Monthly Archives: July 2014

The Importance of Bravery

When you have made it to the point where dance is your career, there has to have been bravery along the way. This is not the path of least resistance. Ever. There is always a struggle along the way. The struggles come in many forms: disappointment, self-doubt, injury, and sacrifice.

Disappointment can come out of so many avenues of dance. It could be not getting the part for which you were perfect. It could be rejection from the future partner of your dreams. It could be losing in a competition. It could be blanking on stage. Disappointment can be an easy reason to give up. It can be the excuse you need at the end of a struggle to just throw in the towel and give up. Why not? This path is hard.

Self-doubt creeps in often for dancers. The doubt can be that this is so challenging that you wonder whether it is really worth it. Maybe you over-analyze the physical body – this can be related to weight, shape, expressivity, restrictions in movement, among others. The physical body is constantly in plain view since we spend so many hours in the mirror analyzing ourself. It can be the easiest thing to pick on ourself about because it is there for the picking. Self-doubt if it speaks too loudly can be a career ender. It is a constant struggle   to ignore it, but for some it creates phobias and anxiety that are never overcome.

Injury  is another source of bravery. Injury comes with the territory. We are constantly  pushing our bodies to do be stronger, longer, faster, higher. It is no wonder that injury occurs. The injury can be sustained due to many things. Proper warm-up, hydration, and nutrition make for lowered risk, but hitting a step wrong, slipping, or just having an off-balance day can take  you on a crash course to injury no matter how you tried to reduce injury potential.

Sacrifice is another great reason to get out as well. The sacrifice for dance comes in so many forms that it can be overwhelming. It can involve sacrificing social situations because rest is so important. It can be a sacrifice of the body – pushing through pain, chronic injuries, and fatigue. There are days the work has to still be done even though the body is fighting for a day off. There can be sacrifice of pursuing other interests because there is a lack of time.

All the barriers take bravery to overcome. Dance requires bravery to survive and to thrive.  If you choose to stay on the career path of dance, you will have to dig deep. You will have to find energy that you didn’t know you could tap into. You will have to find strength – physical, mental, and emotional – beyond anything you believed you possessed. In the end though, you will look at yourself at the end of each day and once a while you will catch a glimpse of the bravery within yourself. Recognizing that will make everything worth it.

Dancer Dates

I have a few friends who fantasize about dating a dancer. I think it comes from teenage daydreams that this beautiful mystical creature who is petite and graceful will want to spend time with them. The reality of dating a dancer is that it is not easy, especially if you are not a dancer or athlete yourself. Dancers, especially those dancing full-time, are physically fatigued much of the time. We spend a lot of hours pushing ourselves physically. Doing things repeatedly until we are nearly satisfied. This is not only physically draining, but mentally and emotionally draining as well. The effort it takes to stay focused and disciplined to accomplish this makes for some hard days.

Doing this while feeling under the weather, battling an injury, or having other stressors overwhelming makes it exponentially more challenging. At the end of a day of rehearsals, the day is often not over. There is still research to be done, especially when a new piece is being developed. There may be choreographic mapping, editing of music, studying of others in your genre for inspiration still on the docket. In the midst of learning or developing a new piece, it can be hard to shut my brain off because it will be on autopilot trying to understand the new information. This can make me appear distracted or disconnected. That can allow for annoyance with anyone around me as I may not be as present as they would like or the conversation may veer towards this topic more than they think palatable.

Take all that and add on nursing an injury, being stressed about financial stability, politics in the community, or any number of issues that arise in a dancer’s life and you can start to see why the dating of a dancer is a challenge. Dancers, especially those who are more than just a dancer in a project, are often seen as complicated. I think this is because we access more of our brain than those who are not artistic. We are able to find a way to take everyday scenarios and present them in a way that challenges the audience in many ways. This allows for complex thought processes in the dancer which trickles into complexity in approaching life.

Dating a dancer does have it’s rewards though. For one, being around someone who is passionate about something in their life can be invigorating. It can move you to want to find more meaning in your life. Being around someone who is as physically fit and body beautiful as a dancer can inspire better care of yourself. Being around someone who puts their heart out for examination on the stage can inspire more honesty in your own life.

Finding the energy at the end of the day to be super social, especially as the dancing years add up, can be challenging. I know that I annoy many people in my life when I want to stay in after putting in so many hours on the floor during the week. Many of my friends are social dancers and that is the best time for me to see them and catch up – when they are at the club. If my feet are sore, or I am nursing an injury, getting out the club may not be in my physical best interest.  There has to be a balance between career and life. This is definitely something that I struggle with.

Dating another dancer, especially someone who is a social rather than professional dancer, surprisingly can be a greater challenge than a non-dancer. The non-dancers seem to be able to identify with the idea that working out that many hours a day has to be exhausting. The social dancers often want to spending their social time with me on the floor. There can be a lack of empathy that I want some non-dancing time in my life too. Some time to just be a normal human being. Obviously, I haven’t found the magic formula yet – but seriously, who doesn’t want to date a dancer?  🙂

Contrasting Dances

I love being involved in many genres of dance. Maybe I have a little ADHD in me. Maybe I am easily distracted. Whatever the reason, it allows me to pull insight from various sources to create, to dance, and to grow. This is a blessing in my eyes. I never knew when I started on this adventure that everything I did – even those things that seem like grievous mistakes – have all come full circle. I am in a place where I can now reflect on this adventure and use all this information to advantage. Even the stuff I hate comes in handy, because the hatable parts are usually those that require the most attention.

One thing that I best learned from this adventure is that having moments of stillness punctuate more beautifully than physicality. I have been in pieces where I was on stage totally still or just slowly walking. Those were the parts that the audience always remembered best. The quiet seems to sink in, especially in the midst of the chaotic. There are a few genres where the stillness is avoided.  People involved in some genres just want to go at full speed and never give the audience or themselves a moment to breathe. This makes for a stressful performance for the audience. The brain is so stimulated that it absorbs nothing but maybe the colour of the costume. Allowing some breathing room into the dance doesn’t betray anything to the genre. It does allow for remembrance.

If you think of it this way . . . you throw a grand trick into your choreography. From the time the audience sees it, recognizes that it was grand, puts their hands together to acknowledge it was grand, this takes time. Allowing this time for the audience to digest grand moments is part of the art of performing. If you throw the grand trick in the middle of fast movement with no calmness after the movement to absorb it, the trick gets lost. This allows for no acknowledgement to the audience either that they acknowledged you.

Punctuation with silence can also be a way to add character to choreography. Think of hip hop dancers. They often will pause either on their feet or in a grand trick. During that pause, there will often be a cheeky look at the crowd to acknowledge, “Oh, yeah I did.” Those moments endear the performer to me and make me want to giggle. All the tricks and speed in the world never touch me like that. It’s those quiet moments of interaction that do.

Technical Deviations

I have definite opinions about technique and how it applies to dances. My friends know this as I can argue adamantly about how some dances and dancers refuse basic technique. I find it wondrous when I see people who have been dancing at a professional level for a long time in certain dances, that they are still not using basic dance techniques that benefit us all across all genres.

Believe me, my technique is not perfect. I have to work on it everyday and I guess that is why I am still in this industry. There is always something to work towards. There is never going to be a perfect performance. Nothing in my dance life will ever be good enough not to continue working on it.  There will never be enough rehearsals before a show. There will never be enough time to get to the point where I actually think I am great. That is what keeps me hungry and motivated in the dance world to continue pushing myself to be better.

I still study under others weekly or more often because it gives me the opportunity for growth. My eyes are critical about what they see in the mirror. My brain has a lot of calculating to do while trying to watch – activation of the right muscle groups, the balance between relaxation and strength, remembering technique that I am supposed to apply. These, among many other, things are going through my brain which is an overload at times. That and trying to be self-critical can be a bit much. This is why coaches are so important.

I am lucky that I came from a competitive background as a kid. I was always being evaluated (almost to a flaw). Criticism was always welcomed in my world. Okay, almost always – I still have feelings and an ego that can be bruised. There was always someone trying to improve my technique in gymnastics, arts, and other sports. An outside eye was just what I was used to.

External criticism was so commonplace that it took self-discipline to be able to criticize myself as that had always been someone else’s job. This criticism was needed to slow myself down. To delve deeper into movements and try to explore their limits. Trying to keep my balance while also trying to move through balance challenging techniques takes gut and drive. This is part of where the self-criticism comes into place. To be able to improve during times where I don’t have an outside eye, I have to find my edge of ability. Once that is found, I have to try to push through it. It may not be beautiful to the eye, but it will be physically progressive which is helpful in growing on my own.

In having external eyes, I do take people from different genres to participate. I want people who think the same as me, sometimes. Other times, I want someone who is my polar opposite in thought. Why? Because I want someone who is going to broaden my understanding of movement. Someone who is going to break my current technique and infuse their own into those pieces. This is the way that I know how to grow.