Achievement in the dance world can be difficult to measure. Do you measure it by your status? By your income? By how well you are liked? By the number of trophies on your mantle? Achievement can be a strange thing as it is not always tangible.
In dance, I have to find achievement within myself. I have to enjoy my body. I have to enjoy my musicality. I have to enjoy being present when I get to be on the floor. I used to seek out affirmation externally. This always feels good when someone gives you an “atta girl”, but if I don’t believe in myself, I will not survive long term.
I have to pick out my rewards everyday. It can be having a moment where my mind and body are so in-tune that everything around me disappears. It can be finding a line I did not know my body could create. It can be when I am so into the music that I can feel it take over my body like I have been possessed. It can be when my technique from dance to dance shifts and my technique reflects the music. It can be when the pain dissipates because of the adrenaline running through my body overrides the pain signals.
Dance cannot be about the trophies for me. It cannot be about the status. It cannot be about the money. It cannot be about how well liked I am. I am someone who fails at filtering myself. I tell the truth when my opinion is asked. I do not sugar coat. I do not play politics. This gets me in trouble occasionally, but I figure this is me. You will always know where I am at if you ask me because of my lack of a filter. My body will tell you even if my mouth does not.
Dance has to be about the experience. It has to be about the high. It has to be about hitting the stage. It has to be about community. People talk about dance families and it is true. There is something so connective about a community of artists. I am lucky to be connected to so many different artists, different genres of dancers, and different levels. It is where I can plug myself in to energize myself after a chaotic week outside of my dance life. I am thankful for weekly gatherings of dancers in the form of class, training, business, events, festivals, and socials. When I get down, I recognize that I have separated myself from this world in some way and I can get back up when I link myself back in. I am not sure what I would do without my dance world.
Working with someone who has a different approach to dance is a challenge. You have the option to not dance with them if it is a partner or teacher who is a mismatch. You may not have the option if you are part of a project where you cannot escape working together. How do you navigate a project with them when you have fundamentally different approaches? How do you get anywhere when you feel like you are speaking different languages? Sometimes it is a communication difference. Sometimes it is an intelligence difference. Sometimes it is a training difference.
How do you overcome communication differences? If it is a language barrier, an interpreter is an easy solution. Even if the languages are different, a well-matched set of partners can overcome. If it is a verbal attitude issue where one person feels put down because the other is more blunt than they are used to, discussing how to communicate in a way that the offended party feels respected is a solution. It takes work from both sides to determine those communication boundaries. If it is an ego issue, where one partner will not give on anything and has to always win a discussion, that can be difficult to overcome. People only change if they want to change. If you have a partner not willing to work on their communication, you have a choice to let the ugly things said slide. You also have the choice to dissolve the partnership so that you do not come out damaged on the other side. There are people I have worked with and run into recently who just have to put me down to step above me. They are just not worth my time.
How do you overcome an intelligence difference? If it is purely intellectual, it can result in one partner posturing in the partnership to be in a more dominant position. Some people equate their intelligence with their dance capacity which is often not true. This is linked to the aforementioned ego issue in communication. It could be one partner patronizing because someone’s kinesthetic intelligence is not at their level. This is not a deal breaker. The less kinesthetically intelligent partner puts in more work and they are often aware of their need to do so. This can make the less coordinated partner a better partner because they have more drive as they have always had to work to achieve in the dance world.
How do you overcome a training difference? Some people approach training like it is the only thing in their life. They can be obsessive about it and lack balance in their life outside of dance because they have little or none of it. Being intense in your approach can yield fast results, but it can be overwhelming if the other partner has not experienced that. If you were raised by stricter parents, this can come across in your training. The opposite can happen as you rebel against your upbringing. Some people want to meticulously analyze and think through every step. This can be repelling when an hour goes by and all you have accomplished is learning how someone’s face moves when they are deep in thought. Training differences, whether it be intensity or approach, can be overcome with communicating and trying to resolve differences. Both partners have to adjust their approach to come to an agreeable training program.
Partnerships involve two equally important people who are working towards a common goal. If it is going to work, both people have to be satisfied at the end of the day otherwise why would you be working so hard? Dancing, especially partner dancing, is difficult and tiring. It is often a long-term commitment. There are rewards at the end of the day, but it’s more fun to have someone that you like to work with to enjoy the rewards. If you have a choice, find someone you have fun with. Life and dance careers are too short to be hurt, defeated, and unhappy while you have them.
Stepping into the competition circle can be boosting and humbling simultaneously. There exists such a dichotomy because of the mix of emotions that happens. There is the gratification for having put yourself out there to be watched, scored, and scrutinized by fellow dancers, audience members, judges, and colleagues. That gratification can also go the other direction if you do not perform as expected.
It is interesting to watch the different age groups at competitions. Young children do not get as stressed out as adults. They are there usually because their parents told them they were going to be there. They just go out there and do it. They enjoy it too because they are having fun, get to be dressed up in a fancy costume, and the little girls get to wear make-up. The pressure of the competition typically just rolls off their back.
The pressure starts to change when there is more self-awareness. This happens with aging and maturing. It kicks in strongly as puberty has its onset. The body changes – you start to think about what you look like in your costume – will I be beautiful or handsome enough?The coordination does as well – you’ve trained with one body for so long, then it starts to grow in places that affect your balance, centre of gravity, and movement. The mentality changes – you realizing there is something at stake if you do not perform to your full potential. There is the risk of not looking good in front of your friends or not being cool because you participate in a certain activity. Peer pressure to fit in can be paralyzing at this stage.
Then you hit young adulthood. The pressure changes there as well. There are new expectations of you. Often you are trying to make something of yourself as a member of society. There are pressures of trying to be in romantic or physical relationships. You are trying to work full-time or go to school full-time or both. You have new expectations to be independent. This is often when dancers exit the community. Some will realize what they are missing and come back. Others will realize that this was their parents’ dream, not theirs, and move on permanently. They may also shift to a different type of dancing that suits them for the person they are now.
Full-fledged adults are another pressure level as well. Competition can really mess with an adult’s head. Some are brand new to dance competition. Some are returning after a long hiatus. Some are trying to fulfill a dream. Adults in competition have to contend with a lot of voices in their head. Often, they are successful in their professional career. Stepping onto a competition floor where they may be starting in a lower level category or not ranking well can make them question their success in life. I know people who have a lot power in the community due to money, status, profession, and connections who come to the competition floor and leave with a different perspective about themselves. Those who they thought of us as lesser in their everyday circle maybe greater in their dance circle. This can end up with people treating each other differently depending on what ranking and circle in which they interact with each other.
Competition brings out many things. We all become different from our everyday selves when we compete. It can make you happy or disgruntled. It can boost or level you for days. Competition can be healthy or unhealthy. That dichotomy will always exist and you can choose what combination of those you want. If it shifts to the negative, you have to remember that it is only one moment in your life. You can choose to dwell on it if it is positive or let it go if it is negative.
Dance is a beautiful expression between people. Sometimes it is between me and myself. Sometimes it is between me and a partner. Sometimes it is between me and an audience. Sometimes all three options are happening at the same time.
The expression comes down to more than just a smile on my face. The expression comes from somewhere deep inside me. The closest thing I can compare it to is the butterflies in my stomach feeling before I am ready to speak publicly. That delicious vibration that comes from the centre of me and pours adrenaline through my veins, into every cell of my body. That delirium in my brain that craves to be in that state again. That is when I know that expression is happening from my soul rather than just my muscles.
There have always been days when I cannot get to that state when I move. Lately though, it happens almost every time. I have thought about what has shifted in me. I wondered if it was an age thing? Was it from taking a break? Was it from going through devastating personal crisis? Was it from losing it all? I am sure having to face my demons this year contributed. I am sure part of it was being forced to see deep into my own soul and try to figure out how I could possibly have arrived in this place after how much I gave to achieve what I did.
I think reaching that dancer’s high regularly is in part due to how free I am these days. My body is free and listens well to my commands. My mind is free because the stress and worry of the past year are dissipating. My mind is free as I am no longer concerned about what people think about me as a person. My mind is free as I am no longer concerned about what people think of me as a dancer. I have come into this knowing of who I really am.
I am starting to see what others always saw in me that I struggled to accept. Compliments always made me feel like a fraud, like I was somehow deceiving them because I couldn’t see what they were talking about. Now I am starting to see that I have the capacity for amazing accomplishments intellectually, physically, mentally, and emotionally. I am a doer. I am a connector. I make things happen that most people can’t. This is part of why people comment that I seem to have lived multiple lives in just this one.
Are you recognizing your abilities? Are you believing in what other people see in you? Relying on other people for recognition and admiration is not going to build you a solid foundation. Eventually, that is something you will have to learn. It is part of growing up. Eventually, you will have to see the beauty and magnificence in yourself. I believe that is when expression becomes real. That is when you connect deeply with yourself and can move mountains in all aspects of your life. I believe that is what will lead to limitless possibilities. Take some time this week and see what makes you amazing and remember that when you are dancing. I bet you will notice something shift when you do.
As November hits us, the seasons can tell our minds and bodies that it is time to hibernate. This can result in cravings for higher calorie foods, more lethargic activities, and craving more sleep. I have to be more conscious of my choices in these things as I can easily put my body out of whack for what I need it to be like to do my job.
Fall was a time of harvest for our ancestors. Planting seeds in the spring, nurturing them in the summer, and reaping the rewards in the fall. I try to use fall as a time of reflection on accomplishments as well. I want to examine how far I have some this calendar year, see what I set out to accomplish and did not, and see what I should be aiming for in the next calendar year. There is a sense of calm that comes with the fall, maybe due to less sunlight stimulating my brain.
In the fall, my life seems to go into withdrawal from the chaos of summer. I am trying to organize myself into new activities, new habits, and new work. So as to not fall into a rut, I also have to challenge myself to engage in new things. This is part of how I keep my brain and body from going fully into hibernation mode. I need some of that chaos to keep me stimulated.
Admittedly, fall is not my favourite. I feel dread when I can sense the season changing. I want nothing more than for it to go away so I can stay in my summer stimulation. I think I dread it because of the emotions that come up with it. Emotions that I could just tuck away while my senses are overwhelmed in the summer. There is a mourning for that overwhelm. There is a mourning for what I did not achieve this past year. There is a mourning for knowing that another year has passed. Time passes more quickly every year I age and the return to this feeling of dread in the fall brings that up for me again.
So what am I going to do about it? Use the emotions that are coming up to become a deeper performer. The emotions this year are different than from previous years and I am going to explore how I can use that to better my art. I am exploring new opportunities to feed that chaos that I need in my mind. I am exploring trying to find quiet in my life and dance which is something I was afraid of doing in my past. I am going deeper into my body and pushing its physical limits to see what comes of it. What are you going to do to adjust this year?