Monthly Archives: October 2013

Back to Basic

A good foundation in dance carries through whatever type of dance you choose to undertake. There are basic techniques that should be the foundation of all dances: creating movement from the right place, using physics to propel yourself in the easiest way possible, maintaining proper spinal alignment to create ease of movement and rotation. These are basics we all should know as dancers.

I often have dancers come to me asking for advice on their dancing. They may seek fancier moves. They may seek better spinning ability. They may seek better partnering skills. They may seek better performance technique. The one thing that I always want to work on with them is their basics. Many of them come to me after they have sought lessons from various professionals in the community. They have spent a lot of money. They have come to the point where they look back at the time and financial investment and realize they are not improving.

Is this lack of improvement due to lack of practice? Maybe. I see many people taking multiple group classes and private lessons each week. I see them return each week the same as the first week they started. The information does not stick with them from one week to the next. There is videoing at the end of classes these days which takes away some accountability of the students to actually remember what they learned that week. Often those videos stack up in their home computer, rarely if ever to be viewed again.

Is this lack of improvement due to not understanding what they were taught? Maybe. Often there is terminology used that a student will guess at the meaning of as they are too shy to admit they are not entirely clear on what the teacher means. As a teacher, it is important to make sure the student understands the words used to convey the message. Sometimes a movement needs to be explained a couple of different ways to see which makes most sense to the student.

Is this lack of improvement due to not taking responsibility for their own dancing? Maybe. I have heard many people blame their lack of improvement being due to their partner, the director, or some external force.  Are you kidding me? Dancers control their own body. If your dancing is not up to your standard, it is your own fault. It is most definitely not your partner’s. Anything you do with a partner (aside from being lifted) you can do on your own. It makes my skin crawl when I hear this victim mentality. As a dancer, you are controlling your instrument – your body. You are the one standing on your feet, moving through space, styling, improvising, etc. This has little to do with your partner. Lack of advancement in ability has nothing to do with anything or anyone but you.

When I teach, we often get back down to the basics of movement. I am surprised how often people who have been dancing for years may not have ever had a discussion in a group or private lesson about basic technique. They have fudged their way through routines, choreography, and general dancing for years. Trying to break the bad habits and create new ones is a challenge. Unless some time is invested in practicing new technique, our body will resort to what it has been doing forever. New techniques can be learned, but they do require attention to be paid when you are doing movements that you have done for a long time. Inserting the technique into those long standing movements will be exhausting to the mind and body as it will be working harder to incorporate the new technique. After a while though, your body will accept the new technique and insert it everywhere, especially when it is basic technique of movement.

If you are finding you are stuck in a plateau, not advancing through the ranks as you expected, or feeling like movement is more difficult for you than for others, seek some advice. Talk to the professionals in your community and see what they can help you with. Ask for the basic techniques to be reviewed in your genre. Take a beginner class in your genre as they often review what you should be doing. Basics are the foundation for advanced dancers.

A Plan?

The balance of power between partners is a challenge. It can shift regularly even multiple times during a rehearsal. Maintaining balance while feeding an artist’s soul is a difficult and delicate game.

Artists are a different breed. We don’t subscribe to some seemingly (to non-artists) conventional wisdom and common sense. We don’t live a linear life. For example, to get from point A to point B the majority of society would travel a straight line. The artist typically takes a winding road, tasting the fruits in the orchard as they pass, and often do not end up at point B at all.  That is half the adventure and attraction of working with an artist. I never really know where this is going to end up, but I am sure going to have a good time along the way.

I am not saying throw all caution and planning to the wind. Especially if there is a benchmark that you wish to achieve. Successful artists hone planning skills which allows them to get artists and non-artists on their side in terms of participation, supporting events, funding projects, and being a support network. If you are too non-linear, it can be difficult to convey the meaning of the work you are trying to express, so a balance has to be reached.

Throw two artists together and the combination can be synergistic to fast success or a catalyst to a quick fail. This is where turning on a semblance of  linear planning skills can be beneficial. If a general plan – not necessarily a plan requiring definition of what every stage will look like with a timeline and photo attached to it – can be created, it can lead to a far more abundant, worthwhile, and achievable future. This is in lieu of randomness, going  by the plan of the day and not envisioning the end result. That is a fun way to live life and if you do not want to end up somewhere specific, it can work quite well. However, if you are planning to work long term, this type of planning is useful.

Sitting down to have a discovery session about what you each want to achieve and setting some goals will get you at least pointed in the right direction to start. In a new partnership, this will help clarify expectations to make sure both artists are being fulfilled with the work that will be undertaken. It can also set boundaries that will help in working as a team rather than in competition with each other.  Communication, boundaries, and goals are the key to maintaining a balance of power and ultimately a successful working relationship.

Breaking Out

Education is expensive. It can be so financially expensive for the pure dollar output and sacrificed earnings to learn while I could be earning. It can be so emotionally expensive while discovering things about myself I may not have wanted to – limits to the imagination, physical facility, and the ego burn of how much I really do not know.

One of the beauties of learning is finding my current lack. When I get egocentric, my ability to absorb information shuts down as I think that my past learnings cannot be incorrect – they really are not. The fact is techniques of movement evolve over time. Ask any dance teacher or dancer that has been in the game for a while. They will tell you that everything changes. It happens because of innovation of movement due to someone’s creativity, body structure, and breaking movement. Innovation does not mean that previous theory is wrong, it just means that there are potentially newer and better ways to do it. They are not re-inventing the wheel, just advancing it.

Once a certain level of achievement is reached in a specific field of dancing, a dancer can easily plateau. Breaking that plateau means seeking creative ways to break my body’s learned patterns. The easiest way to do so is studying new genres especially at the other end of the spectrum. Everything in dance involves using the same medium which is the body. Studying different genres allows me to obtain a more three dimensional view of how to use my body. Mixing street genres which are usually more earthy and down with long-standing styles which are usually more perfect and up increases the body intelligence and will propel the ability to learn out of the plateau stage.

Mixing your studies of dance also helps to get you into that chameleon category. Having a body that can be broken into different styles makes it easier to break your most studied style into whatever you need to for an audition. Open the doors for your employability and start transcending beyond your current technique. It can be a fun experiment as well as a career building move, no pun intended.

Defeating Daggers

Politics in the dance world is tricky. There are egos to manage and some can be larger than life. We all have our moments when we need to feel respected and do care what other people think. The unfortunate thing is, in the dance world, it can be difficult to know what people really think. There is much schmoozing that goes on. This can result in compliments to the face and daggers in the back.

It has come to light recently that there is a lot of undermining happening in my community. These are not just the people I would have expected this to come from. Some of them are people I thought were friends with each other. Those who have held each other’s hands during tough times. Those who have shared words of encouragement when one of them was losing faith in themselves. I actually find it hard to believe this is happening. I think it is time the people confront those doing the undermining. This toxic behaviour has to stop.

The old adage of keep your friends close and your enemies closer seems to be something that many people are practicing, but, for those who do not like playing games, it can be more work than it should be. I am sincere in my interactions. I try to not play games as I always believed that by treating people honestly and kindly, karma would bring me back the same. I have repeatedly observed that giving kindness does not mean receiving kindness in return. Often it means someone’s good nature is taken advantage or for granted. It seems it does not matter how many people some try to help. It does not matter which programs some people put their support behind.  It does not matter whose events some people help promote.  Once again, I am seeing them removing daggers from their backs.

It is disheartening that dance breeds such fickleness. The fickle need to get over themselves and put their egos aside for the greater good of the community rather than putting their own good first. The dagger throwers will need stop as they make it unpleasant for people to stay in the community. Do not bite the hands that feed you. Those doing the feeding – supporters, students, and event attendees – can easily find something or someone else to support. It is that simple.

Fact Finding

Looking for work can be tedious. If you want to teach, you know that until you are established, the pay isn’t going to be great. Once you are known, your rates can increase. This is the nature of the business. So how do you find work?

The first order of business in work finding is fact finding about yourself. What do you want to achieve – do you want to become a great competitor, find a space to practice out of in exchange for opportunity costs in being a dance teacher? What do you want to do with the job – is it a means to an end or will it be a long-term commitment? What do you bring to the table – business acumen, a unique combination of dance training, hard work, charisma? There are lots of people who want to be dance teachers. There are fewer that get hired long-term.

You are going to make sacrifices to pursue this career.  It will never be as lucrative as getting a “real” also known as a “not art related” job. But those “real” jobs also may not fulfill you. At the end of the day, to have made it, you do need to be able to feed, clothe, and shelter yourself on your income as a dancer.  You may need to be doing other work to support yourself until you are established.

You are also going to be sacrificing your body. You may be a dancing machine. Great for you! You have to remember that machines wear out and break down. Maintenance will delay the breakdown, but depending on how hard you are training, there will be permanent breakdown. Any athlete will experience this. Today, you are young and plastic. Tomorrow you will be old and brittle. You need to calculate future health into the equation.

There is also the relationship sacrifice. To find a life partner, who is cool with you being on stage and seen by many people of the opposite sex or having a partner that you work intimately and physically close with, will be a challenge. There will be those that want to bask in the prestige of dating a dancer. They likely don’t realize that beyond the prestige, there will be need for emotional support. Dancing for a living is challenging. They will also need to be a strong and confident person. Admittedly, they seem to be fewer and far between these days. There’s the conundrum of dating your partner or company member as well which has been established to be tricky.

Dancing professionaly is not so glamorous an occupation as you might think. It is long hours for poor pay. This is why you need to fact find about yourself. You need a plan. You need to figure out what you want out of it. You need to also have another way to supplement your income until you make it. The world is full of people who dream of dancing for a living. The world is less full of those who succeed.

Career Management

In any field, if you move to a different community, it can take a while to discern who you can trust and who will jerk you around. There are many reasons people will take you for a ride. It could be their own ego getting in the way of inability to expose their weaknesses.  It could be just a game – lure you, then cut the line. There is always politics within small communities. Communities can be like returning to highschool and trying to break into a clique. It can be harder than you would think, especially if you are far removed from highschool.

Seeking out a partner from a different community can present its own challenges. How do you find someone? How do you know if they are trustworthy? Anyone can tell you anything and it can sound enticing especially if you are chasing your dreams. How do you know if they will benefit or harm your career by association? It’s a risk putting yourself out there to work with someone in a community you don’t know. You’re own community may know someone’s name, but they may not be able to really give you the scoop.  Sometimes people present a different side to different people as well.  Even male-male, female-female, and male-female interactions can have their own patterns that vary differently.

In the partner dance world, there are definitely advantages to being a male. For men, there is opportunity for pro-am work which is professional dancers dancing with amateur dancers for competition purposes. This is a result of the imbalance that will likely always exist between the number of women and men who dance. It can be quite lucrative for the male professionals. They also have the opportunity to have the pick of the female dancers in the partner community.

So how does a female dancer make herself more attractive in such a situation? Esthetic beauty definitely helps. Women like a handsome face and body to look at as much as a male likes a beautiful face and body to look at. Whether we like to admit it, esthetics do count.

Having amazing facility in the body also helps. Have you invested in your training? Can you dance what you teach? Do you have beautiful legs, feet, and arms in terms of movement? Fluidity of movement can be captivating as can speed and sharpness. All this is part of being a desirable partner.

Attitude can be one of the most important deciding factors with everything else being equal. Humility, professionalism, and work ethic all come into play in the package of attitude. If you are amazing and you don’t let anyone forget it, you might get kicked to the curb. If you can’t keep your appearance, language, and interactions professional, that can get you tossed out. If you are talented, but not willing to invest the time to hone your skills and partnership, talent will only take you so far. There has to be the trio of attitude components to even be in the running. There will be many hours invested on the floor together, after hours planning, and travelling together. If you two dancers aren’t well matched, the two most talented dancers in the world won’t be able to make a go of it for long.

The concepts apply to both male and female dancers inside and outside of the partner dancing realm. If you want to make it in a community, it takes more than talent. It takes work. It takes an investment of time feeling things out. It takes putting yourself out and there and accepting that rejection is a leaping point to new opportunities. A partnership is a community all on its own that can reflect on the surrounding community. Take care of how you come across. Don’t burn bridges as you never know when you will need one of them to get to the other side to more work in and out of your community.

Fateful Encounters

I know I talk a lot about opportunities presenting themselves – it is something that is on my mind these days.  How quickly the options keep coming my way is blowing my mind and making my head spin. Opportunities have opened up for me in ways I never expected. They have also opened up with people I never expected. It really is a disorienting thing as life as I know it is shifting at warp speed and little of it seems to be in my control which is a newer experience. Maybe this is what happens when for the first time in my life, I have taken a moment to stand still?

I believe that nothing happens by accident. No one engages with me by accident. No one appears, disappears, or reappears in my life by accident. No one asks me a question that racks my brain by accident. All these encounters happen for a reason though the reason may not be clear at the time or ever. Right now, not much of the reason of why things are happening to me is clear. I am trying my best to just go with it.

These chance occurrences teach me if I am open to listening. They may mirror a desire I have deeply had but not expressed. They may mirror a fear I hoped would never be realized. They may mirror weakness or strength I didn’t want to acknowledge because of the bubble I wanted to stay in. Lately, I am being taught that what I sought out for the short term is going to be nothing like I imagined. I am learning that I am not stuck in my life.

Frankly, I am entering a period of freedom I never enjoyed before. I am free in my career, my geographical location, and my relationships. I am learning that I am allowed to take these opportunities as they come because they are coming into my life as they are meant to be. They are happening whether I feel worthy enough to accept them. They are going to change the course of my life whether I am ready.

A year ago, I knew my life was shifting, but I couldn’t figure out what it was. I had no idea I was going to get dragged down the rabbit hole into a world that was the same but so foreign to me. It has felt like I am living in a parallel universe. The environment looks the same, but there is definitely something different happening. I do question whether all this change and opportunity is real. I have so many new insights into my world and my surroundings. Apparently these new insights come with age, but I feel like my brain is forming new synapses at such a rapid pace that it can be frightening. I look back and wonder how I didn’t put those concepts and connections together before.

It’s happening in my body as I dance as well. My awareness has changed. My posture is strengthening. When something is right, I don’t even have to look in the mirror for verification. My body just assures my brain it is so. Ideas of choreography flood in everyday and the search for music to develop these works follows suit. Offers from composers have been coming my way after seeing some of my recent work. Maybe this is what making it feels like?

Up until now, I’m not sure I fully believed I was worthy of the praise and admiration that came my way. Now, I am starting to believe that the work I am doing is good. It is worthy of the stage. It is worthy of sharing and affecting people. I haven’t discussed this change in me with other seasoned dancers to date as I didn’t really know how to explain it, but my guess is that a similar awakening happened with them as well. I hope this awakening happens for you too at some point in your career. It will amaze you!

The Struggle Monster

When doubt creeps in, confidence leaks out. Doubt in one area can creep into all aspects of life. Lately, I have been having a lot of doubt about my life. Something excruciating and life changing happened to me less than a year ago and consumed me since then. It affects my dreams, it affects my sleep, it affects my thoughts. It closed the doors that I thought would always be open to me. It has made me question much in my life.

It’s made my life complicated in a way that I never expected. It changed my position in my community. It changed my options. It changed how I perceive myself. It changed how I think. It changed what I value in my life. It stripped me bare and raw.

My life has never been predictable which has driven my close friends and family a little nuts. It has also made my life exciting as there are always new twists and turns I can’t expect. Even through the lack of predictability, I still had so much control over my life in the manner of its general direction. Anything I wanted to happen, I could make happen, even if I had to muscle through it.  Letting some of that control go is an art in itself. The amazing things that can happen from that loss of control are shocking to observe as they unfold.

This past year became a hurry up and wait training session. A lot was out my control and all I could do was sit back and watch as everything I had invested in crumbled in front of me. There were periods where I could no longer see my future and I thought that my end was coming. It felt like I was standing on the edge of a cliff, watching the earth crumble away from my feet. I was trapped and couldn’t move. It kept crumbling until there was barely any earth beneath my feet. I felt like I was going to drop into a black hole that I would never recover from.

It has been hard to recover from – everyday I am still trying to recover. It has been hard to look at myself in the mirror. It has been hard to feel like myself. I have started to forget what I use to look and feel like. I have tried to get back to the roots of who I am and it’s taken a lot of searching to discover. I’m still trying to discover it. I search through my memories and try to find what good days and bad days used to look like. I try to trace how I got here and find the reason why. Some of the insights that come from it are painful as they reflect how imperfect I am.

I let you in on this part of my life because I think it is important to know about deep struggles. Those are where genuine everything comes from – tears, laughter, love, happiness, sadness, and annoyance. These are the times that build me as a person and an artist. When life is awesome, there isn’t much growth and little material that I can pull from in my dancing.

The tough times, though they can be absolutely devastating, are most formative for me. So when you are going through the rough times, don’t try to push everything down and convince yourself that it’s all okay. Don’t be afraid of those moments either. Fear is what makes them grow into big scary monsters that can seem insurmountable. Sit in those moments. Absorb them. Be present in them. They are the moments that will build you as an artist and person. Take advantage of when they happen because they do happen for a reason.

Support the Limb

There are many dance events that happen in communities.  Often they are initiated by a select few.  These few continuously go out on a limb to bring us these events and are taken for granted. It isn’t always realized the effort and cost that goes into holding events like festivals, workshop weekends, or just bringing in educators.  Even if it is an event that goes on weekly, it can be difficult to maintain into the future if the community is not behind it.

Sometimes the dance community gets attracted to the new shiny things that pop up. This includes a new teacher who shows up in the community, a celebrity’s event, or a new dance craze. When this happens, those that have built and invested in the dance community may be left behind and hurt because they have been the ones who continued to push to keep the community alive and growing. Then someone or something swoops in and capitalizes on their efforts, often hurting the foundational people’s businesses.  I find it interesting observing these interactions as I understand the foundational people’s feelings being hurt, but they are the ones who prevail in the end.  The flashy things tend to run their course and then everyone returns to where they came from. This is part of the reason to have a strong foundation if you want to be part of an artistic community.

I do believe it is important for dance arts to have the community get behind them. Do what you can to support it even if you are a working artist. Realize that the people who go out on a limb to bring new educators and experiences to their community have more than just the glory of doing so in mind – honestly, there really isn’t much glory in doing so because people soon forget who did what to make the community stronger.  Those who go out on a limb socially and economically usually do it because they see it as an opportunity to contribute to the greater good of the community. So back these people. Support their events. Show them that you appreciate them as they are risking a lot for our development and growth. Saying thank-you verbally and physically by attending goes a long way!

Going the Distance

How far would I go to find a dance partner? Pretty far – geographically that is. Would I travel across the globe for the chance to find a great partner? At this point in my career, absolutely. What have I got to lose? Nothing – I have a partner to gain. Putting myself out there internationally to find a partner opens a new level of opportunities. These opportunities are not only for partnering, but company & commercial work. I’m excited!

Being known in a community for a while can open doors for work, but it can close doors as well.  There may be preconceived ideas about me. I may be pigeon-holed into a category. I may be threatening to others in the community. I am not as classifiable as people would like which can work to my advantage as it can be intriguing, but it can be threatening as well because of that lack of definition.  People like to be able to categorize because it allows them to relate a person to a concept they already understand.  This has been an issue throughout my life. I crossed the boundaries of academics, arts, and athletics as a kid and haven’t stopped. This is just who I am and I have to be me.  I have to be okay with people not being okay with me.

Being a cross-over makes me a desirable and hirable performer.  I bring depth to works that choreographers can use.  It also allows me to be a chameleon as well and get work that maybe I am less qualified for than others because my performance charisma can win over producers.  As a soloist or partner dancer, this brings a unique dimension that is marketable and relatable.  I can play the everyday person, the vamp, the emotional, or anything I am asked to. This is something life and dance experience brings.  I didn’t know this in my earlier career days.

In auditions with partners, my depth comes in handy.  I can portray lust, sensuality, and betrayal. I can take on what the music says. I can be whatever a partner needs.  This isn’t to say I am about to lay down and be a doormat. I respect myself far to much for that anymore. It seemed like a good idea in my younger days, but I know that if I am going to work with someone, it has to truly be a partnership. I don’t want to be dictated to, nor do I want to be a dictator. Partnerships are harder than company and commercial work because I have to be able to work day in and day out with one person.  I have to be able to learn with one person in various situations and feel comfortable enough to do so – I also have to make it comfortable enough for him to be vulnerable to learn.

Professional partnerships can take more work than romantic relationships. I say this because we have to work, learn, perform, and sometimes teach together while still maintaining professionalism between ourselves.  Also, we have to get to know each other, become friends, but maintain boundaries if we are not romantically interacting so we can find romantic partners who can trust our relationship.  Add traveling for training, performing, or teaching to that mix, and it adds another dimension of complication. Finding the right partner that this professionalism can be maintained is difficult. After intimate performances when both partners are on their game can present temptation for blurring lines because of the connection between us. That’s where setting boundaries before that happens comes imperative. Wish me luck!