As dancers, there is an expectation of beauty and perfection from ourselves, especially when we are first developing as dancers. This is to be expected when we are new learning skills. There has to be a level of mastery before we can start making things our own. I still have this expectation of myself when I start learning new moves. Once my body understands how it should be executed to fit the criteria of perfection, that’s when the fun begins. That’s when I work on the ugly.
Ugly is not an easy concept for dancers as we are so entrenched in the philosophy of beauty. There are days when I want to be beautiful and dance in a way that is accepted in my realm as such. These are the days I am staying within my comfort zone. These are the days that I do not grow. These are the days that are good for my ego. These are also the days that are bad for my career because I am not stretching my mental limits. It’s understandable to have to have beautiful days to keep confident. They have to be matched with days of discomfort as well though to have balance. There is always a dichotomy to be able to have a whole person in balance.
Some of the most interesting choreographers, teachers, and coaches work with ugly. What I mean is they break from the accepted beauty of the dance. Whether it is using different faces, broken lines, or unusual sequences of steps, it makes for new challenges for the body while discovering new movement. One choreographer I worked with challenged me years ago with the concept of ugly. It wasn’t labelled as such, but that’s how I think of it. There were days I wanted to cry because my boundaries were so stretched, I was so uncomfortable and self-conscious. Even though she knew she was doing this to me, she kept pushing me anyway.
At the time, I was not that thankful. There were days I dreaded going to rehearsal. My stomach would be in knots just thinking about going. However, she shaped me more than any other dancer. Whenever I choreograph, I think to how she shattered my concept of beauty and use that to get outside my box of tricks. This allows me to create performances that are more beautiful and touching than if I stuck to pretty dancing. It allows for a unique experience for the audience and they walk away with a memory that I helped imprint. Does it get any more satisfying than that?