. And according to the four stages of learning, you’re done. You’ve learned what you needed, and now you can do it…right?

Not so fast. Sticking to the swingout theme – remember when you first learned you were too heavy (or light?) in your swingouts? You didn’t even know you needed to be aware of that. What does heavy (or light) mean, anyway? Or maybe it was when you learned you were stepping too far out of the way, making the momentum awkward. Or maybe you learned that your triple steps were actually off rhythm, and you needed to be swinging that beat – whatever that meant.

The thing that I love about dancing is that there is always something more to learn. Something to improve upon within a skill set that we already have. It is a revolving door of learning – once you’ve gained some degree of Unconscious Competence and you’re (finally) happy with your dancing, you’re suddenly slapped in the face with the realization that you’ve been in the stage of Unconscious Incompetence all this time.

At first it’s frustrating and annoying, and “Maybe I don’t really need that skill after all?” But then you take a class or a private or ask a friend, and you consciously work on improvement, and suddenly you don’t even have to think when you’re matching your partner’s connection.

It’s a constant repeating struggle – but it is easily the most rewarding learning cycle in which I’ve ever participated. And honestly, I actively seek out every new round of Conscious Incompetence with a sort of giddy excitement: while it is frustrating at first, it is miles more rewarding in the end.

Remember when you were here? Don't worry. I do. And any time you think you're too good for us, I'll just remind you when you did this routine.


the petite picasso: alexandra nechita

If you’ve been paying attention over the last ten or fifteen years, then you’ve probably heard about Alexandra Nechita, the child prodigy also known as the “Petite Picasso.” She began drawing at the age of two; she was painting with oils and acrylics at the age of seven; and she had her first art show at the age of eight.

Her art is characterized by the abstract shapes of people, bold colors, and subtle texture. Her figures clearly resemble something out of Picasso’s head, though she began her unique style before she’d even heard of the famous art master. A study of her works invites us into her imagination: a place of color, light, and happiness.

quiet karma, alexandra nechita, petite picasso, abstract expressionism, paintings

"Quiet Karma"

Now 26, Nechita has achieved a great amount of infamy in her short life. Her pieces are owned by celebrities, including Oprah Winfrey and Bill Clinton. Additionally, she has been the official artist for the United Nations Peace Conference, the Special Olympics, and the Grammy Awards.  More recently, she has marked two major milestones most artists never achieve: she had a painting accepted into theVatican, and she sold an original for one million dollars.

I cannot imagine a life without fantasy and faith in the impossible. It saddens me to know that people with ethereal and whimsical perceptions of the world are often seen as aimlessly chasing rainbows: the hopeless romantic you find in movies. I have found that one of the universal keys to maintaining happiness and peace in my life lies in nurturing the pat of my spirit that still believes that anything can happen.

     – Alexandra Nechita

a new tomorrow, alexandra nechita, petite picasso, abstract expressionism, paintings, art

"A New Tomorrow"

As they come through our gallery, many people ask what makes this artist so special, and I believe it is her uninhibited expression of emotion. As someone who has been painting since such a young age, she has been able to maintain a connection to the imagination of a child, while expressing her ideas with the skill and sophistication of an adult.

blind date, alexandra nechita, abstract expressionism, surrealism, art, paintings

"Blind Date"

embrace growing up, alexandra nechita, art, painting, abstract expressionism

"Growing Up"

For more information on Nechita’s upcoming show, feel free to email me or leave a comment.

graduate school: option the first

The first school that caught my eye when I started looking at Environmental Science Graduate Programs was the University of Rhode Island.

In Summary:

With so many options for specialization, I have a good chance to find something at URI that I would love; however, if I decide to apply, I will need to look at the departments and specializations offered much more closely to determine what will best suit my needs. Additionally, I like the location of the school, which is a huge mark in its favor. I am mostly concerned with 1) having trouble finding the most appropriate specialization for me (also known as too many options) and 2) getting the attention I want from professors. Lastly, I am concerned (out of pride) with the graduate school ranking, which is lower than I would like.

The details:

The first sub-department which interests me is the Masters of Environmental Science Management, which focuses on managing different aspects of the environment in different ways.

I think that this department focuses much more heavily on policy when it comes to the environment: more specifically, how humans interact with the environment (both how we can better use it to our advantage and how we can better clean up after ourselves).

The other sub-department which interests me is the Masters of Biological and Environmental Sciences. I would be interested in either the Ecology and Ecosystem Sciences specialization or the Environmental and Earth Sciences specialization. The difference is this: the first focuses on patterns and processes of populations, communities, and ecosystems; the second focuses on the history, function, and condition of earth’s environment, both locally and globally, past and present.

I think that this second department focuses more heavily on understanding environmental composition, processes, and history just to be able to understand it better. Translation: it’s more focused on research.

The challenge I am facing is that I would prefer to study the environment as a whole, but I dislike policy (the first department); on the other hand, I love the idea of studying the environment just to know it better — I just dislike the idea of focusing on a single species (the second department).

While such a large department has the potential to provide a compromise between the two, I also run the risk of getting sucked into a specialization which I will not ultimately enjoy. And the whole point of going to graduate school is to enjoy what I do, as I will hopefully be doing it for a very long time.

Miscellaneous considerations:

Pro: I like that URI is in Rhode Island (obviously), since it is close to my mom’s side of the family, and I would love to get to know them better. I also like that it is in the NE, which is one of the regions to which I am more interested in moving.

Pro: there seems to be a high integration of GIS (translation: making maps) into the Environmental Science graduate program, which I would love to continue studying.

Con: a large department means it might be challenging to get the attention I want or need from professors.

Con: Last, the school is ranked #52 in Earth Sciences and #130 in Biological Sciences. While ranking is not the most important thing I am considering when it comes to Graduate Programs, I do think that it is important to consider. I would rather go to a school in the top 20 or so in my field…and URI clearly does not meet those standards. Let’s be honest. It’s about pride and prestige. But if I find a program which I absolutely love? Then the ranking loses significance. It’s just something to think about, I guess.


dopico-lerner: sensual beauty

Let me tell you about Dopico. He is the absolute most innovative artist we have right now; his work is absolutely stunning, wouldn’t you say? So much emotion!

I was not the biggest fan of this artist when I first walked in the gallery. But as I learned about him (biography at the bottom), I have learned to love him. Let me show you why.

First off, look at this piece.

Series Faces XXI

“A little dark,” you might say at first. In fact, they were the first words out of my mouth. But look beyond the dark lines, shadows, chaos, and emotion — what do you see?

I see the light. I see how the colors show through and even outshine all the chaotic swirls and lines. And in that, I see a little bit of the human condition. As if Dopico is showing that through all the chaos and darkness and trouble in the world, we are all still human.

The beauty of Dopico’s work is not conventional. It is sensual. The bottom line is that his work elicits emotion. Even if you hate it.

I absolutely love the multiplicity of faces that you find in Dopico’s work. This doesn’t mean the literal depiction of many faces, as you find in many of his works; instead, it refers to the many different moods a single piece can elicit. This means it can go in any room, with any color scheme. And honest to goodness, the mood of the piece changes with the light — no, really. Come and see me in the gallery and I will show you.

The beauty in his pieces do not originate in darkness, but in the way that color and light shine through and overcome the darkness.

And as I learned that, I learned to love Dopico more than I expected. Well, at the very least, I have learned to sell his art.

Narciso Frente al Espejo

If you are interested in learning more about Dopico or in seeing his art in person, you should send me a message! His work is so much more stunning in person — it has so much texture and depth that you could stare at a piece for ages and see something new every second.


And if you’re curious, some basic information about Dopico:

Vicente Dopico-Lerner is originally from Cuba, and now lives in Miami. He is around 70 years old. He works mostly with acrylic on canvas or watercolor and mixed media. His two greatest influences were Francis Bacon (the painter, not the writer) and Jackson Pollock.  He is heavily influenced by his home country, which has a very turbulent history. Additionally, you see a lot of fish in his paintings, almost as an homage to his father, who was a fisherman. He has had art in the Museum of Modern Art in Santo Domingo and various other major art galleries around the world.

For the record, you do not find most of this information on his Wikipedia page or even in his book. In fact, Wikipedia even spells his name wrong. So be relieved you haven’t had to scrounge up this information yourself.


Side note – I sold a painting for the first time today! Not a Dopico, which would have been nice, but a Mouly. Regardless, it was a very exciting experience.

february goals — flowers, grad school, and art!

I won’t lie – January was a pretty boring month for goals. I only realized this halfway through the month, when I didn’t really have any updates to give. February is shaping up to be more interesting, however, and I’m really excited! There will be regular updates – you’ve been warned!

1. Flower-uary. That’s right, I’m participating this year, no matter how meager my supply of flowers is. Additionally, I am going to attempt to style my hair creatively a minimum of 5 days per week.

I am not sure how my new job will appreciate the display of (sometimes large) hair flowers every day. If I start receiving some strange comments, I will back off and a) wear flowers outside of my job, and b) do something creative with my hair regardless of whether a flower is included.

And since this is the first day of February, the first flower!

2. Research a minimum of one Graduate Program per week & post my findings. This is a kick in my butt to research graduate schools. I know it is a bit early – but if I keep postponing this, it will end up being a last-minute decision, and that is exactly what I wish to avoid.

3. Research and blog about the main artists at the Wentworth Gallery at Perimeter. This will 1) hold me accountable for learning about the artists we are displaying prominently at my new job, and 2) allow me to practice speaking about these artists both concisely and intelligently.

4. Bonus: Exercise? With the new job, I’m not sure how exercise will fit into my life. I am holding onto my library and accounting jobs as extra sources of income (and as a security blanket of sorts). As such, I am incredibly busy, and not able to exercise as I would like. But maybe I could start stretching on a regular basis at the very least? Any recommendations for a 20-30 min exercise or stretching routine that can be done in a limited amount of space (no running for now) would be greatly appreciated!

5. Dance Focus: Look at my Partner. This is a monthly theme I will be carrying out for the rest of 2012 – a focus for dancing each month. I find that attempting to focus on a different thing each week or each dance means that I rarely make improvement. I am hoping that focusing on a different technique or aesthetic each month will allow me to make more permanent improvements. Suggestions for themes are welcome!

Of course, I will be maintaining the following challenges until their completion:

1. No more Coca-Cola. (Projected end date: June 2012)
2. Pay only by cash, track my spending, and budget. (Projected end date: Jan 2013)
3. No buying clothes. (Projected end date: June 2012)
4. 20 mins of reading per day, minimum 5 days per week. (Projected end date: Jan 2013)
5. Manbattical. (Projected end date: April 2012)


I am a bit anxious about this month, as I lost a lot of my willpower towards the end of January. I’m hoping that the new set of challenges will help me recover my enthusiasm and motivation. I think the best way to tackle this month is to dive right in!

january financial analysis

I have found that the more money I have, the harder it is to manage. As of January, I have been trying to get a handle on this challenge. First, I am attempting to only pay in cash (excluding bills and gas). Second, I am recording and categorizing all of my expenses to attempt to reduce extraneous spending. While I will not share exact numbers in this post, I want to explain what I am spending and how I hope to change it.

Here is a chart of my expenses in January:

I spent so much more than I anticipated.

As you can see, the largest expense this month was one-time expenses. This included a plane ticket to Philly in May, a clothing purchase from BR (listed as one-time since it was the last employee purchase I made), and a haircut (also one-time, since I only get one or two haircuts a year). And honestly, I think the rest is fairly proportional to what I would normally spend. The good news is that these large one-time purchases are rare at best, and thus will be manageable next month.

There are some areas I do believe could use improvement, however. In analyzing my spending this month, I found I spent money every single day in January. Now, a lot of these expenses were very small – a snack here, a drink there. These small expenses meant I would only spend $2-5 on many days. But that doesn’t mean it’s excusable.

I think that my first priority is going to focus on getting my miscellaneous food purchases (restaurants and snacks) less than my grocery store purchases. It is quite clear that I could save a significant amount of money if I bring a drink with me, keep a good supply of snacks to bring to work which were bought from the grocery store, and generally pay attention. I am already quite good at bringing my lunch to work – adding drinks and snacks should not be a huge stretch.

My financial goals for February: first, to pay only by cash and to record all my expenses, just as I’ve been doing. Second, to reduce my snacks and restaurant spending by 25%. Third, to go as many days as possible without spending anything at all!

I look forward to imminent improvement. The alternative is not acceptable.

january goals: success

1. No more Coca-Cola. I modified this goal to allow myself one coke at Fellini’s after Hot Jam each week. This is due to the fact that I generally crave sugar so strongly that the thought of ignoring it makes me want to cry incessantly. Avoiding coke has only been challenging this last week, when I’ve really been craving it. Otherwise, this goal has been a success.

2. Pay only by cash, and track my spending. This has gone moderately well. I am terrible at keeping track of expenses, though. The best method I’ve found thus far is to immediately enter the expense into a note on my phone, and then enter all expenses that night. The only challenge is getting into the habit of entering these expenses in the first place.

As far as I can tell, I have recorded all my expenses this month, with only a few estimates when I forgot to record an exact amount. More on this in another post.

3. No buying Clothes. This was thrown off by MY NEW JOB, as I was leaving BR and wanted to take advantage of my discount for some purchases for my new job. Otherwise, this has been a very hard challenge, but I am on track!

4. 20 mins of reading per day, at least 5 days per week. This challenge is a success! I have read at lest 20 mins per day 24 out of 31 days this month, resulting in an average of 5-6 days per week.

5. Manbattical. I cannot say that this challenge was a success, for various reasons — partly that I did not set my own boundaries clearly enough, and partly because I cannot keep from flirting with boys. However, I plan to redouble my efforts. Additionally, I stand by the idea that the manbattical is more to solidify 1) what I want in a relationship and 2) my willpower to stick by that. In that sense, I am developing those skills, and thus working towards success by the end of the challenge.


I would say that January has set the year off to a good start. I have challenged myself, and I have both succeeded and struggled. I look forward to February. I just need to make sure my focus and motivation stay strong, instead of tapering off as they are threatening to do even as I plan my next post…