Balancing life as a dancer has never been easy. We tend to have this sacrificial attitude for our art. Nothing and no one is going to stand in our way of achieving in our art. I am not exceptional in this. I love and hate this dichotomy because it drives me to achievement and breeds obsession.
Dance is tiring. It is a physical art form and will always be. Leaving the floor without sensing fatigue leaves me dissatisfied. I want to give my all every chance I hit the floor. When in the studio for hours on end, it can be difficult to maintain that level to fulfill this goal. I seek improvement in my art everyday.
When I leave the studio, my brain is often still mulling. I believe in visualization. I believe in thinking through my movement and seeing with my thought what I could do better. That mind and body connectivity has proven tremendously helpful in achieving quickly. I spend travel time listening to the music I am currently studying. I want to have the song memorized. I want to learn it’s nuances so that choreography can best reflect what the music speaks. When I have time to be still, I go over the choreography in my head and my muscles fire thinking about the music. It’s practicing without the extra physical exertion at the end of an exerted day.
At the end of my day, my brain can still be so entangled in dance that unwinding becomes a challenge. This is where striving for balance becomes so important. It’s easy for me to want to push my limits, push through fatigue – mental, emotional, and physical – but if I don’t take a break, it can be detrimental to my health in all ways. I believe this lack of balance is what breeds our issues with body image, mental illness, and eating disorders. When we can’t let go, obsession can take over our life.
Finding my unwind button has been a major endeavour. I still have to work at it daily. I have to remind myself that rest is as important as work. Giving my mind and body the opportunity to let go gives both time to heal from the abuse that I put them through. Without the physical break, physical breakdown is inevitable no matter how mentally tough I am.
I find that after a holiday away from dance, I come back strengthened in my technique and drive. Things that I couldn’t wrap my mind around now are easy. There is a fear of loss of kinesthetic intelligence by taking a break each time I book a holiday. This is especially true when I start a new project or partnership before a break. However, I am happily reminded on my return of the benefit of my holiday in keeping me strong mentally, physically, and emotionally. I am looking forward to the amazing adventure I have planned for the December break and hope that you all take the opportunity to let your body and mind heal as well.
Trust is a strange thing in dance. We put a lot of trust out there without a second thought. We are trusting ourselves to do a good physical job. We are trusting other dancers to not injure us. We are trusting an audience to not condemn our work. We are trusting our reputation and bodies to choreographers. We are trusting media to kindly critique so that our public relations stay positive.
When I step on the stage, I am putting trust in myself. There is no opportunity to back out as I have made a commitment to my audience, myself, my co-dancers, my co-creators, and artistic directors. Even if I am feeling a lack of preparedness, I have to trust myself that it will all come together. I have to trust that my training will have my back should I fail to recall something. I have to trust that my body is intelligent enough to stay within the theme of the choreography should I mis-step and have to improvise until I rejoin it. I have to trust that I am in adequate physical shape to pull off the endeavor I am about to present.
When I step on stage, I am putting trust in the observer. I am trusting that they will respect my work enough to stay and watch. I am trusting them to keep my pathway on the stage clear. I am trusting they will cheer me on when I am high and cry with me when I am low. I am trusting them to give feedback that will help me grow in my art. I am trusting them to judge my body and art kindly. I am trusting that they will respect me enough to not thieve my work. I am trusting that something in me will inspire and move something in them. Does this happen every time? Of course not, but in opening my soul to them, I am putting a lot of trust in the observers.
When I am working with partners, I am entrusting them with my career. Dancing is not a safe activity. This is especially true when you have multiple dancers in a confined space giving it their all in their own way. I have to trust that they will be present enough not to clobber me as we are working. I have to trust that a partner will not use too much force when partnering me so that no bodily injury harm or dislocation happens. I have to trust that if a partner is feeling anger, vengeance, or annoyance towards me, that they will not physically lash out and do me harm. I have to trust that they will share the stage in an artistic work and let me shine when I am due and I will do the same for them. I truly am trusting them with my career.
Trust is a word that encompasses so much of my dancing. Outside of dance, I often force myself to trust even when my gut says not to do so. I tend to give trust because I feel it sometimes a societal obligation – not many things make me feel obliged but this. Whenever I dance, my soul is exposed and vulnerable. This is part of the beauty of dance and is a privilege to be able to do so daily. Be mindful of the trust you give in your dancing and see if it changes your perspective on your co-dancers and your interactions.
Patience is something I learned more about in the past year than I ever wanted. It was forced on me. I tried adamantly to resist it. I fought it until there was no more fight in me. Patience is not a natural tendency for me. I credited much of my success to date with my lack of patience. My environment and circumstances bred something in me that I never anticipated. I was a make-it-happen kind of girl. When I wanted to get something, I would find a way. When something needed doing, I was never too proud to do it.
This past year, my body failed me and made it impossible to maintain my make-it-happen ways. It was the scariest and darkest time in my life. I would get slightly ahead, then get thrown back farther than when I started. I lost my livelihood. I lost my home. I lost friends. I lost my possessions. I lost my ability to make things happen. I lost me. I became unrecognizable to myself. Everything I had taken for granted in myself, I questioned. I didn’t know what would happen within each day let alone a week, month, or year in advance.
My life came to a stand still as I plowed head first into a virtual brick wall. I could feel everything spinning around me in a big, dirty mess of a tornado. I was helpless to do anything about anything. When the tornado started, I had no clarity. All I could see was the dirt and getting tossed around. I didn’t realize where I sat in the whole mess. All I could do was feel shame and blame myself. It took months before I started to see that I was in the eye of the tornado. It got to a point where all I could do was let go and observe. Clarity eventually came and I was able to see what happened was something inevitable, biological, and blameless. I finally stopped trying to be in control of everything around me.
This clarity gave way to patience. I stopped trying to be a superhero for myself and everyone around me. I started asking for help. I stopped pushing so hard. I started being kinder to myself. I stopped feeling sadness. I started seeing the silver linings of my illness. Just as quickly as the day the warning signs of the illness became a full-blown brick wall, I was able to realize the patience I had sorely lacked. That patience helped me understand that this illness was not something I could push through. I was going to have to find a different way than what I had used in my past as that was not an option.
This gain of patience changed me. It was provoked by my worst nightmare. Yet, I have almost made it to the other side. There are still struggles everyday and it will be a while yet before that ends. I tell you all this to strengthen you. I see young people bullishly pushing so hard like I did. I don’t know that what I have learned can be taught. I think it has to be experienced. To have that type of transformation, it has to come from some massive revelation which often comes from massive challenge. When you hit that brick wall in your life and you feel like you will never make it out of that challenge, take a few steps back. Sit in the discomfort and try to observe the tornado from within. Once you can put yourself at the eye of the tornado, you can start to see the whole picture and realize what it was all about.
Finding beauty in the world is becoming more challenging all the time. We are so fixated on technology, instant gratification, and ourselves. We often look at situations from a “what’s in it for me” perspective. This is especially true in larger, results based cities that attract people who are trying to get ahead. They come from all over the world chasing a dream. A dream for statutory success. A dream for financial success. A dream for recognition and fame. All these things are good to aspire toward, however, they are often seeking external rather than internal validation.
I believe that seeking external validation comes from insecurity. I admit I do it all the time. Often, I am looking for someone to justify my happiness. I achieved this, and I feel happy. Should I feel happy is the question I am looking for an answer to from my external source. Why I do this comes from my insecurity. I feel guilty for what I have achieved. I blame my achievements on luck and downplay when people tell me I create my own luck. Is this humility that makes me this way? Maybe. There is that dichotomy in me though that I want the external validation to justify my happiness, then I downplay my own contribution to it.
My acupuncturist always reminds me that I have to have reverence for myself. I am good at seeing the awesomeness in others, but I downplay it in myself. She tells me that the awesomeness I see in others is only because I see it in myself. Just as when someone is doing something that irks me, it is because that irksome behaviour is something I see in myself already. It is interesting how that works.
In our get ahead world, can we be happy enough in enjoying our internal success? Are we going to always be seeking someone to validate how we feel because that is the society we live in? If we are happy in ourselves, will that make others see us as conceited? It is a conundrum for me as I want to be confident in my abilities, but the way I was raised makes me seek this external validation. Sometimes it is guilt that makes me seek it. Sometimes it is trying to find humility as well.
My lack of confidence is something I struggle with daily. It makes me feel ugly. It makes me feel silly. It makes me feel childish. I try every day to feel that reverence and not feel guilty about it. I can jump between pride and insecurity over the same accomplishment in a short period. It is like riding an emotional roller coaster. It is a struggle to find that balance. Should I just not care what others think and how I affect people? I suppose I could. I am not sure that I am built that way. I am working on building my internal validation system so that I can be set free from the external validation addiction. Are you able to feel reverence for your own ability?
In my younger years, I was shy about much. I was shy about my appearance because I had crazy hair and was little. I was shy about my butt because it was muscular and different than everyone else’s. I was shy about my voice as I did not like the way I sounded even though I had a lot to say on paper. I was shy about my ability as I was classified as a show off because I was good at many things, but only showed those things when requested. There was not much about me of which I was proud.
It was a steep learning curve to gain confidence in myself and ask for what I needed. I grew up in a family where if anything was expressed emotionally, it was ridiculed or downplayed. It was difficult to want to put my heart on the line as it was so easily crushed. This carried into my relationships with others as well. I was afraid to tell my friends or those I dated what I was feeling. I had to be on the brink of imploding to get myself to let things out. Often, I would be crying and in angst for days trying to get the courage to speak up about something concerning to me.
I was lucky to have met a wonderful friend in university who was an outstanding communicator. She was blunt and if there was a boundary crossed with her, she would surely let you know. Sometimes she was considered to be too forward with her opinions. I was just in awe of her for it. There was no anxiety in her for speaking her mind. There was no apology for having a supportable opinion. She was amazing and she is still someone I model myself after today.
In doing so, I have learned to let my needs and desires be known. This is in all my relationships – personal and professional. It opens me up to rejection of course. Asking if someone would be interested to have me work on a project with them and them telling me no can be hard to take. However, I do believe that the more I can express myself verbally, the more work I will get and the better all my relationships will be.
It has allowed me to reach out to other professionals to be able to trade skills. It goes something like this. Here is what I have in my tool kit to offer. That is what I see in your tool kit that I want. Can we make a trade of our missing but complementary tools? The first few times I did this, I was a wreck. I was back to being that child who could not communicate until I was ready to burst. I would be so anxious and upset at the thought of expressing myself. Once you get used to it though, it’s easy.
What I suggest is that you set a list of goals in communicating what you want to get out of your career. List in order of best to worst of who you could learn from to achieve those goals. Set out to make those connections. Those who you think are untouchable and unapproachable in their ivory towers are usually the ones who are the best skilled. In such, they are also frequently the people who will want to help an up and coming artist grow and survive if they see you have the work ethic. You will get rejected and it can be hard to predict by whom. Keeping putting yourself out there and eventually you will make that life changing connection. If you do not ask for what you want, most often you will not get what you want. Just ask. The worst thing they could say is no.
Performing brings me some of the greatest joy in my life. I am a shy person by nature and it is something many people do not realize about me. Apparently, I come off as confident, friendly, and poised. Though, on the inside, I am often struggling to step out of my shell. This is what I love about performing. I get to step into another persona and completely become that for a while.
Trying to determine what character I become depends so much on the piece, the intention, the movement. That character has to come from within. I cannot plaster a mask on and expect it to look like anything human or authentic. The character that I become has to come from something I have experienced. That is one part of it that I love. I get to relive many parts of my life in being a dancer as I am always drawing from my past to create my present.
When I am off the stage, I find I have to be summoning that experience for a while before I am performing. I don’t live in that past experience day in and day out. However, I do revisit it frequently so that I easily switch that character on. This is essential, especially when I have multiple performances with different emotions that have to be portrayed within each or between the pieces. Dancing different genres often requires the quick switches of emotion from day to day and even dance to dance within the genre.
Getting to step into those characters always teaches me so much about my own life. It helps me to empathize with others who are going through the same thing. It also helps me to empathize with myself. To remember where I have come from. What I have overcome. What I still need to work on in myself. I am always so enriched for the experience of performing.
Once I step on that stage, everything in my life disappears. Nothing else matters. I become present. My world slows down. I see more. I hear more. I smell more. I taste more. I feel more. Every sense is heightened in me. I become my past and get to show the audience that past. I get to share a deep part of me that I cannot express with words. The world gets to know me deeper without necessarily consciously understanding what happened. It is transformative and I am thankful that I get to experience this as many times as I have in my life. Yes, I am truly thankful.
I had a friend who always wanted to date a professional dancer. He was forewarned by his sister that it was a bad idea because dancers are always tired. She’s right. Dancers are tired. When you physically exert yourself for hours, days, and months on end, you tucker out. Sometimes it is hard for those who are not part of the community to understand.
So what does a tired dancer do to have fun? That’s a personal question. When there’s still some energy left at the end of the day, going out social dancing can be fun. In the right headspace, it’s a low pressure environment where I am not judging myself. If I can be incognito about my status in the dance world, I can get away with not being judged by others as well. It can be a great place to just enjoy the music and let go of the pressure for perfection. I have to admit, while at the club, I tend not to be flashy in my dancing. I get to do that all day. I want to enjoy those I’m dancing with and be a good follower. This is not an audition. This is my time off. Being all tricked out with fancy styling is just not what I am up for when I’m there.
There are nights when I am plain tired and want to just hang out with friends from other realms that I am involved in. Where I can hear about their escapades, family life, and career. We just sit and have a drink and just relax. I can be completely myself as I am not being dragged in different directions every five minutes. My downtime with my true friends is my favourite kind of downtime.
There are many amazing people involved in the social dancing community. I enjoy hanging out with them too. When we can be somewhere where we are not inundated with music and those wanting to dance with us, it is great. A long conversation about things that can be delved into more deeply than when we are at the club is a treat. It seems this can only happen when we are out of the club – that doesn’t happen often. Most of this circle take every opportunity to get out to the socials. I support and promote that so that we can continue to have options around the city to pick and choose different events on different nights.
Here is my favourite. A quiet night at home with ice on my feet is enjoyable too. Sitting watching a movie, snuggled up with someone special, can be just as much fun as shaking it at the club. The change of pace of not being on my feet for another three hours and enjoying that physical intimacy in a quiet space, that’s my kind of downtime.
Finding that perfect partner can be difficult. Does that perfect partner exist? That’s a question I have mulled over for years, fifteen to be exact. I do believe so, though I am not sure if I will find him. I am not whining, I just know that I am luckier in measurable success than personal relationships. I know other people have found that partner and they live their lives together inside and outside of dance. They have a connection so strong that they cannot see either life without that one person in it.
That perfect partner can be just someone that is for dance purposes. There may be nothing beyond dance between the couple. When they dance though, it changes their world. It is those moments that they regularly create when everything around them disappears. They are so connected that no else on the dance floor matters.
I think many of us find these fleeting moments in competition and social settings when there is such an adrenaline rush happening. You are so present that time slows down. You can stretch every step so well that you find new movement and reach in your body that you never knew existed. With your partner you may find a new interaction that you never saw before. I have been in these moments when my partner has not. This nirvana happens every time I perform, whether it is solo, partnered, or in a group. For that period where I am performing, time nearly stops. Time allows me this laser focus. I can hear more in the music. I can feel more in the rhythm. I can see more happening around me. I have changed sensation in my body.
Imagine if you had a partner with whom you could create those moments every time you touched. The minute you moved, you felt so tuned into the other person that it became like an addiction. An addiction to movement. An addiction to sensation. An addiction to another person. That is what a perfect partner can feel like. I guess it is a similar feeling to the rush of being in love with someone which is equally addictive. I am curious if the same part of the brain is involved in kinetic and romantic love. It would make sense why that rush from connected movement can make it hard to tell whether you just really enjoy dancing with someone or whether you are actually falling for them romantically. Hopefully, I will find that perfect partner one day.
The other day, I had the opportunity to witness something inspiring. I was waiting for rehearsal to start. I had arrived early as it was being held in a location different than usual and I wanted to make sure I would find it in time to warm up. There was a pair of dancers working together in said studio. They were both gifted dancers that I respected. They both could have large egos because of their accomplishments, but they did not. They were humble, hard working souls. What I witnessed was an exchange of energy on many levels.
The first level was their exchange of experience. They both came from different dance backgrounds. One was more experienced than the other. That was not getting in their way. I could hear their banter back and forth. There was no one trying to dominate the conversation. There was no one stuck in the mind set that one partner must be the leader or the one in charge due to traditional gender roles. They were exchanging information back and forth verbally and physically. They were in sync with each other and working together for their greater good.
The second level was their exchange of kinetic energy. The recycling of energy was interesting to watch. You could easily see the transfer of motion from one body to the next. There was no force involved. You could see the stored up potential energy that was used to initiate movement. There was little muscular work. It was flowing from one body to the next. It looked light. It looked easy. It looked effortless.
The third level was their exchange of emotion. When one smiled, the other lit up. When one withdrew internally, the other pulled away. When one got excited, I saw the excitement rise in the other. Their energy was so in-tune that it was within seconds that one’s change of emotion became the same change of emotion in the other.
What was happening though was that there was give and take. Yes, one had more experience than the other in the genre they were working in. Yet, no one was being condescending. No one was getting upset. They were working toward a common goal for mutual benefit.
Often, egos get in the way in partner and group situations. We forget that we are all in this together. We forget that our personal goal is less important than the collective goal. When we can put our personal goals aside and work together, transcendent experiences happen in our relationships, projects, and gratification in dance.
It has become apparent that the less technical dance communities that I am involved in are closed off. They are not welcoming to many people and they keep to themselves. When I compare those communities that have highly trained dancers versus those that do not, the highly trained dancers are often the most friendly and welcoming to those who are learning or are from a different genre of dance.
I was at an event last evening and I ran into a dancer that I knew. He was not from the latin dance community, but he is an amazing dancer. He saw me dancing with my friends and was concerned about dancing with me. He did not want me to not have fun because he did not know how to do what I was doing with my other friends. I told him that I didn’t care if he knew the steps. I knew he would feel the music and express it in his own way. I knew it would be beautiful as I have seen him full out in his own genre and he is mind-blowing. It made me sad though that he could feel the judgement in the room from those who were far less talented and trained than he. It almost prevented him from stepping onto the floor with me as he was afraid his lack of knowledge would make he and I embarrassed.
It shows me that there is a lot of toxicity in this community. I have seen it before and it makes me sad. I have been to other events in other cities where the dancers of the same genre far surpass the best in my community. What I find curious is that those dancers who surpass those in my community are more friendly, humble, and inclusive. They are not making people feel uncomfortable to the point where they do not want to step on the floor. They are the dancers that ask everyone and make everyone feel welcome. My community tends to exclude instead.
I have an amazing friend in my community who always adds people to our community by telling them they should come dancing. He has recruited so many people. Lovely people. Some of them have stayed. Many of them have exited again though because of the judgement and exclusion that happens in my community. It baffles me that the people who are higher ranked in this community want to keep the community so small and closed off. There is so much for them to learn about dancing. There is so much they can learn from dancers of different genres. Yet, consistently, they balk at chameleons like myself who are better trained than they. They ostracize those that are new and wanting to learn. They keep to themselves in their little circle of comfort which they know with whom they will show well on the dance floor.
They need to give their head a shake. Communities, businesses, festivals, and the like cannot have longevity if there is not continuous growth. There will always be an out flux of people, so to keep it even static in numbers, there has to be at least the same amount of influx. If you want to grow though, the influx has to be higher. This means showing kindness to the beginners who are interested to join. This means stepping out of your circle of dancers at risk of not having a perfect dance, but to make someone new feel welcome. This means being welcoming to dancers of different genres who come to your event who could blow your mind on the dance floor, but maybe not in the way you do. There is so much talent out there. There are so many people seeking community especially in big, busy cities. Put your ego and judgement aside. Welcome everyone. You may be dancing with a star of today or tomorrow. Likely, they will not exclude you once they make it.