Monthly Archives: December 2013

Finding Partnership

I remember trying to find a permanent dance partner years ago to be such a stressful search. I was always sure that I was never good enough. It has taken years to gain the insight about what really allows for a good partnership. It isn’t what I used to think it was.

You can have two extremely talented dancers. The world can sit waiting in anticipation for a great partnership to emerge. How can it not when the pooling of talent should be synergistic? Often, the partnership implodes shortly after it emerges. Why? That’s a question that haunts dancers. How can two talented people not make a go of it especially if they were successful in previous partnerships?

What I have observed to be the greatest influencer of partnership success is vision. There has to be a shared vision.  A shared dance career is too difficult if there is not a common and satisfying goal. I say it is difficult because there has to be management of mutual expectations. There has to be an agreed upon way to fulfill both partners’ goals. Unfortunately, partnerships are like marriage. There has to be give and take. There has to be stroking of egos. There has to be each partner gaining something each day on the floor.

The vision is often set out over a year or more. The growth into a partnership rather than just two dancers working together, happens over time. A year is really the minimum as there is time lost getting the partnership on track. There will be growing pains trying to adapt to each others’ style. It is rare that there is instant perfection. It is much like a business partnership. There is a business vision that has to happen, whether the dancing is professional or amateur. Both business partners have to have complimentary – not necessarily identical – goals. There have to be easily identified landmarks of achievement that are set out otherwise the success of the partnership is difficult to measure. Re-evaluation has to happen as well to make sure that the goals that were set match the current situation. Modification of the goals will happen – that is the reality of life.

If you are in a new partnership or seeking one, take some time to figure out what you need. What are your goals? What are you looking to gain from being in a partnership? What other life goals are you looking to fulfill along the way while you are achieving your dance goals? What do you need from the partnership for you to consider it a success? This is going to be different for every person. If you do not take the time to identify what you need, you can waste a lot of time growing a partnership that doesn’t give you what you want.

Big Questions 3

This is a continuation of answering the big questions that have crossed my path in the dance world.

Do I change to a school that has been the competition for the school I attended for a decade?

This is another question that boils down to loyalty versus protection of your best interest. When you strip away your emotional attachment to a dance school, it can be seen that dance schools are a business. Admittedly, they are often not solidly run businesses based on common business practices. However, the owners have created the school to create a livelihood for themselves. No matter how much passion the owner has for dance, the school is still a business. It may have started as a passion that they figured they needed to share with the world. The best way was to create this place that would allow them to do so. This means that they want to keep their staff stable which means discouragement of teaching for other businesses. It means trying to keep business stable as well which means discouragement of learning from teachers at other businesses.

Some schools are more loyal to their students’ best interests than others. If you are part of one of those, that’s great. I do wish there were more of them around. Some schools want to withhold some information to be able to keep their students wanting more. It’s a good business strategy. Keep that carrot slightly out of reach and the bunny will keep chasing it. If a dance school can be more abundant and provide the students with all the information they have, it would be better for the students. In doing so, it would also push some members of the teaching staff to seek more knowledge to be able to keep a cutting edge of knowledge that keeps them ahead of other schools. Unfortunately, it is human nature to not push so hard. Coasting is easy. Cutting edge takes discipline, effort, and money.

If you are in a school where you feel like they are withholding information that can help you get ahead, you have your answer if you are wanting to move forward with your career. If you can tap into a teacher or a school who was not raised in their dance by the same community, or has at least ventured out for training beyond what the rest of the local community has, you will gain new information. Your local schools may not be able to give you everything you need, especially if you are in a smaller centre. There are usually teachers who had been founders of your community and they have often been around for a long time. Take advantage of the fact that they are accessible. Often these established teachers, though maybe not as trendy as others, are a wealth of knowledge and experience. They have foundational information that transcends genres and trends.

Celebrity Blindness

I find it hard to understand sometimes when people are blinded by the light of celebrity names. When someone has made a name for themselves, whether rightly so or not, people will flock to them like insects seeing bright light. The bright light of their celebrity seems to inhibit their logic about what the person is about. All reason goes out the window and they try to bask in the light of the celebrity name.

Celebrity comes in various forms. It can be for being a pillar of the community. It can be for doing something remarkable. It can be for being a good teacher. It can be for being a good dancer. It can be for being rich. It can be for overcoming struggle. The list goes on. Those that manipulate with their celebrity, often have not done anything remarkable, but have manipulated communities to thinking they are more than they are and have sold people on that. You will see them keep putting themselves in the spotlight – making a delayed, grand, and attention-grabbing entrance at an event, boisterously discussing themselves, pointing out their reputation to a new community.

I do see some people take advantage of their celebrity and I find it repulsive. They ask for discounts when they can well afford to pay the asking price. They take advantage of their followers allowing them the privilege to pay their way, provide accommodation, do things for them for which they really should be compensating the follower, and allowing them to work with them for free when the celebrity is making money off their back. I see this happen with “trade of information” as well. The celebrity will give you information in their art form if you give them information in yours. Often, I have seen the celebrity get information and not return the favour.

This kind of behaviour will create a reputation that will eventually catch up with the celebrity. Once their shiny brightness wears off, they tend to exit the community. Sadly, there will be casualties of followers along the way who wanted to believe the celebrity was really going to do something great for them. When they have worn out their welcome, they move onto the next community to leech off them as well. The communities are more interconnected than some of these cunning celebrities may realize and eventually their reputation will precede them.

The most amazing people who truly deserve admiration are those that are usually the humblest. They have no need to point out to people how humble they are. They do not use their name to get ahead. They do not really like having followers. They are wanting to be the best they can be. They want to make their way without owing anyone for their success. They want to help people for the sake of helping them, not for what they will get in return. Take a look at those you consider celebrities close to home. Are they deserving of your admiration, or are you being blinded by the light of their name rather than the light from within?

Overwhelming Doubt

There are days I feel I am the luckiest girl in the world. I have great friends. I have a great career. I have a world of opportunity at my feet. I have to almost pinch myself that this is my reality – some days. There are days too that I feel like I am living a lie. That I am somehow misrepresenting myself because someone believes or believed in me and I don’t see it. I don’t see why they think I am this special being. I don’t see why they think I have so much talent. This is what doubt feels like.

 It caresses my ankle and I whisper it will be okay. Everything will be fine I say. It subtly encircles my leg as it carefully tightens its grasp. I disassociate from this limb.

My body knows it is there for it has been there before. It is an old enemy that I know too well. It has reared its head again. I want to believe that it is my friend. That it is here for my own good. That it will provide motivation. My instinct tells me this is not a good creature. I turn a blind eye as it prowls farther up my body.

I feel it enter me with a sharp pain as it overcomes my gut. It entwines itself cramping its path. It is shutting me down subtly. It is taking over my body without my mind wise.

It continues up and thrusts itself through my heart. The racing ache starts. My body is aware of this entity taking me over. My mind stills its eye blindly to this foreigner and focuses on the day.

It enters my vocal cords capturing my voice. My bodily muscles writhing in warning. They are painfully foreboding – screaming at my mind to awaken to the situation.

It slithers higher. Slithering up to take me down. 

It slices my spine as I disconnect. My body arcs in response to this familiar fiend. It has laid with me before. It has presented as a tender lover when it was laced with poison.

It has a way of deceiving me when it is here. It has a way of evading tripping my alarm. When I awaken to the enemy, it is already too late. I am already its puppet.

It has clamped down on my head with spikes pointing toward my brain. With staples along my neck. With daggers down my spine.

It has taken me often. More often than I can admit whilst in your eye I look. Without feeling shameful. Without wanting to walk away shy.

It grows spikes down my bones and pierces my muscles as it overtakes me wholly. It shuts me away from the world as it covers my confidence and spikes my intake with deathly doubt.

Misconstrued Intentions

Partner dancers are inherently flirty. The dances we do with partners are not sterile. They tell a story. Typically a lusty one at that. This can misconstrue much to new people in the community. If they are not used to the level of intensity in the dancing, they can see it as an open invitation to more than just dancing.

Sometimes there is that open invitation. Sometimes there is not. I have found it difficult on many occasions and just blown someone off that was flirty while we were on and off the dance floor. There are emotions that are stirred by doing these dances because of what they represent. Yes, we may just be dancing for fun. However, when the physical connection happens with someone and you feel in-sync, it can be confusing. The same signals that we feel when we are attracted to someone off the dance floor can be triggered when we sync up with someone on the dance floor.

There is an adrenaline rush that happens. That signals the brain that something really good is happening. This trickles down to our logic saying, this feels good. This feels good because I am moving. This feels good because I am moving with someone. This feels good because I am moving with someone who is touching me. This feels good because there is something more going on between us then dancing. You can see how just having fun can trickle down to your brain confusing the enjoyment with attraction for the person.

In my past, I have tried dating people that triggered that adrenaline rush when we danced. Often, that chemistry on the floor did not allow for chemistry off the floor. This can be disappointing and lead to involvement beyond what was originally intended because of seeking that adrenaline rush again. Sometimes it is by being physically intimate. Sometimes it is by trying to dance together again to see if it can be recreated. I have friends that I dance with that give me that rush in such a way that I seek out dancing with them. I know better now than to date them and many of them I have befriended over the years and that ship sailed.

I have encountered that people I have chemistry off the dance floor with, I often have no chemistry with on the dance floor. This can be disconcerting as, like many dancers, I would love to find that chemistry in one package – on and off the dance floor – in one person. This is easier said than done. In the end it boils down to finding someone that I have chemistry with off the dance floor as we are likely going to be spending more time there. I can still go out dancing with them and have a good time, but just be more separate on the floor so that we can have a good time without doubt about our overall chemistry creeping in.

Burning Love

Even though dance is something that dancers consider fun, when it is something you do often, you can get a little sick of it. Not to say that the love has died. I think even if you start hating dancing, you still love it to some extent. When you are overdoing it though, you can hit a wall.

Being a dancer can be overwhelming. I can be pulled in so many directions because I have so many people that I have to serve. In the end though, I cannot be of service to anyone if I am not taking care of myself. A lady once told me that I have fill up my own cup first. From there, I can serve people from the saucer that contains what overflows from my filled cup. That advice has stuck with me and I evaluate my situations often to make sure I am on track to being fulfilled before I try to fulfill everyone else.

This is a challenge, especially if you were raised to please. I was raised in a family where I was groomed to make sure that everyone else was happy before I would check in with myself. Honestly, checking in with my own happiness was not even a consideration. This is a dangerous way to live because you can give every part of you away and end up empty. Even if that is your tendency, taking the time to do what fulfills you is important and must be done.

So how does that relate to dance? My career does have parts of it that are out of my control. My directors, teachers, and partners do hold some of my future in their hand because they can withhold their time from me if they choose. When that happens, there is little that I can do about it. Begging and pleading tend to be futile. If my relationships in dance fall apart, I know it is a matter of time before they will come back together. There seems to always be an ebb and flow to this and it relates to dance politics which I abhor. While I have denied access to these people, I have an opportunity to recharge and refuel myself. This is done by taking time to self-evaluate where I am at. Am I happy with my current situations? Do new boundaries need to be set? Am I getting what I need out of the relationships in which I am entwined?

Sometimes I come out of these lulls with new inspiration. Struggles lead to new movement and choreography that seem to appear to me unexpectedly. I usually come out with a renewed sense of what I need from this world to be all that I know I can be. Often this kind of hiatus opens new opportunities for me that I never imagined. I may be noticed by someone who passed by the studio while I was working on my dancing and be approached for new projects. This is how I end up with lots of new work in my world. If you are feeling like you are in a rut or a setback, try to find the opportunity in it. Everything really does happen for a reason and it maybe just to give you time to get your head on straight. Be thankful for forced downtime, as most of us are poor at giving it to ourselves.

Economical Survival

Why is registration on the decline in the dance world? Why are studios closing and teachers moving on to other professions? Why are competitions struggling to stay after they existed and thrived in the past? These are questions for which the answers have not yet been found to satisfaction.

I live in a city where the economy can be boom or bust depending on the resources it is based on. It is not the most stable economy, yet, we keep plugging on. Areas where they have a more stable basis for their economy are struggling as well, but they have more gradual shifts. In recent years, the economy of the dance world has been on the decline. It is a strange phenomenon. I know that other business fields are experiencing or expecting to start experiencing crisis in their economy as well.

There are fewer people registered for classes. There are more students leaving than there are students to replace them. Having fewer students to teach when the same number of teachers exists results in hard times for those who provide the foundation of the community. Is this because dance as a past time is being replaced with other activities? Maybe. Perhaps we are in a natural low in the dance economy’s cycle? It is hard to tell. What we can tell is that there have had to be major cutbacks in classes offered. This has resulted in less variety being available because there is not the student body to support what used to exist. I would have thought with the popularity of dance shows like So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing with the Stars, there would have been a spark of new interest in dance. The numbers do not show this.  Hence, there are studios that have been around for decades that are choosing to close their doors because it no longer makes sense to run an expensive facility. The return on having a business has to justify the cost – financially, emotionally, and physically.

The decline of registration in competitions has been staggering. Some competitions that have existed for decades are closing their doors in the coming years. This is a shame as they were part of the tour of competitions that students dreamed about at the beginning of each dance season. It is justifiable why the competitions are closing though. They come at a staggering cost for the promoters of the competition. The facility to host the event at costs a lot. Hiring a variety of judges to create an unbiased panel involves travel and hosting expenses. When there are not enough registrants, it becomes difficult for advertisers to justify advertising if there will be little return on the investment. It feels like one thing after another for the promoters and the stress from trying to keep a dying competition alive hardly seems worth it.

Is the media affecting the dance economy? I would say yes. We are seeing natural disasters happening all over the world. There is coverage everyday about the global economy being in bad shape. That we are headed for crisis again soon. Perhaps this has become a wake up call for those who were spending outlandishly. I have difficulty justifying material purchases for things that I can do without. Investing in my health though is something I cannot scrimp on. Part of this investment is dance as I consider this one of the healthiest things I do. I continue to support dance events in my community as I want to do my best to help maintain what we have left. If dance is important to you, make sure you are doing your part to ensure its survival.

Big Questions 2

This is a continuation of “Big Questions 1”.  Here is another question that required the greatest and tenderest management skills in my career.

If I want to change things up, do I move to a competitive company and end up destroying my relationship with the director of the company who raised me as a dancer?

Loyalty is a good thing, remember that. The truth is, most people are most loyal to themselves. There is little altruism that remains in our world. In a dog-eat-dog career like dancing, loyalty is a coveted virtue and can give you an edge. You still have to remain loyal to yourself though. Considering how leaving a company could affect a person who invested in you is a choice that will have long-term ramifications. As with coaches, there can be possessiveness by the director for company dancers and rightly so. Like an employer, the director has invested a lot of time, money, and effort into moulding you into what you are. They likely have imparted the best of what they know into you, especially if you are one of their rising stars. Yes, you did contribute by being a willing participant, sharing your talent, and reciprocating with your time. However, without their care and guidance, you likely would not be where you are today.

Making the decision to change companies boils down to this: Do you want to be where you are forever? If you are a core dancer or puppet in the company, you may no longer be growing. If you had an opportunity to take on more challenges within a company, would you? If your answer is yes, it is time to speak to the powers that be and feel out if that is possible. This does take some management of your ego and theirs. You do not want to walk in appearing to have an ultimatum of give me what I want or I am walking. This may be exactly your point of view, but a threatening approach like that could get you turfed out of the company and the news of your ego spread to potential companies you were considering approaching.

Go into the meeting having practiced citing that you are feeling that you need more out of your dancing. You have so much enjoyed being in the position and having the opportunities that you have in this company. At this point, you want more and you want to give the director first right of refusal to help you with this, but you are not sure if that opportunity exists in the company as of this moment. If the director wants you to stay and wants you to keep developing, he or she will find a way. This could be moving your into a more leadership role for the company. It could be giving you more spotlight roles on the stage. You never know what the opportunity could be that they have in mind, but it is always smart to feel out what they have. Before approaching them, they may not have even known you were discontented.

There may also be no further room for your development within the company. Maybe the company is as complex as the director wants it to be. Maybe the director does not see any further growth potential in you and is not interested to further you in the company. If by approaching the director, this becomes obvious, it is time to move on. The director will understand as he or she was in your shoes at some point in their career as well. They would not have achieved what they did by not seeking growth opportunities. Always leave the door open for future connection. You never know if they might need you and you might need them. There will be some hurt feelings, but hurt is less damaging than resentment.

Again, it boils down to survival of the fittest. If you allow yourself to plateau, it will not be long before you are a “has been”. It is easy to become this especially if you have been in a company for a long time. By taking the opportunity to get yourself into a new company or new role, your dancing will be perceived differently, allowing you to be elevated to a new level. 

Difficult Communities

“Why does the dance community have to be so dramatic and blow things out or proportion?” I am asked this at least monthly and I understand from where the question comes. Dance communities tend to attract egotistical people. I believe it is because it is a physical and esthetic sport that makes people concerned about how they appear to others. As such, they never want to be viewed negatively by others in the community. This leads to a defensive survival attitude which breeds drama in the community.

This person did this and offended that person and now they can’t even look at each other, for example. In the business world, it would take a brief, clarifying conversation to clear up this drama. Not to say that drama does not exist in the business world as well, but I have been in many different communities and never seen drama on the scale that is seen in the dance community. Because everyone is trying to keep up appearances, they tend to become defensive of themselves if their reputation could be mildly tarnished by someone else’s action.

This happens between sub-groups of the community as well – say, one dance genre where there are various schools serving that community. The schools tend to talk bad about each other pointing out that the other schools do not know what they are talking about. The other schools are not teaching an authentic version of that genre. The other teachers are not good enough to be teaching to anyone. Even dancers who have little experience spout this out about each other in the jostling for superiority within beginner groups. It becomes petty and childish. Many newcomers to dance communities say it is reminiscent of high school where there are the popular kids in the group into which everyone wants to break. It is true. The people playing this game are trying to make others looks bad in order to make themselves look better. To non-dancers, this just seems inane compared to real issues in the real world.

Yet, we tend to get wrapped up into the drama over and over again. It can be hard not to if too much time is spent in social situations with these people regardless of whether they are professional or amateur. When a reference to regular life is not intact, this behaviour can seem normal. This is why I try to keep at least one foot well grounded in the non-dance world so that I am not dragged into the drama too regularly. I really just want to dance. When I go to a social, I am there to get my dance on. Yes, I want to catch up with my friends. I want to catch up with their regular life, not their dance life. I don’t want to know who did what to whom unless it is something of profound nature that affects their overall life. Focusing on the minutia that will not have lasting remembrance in your life does not seem worth wasting the time talking about it. I have been guilty, of course, of doing this, but I try hard to catch myself. Life is too short to focus on the inconsequential drama of the dance community.

Choose Your Own Adventure

Chasing a dream is exhausting. It can feel like a marathon some days. Sometimes you hit the proverbial brick wall. Sometimes you stop for a second and wonder what all the chasing is for. I wonder if I am getting to where I set out to go.

With careers that are non-linear, trying to create and measure benchmarks is challenging. Often the path we thought would take us to our goal, ends up looking so different than when we set out. I often think of my career as a choose your own adventure novel. Those of my vintage should remember these. You could make a choice and it would send you down a different path than a different choice. Sometimes it would end the novel. Sometimes it would send you on an extended journey. This is not unlike dance. Making a choice could open up a door to an unexpected path that leads to a career changing and lengthening experience. Another choice could open a door that takes you to an unexpected career ending experience.

How do you keep on track of what you are looking for and not end up choosing the career ending door? There is no crystal ball in dance. One dancer’s journey will be so different than another dancer’s. One career building move for one could be a career ending move for another. We all have different personalities. We have different looks. We have different facility in our bodies. What one choreographer loves about me, he or she may abhor in you and vice versa. This is out of your control.

I like to take the time to step back at least a few times per year and evaluate where I have come from. Keeping notes on where I was say three months prior allows me to go back and see where my head was at. This can allow me to see if I am on track. Dance is often not a career that you can set definite goals in. There are so many factors at play that are out of your control. Such is life.

I used to be the consummate planner. The one who made everything she wanted happen.  These days, I find it better to be an observer on this journey. I can do my best which is putting my full effort forth every chance I get. Beyond that, someone else often holds the cards and they are hard to read. This is okay. This is a fact of dance and life that has to be accepted. The more your can just be in your career, the more things will just fall into place. If you push, you will seek disappointment frequently.

Dance is a fickle game and it can be a challenge to navigate. That is part of the fun and has to be a means to strengthen your resolve to keep plodding forward. Every set back is an opportunity to learn about the industry, yourself, and your career. When you get knocked to the ground, take a moment to lie there and absorb what happened. Absorb how you got there. Observe what happens next and let it unfold. It will surprise you.