Trust is a strange thing. Trust is easier when things are measurable, tangible, and describable. What happens when what you seek is none of these? What if it is a feeling? What if what you seek is a journey with no destination?
I have been seen sometimes as someone who changes direction often. My problem with this thought is it is true and it is a sign of insight rather than flakiness. I think this is my strongest attribute because I am okay with abandoning a pathway if there is an obvious better choice. It’s not that I am sitting around admiring the greener grass across the fence line. Rather, should more information come across my path that advises my instincts to change direction, I try not to be too proud to abandon what I for sure thought was the best way.
How does this apply to dance? If you grew up being part of a certain dance genre and group, you may only know a limited amount about dance. Since that is what you know, you will assume it is truth, and because you love it, you believe that this is the best thing for you. However, once you start being exposed to different ideas within that genre or even concepts in other genres, you may be informed that what you thought was the best for you is no longer. You may discover what you studied for so many years no longer serves you, even if you are outstanding at it. You may discover that a new technique broadens your body’s access to movement and freedom. You may discover that someone you worshipped and studied under, no longer serves you either because someone else inspires you more, pushes you harder, or just fits better with the new information you have accessed.
There is nothing wrong with taking a little sabbatical from what you already know and start exploring what you don’t. The best thing I find is going to something intimidating e.g. a workshop with people who know so much more than you who maybe able to process the received information into their body faster than you. Taking a genre you know nothing about and maybe don’t even see anything admirable in it. Any training we are able to get our hands on will inform our future dancing. It informs our body of a new methodology, creates movement from a different place than we are used to, and explores concepts from a strange perspective not previously considered.
I find when I start trusting what I know, I usually get knocked on my butt by something that blows my foundation out from beneath me. Because I am aware that this changes me faster than anything else, I seek these opportunities to break what I think I know. It is scary each time I do this – that never seems to go away. However, that fear is so invigorating because it makes me want to chase my dreams so much faster. I know that there is no pot of gold or ultimate destination in my career. I have to enjoy the chase along the way, admire the rainbow of possibilities, and be present so that I can look back and know that it was worth it.
There is a beauty in partnered dancing that cannot be achieved as a soloist. There is a physicality achievable between two bodies that cannot be achieved by just launching yourself. The portrayal of relationship story is simpler when there are two dancers involved in the portrayal. Partnering has its benefits. It also has its drawbacks.
The drawback is the need for the partner. Once a choreography has been made requiring physical interaction of partners, that requirement has to be fulfilled to be able to present the work. This creates a vulnerability between partners. How? If one partner loses interest, becomes injured, travels, gets tied up in a day job, the choreography cannot be used as designed. Another dancer can be substituted of course, but the time to get the next dancer ready can be large and exhausting, let alone stressful.
So how do you protect your investment in a partnered relationship? It is tricky. Having a commitment to the partnership is certainly a starting point. Setting up the amount of time that will be dedicated to the partnership is next. Keeping each other on track for maintaining these commitments is important. From there, a lot is left up to fate.
Dancers are vulnerable creatures. There is a risk factor every time we step on the floor. A misstep could end up in a break. Training can result in stress fractures and over-use injuries. Another dancer could injure us, including your regular partner. That’s just by keeping your feet on the floor. Add in the factor of tricks, props, and dancers who may not be paying adequate attention to their surroundings, and it seems like a battlefield.
We know that our career could end in a split second. That is part of the joy of the dance career though. There is risk. There is allowing yourself to be vulnerable. There is trusting another with your safety. There is demise that could be around the corner. As such, our time in dance is precious. It can never be taken for granted because the nature of it is exactly the opposite of it.
How do you receive criticism? Do you think to yourself, I’m perfect and they don’t know what they are talking about? Do you think, you do not know enough to possibly teach me? I see this attitude in students who know little. I see this in students who know a lot. The thing is, none of us have had an identical education. Even if we had attended all the same classes, workshops, and lectures as another, the education would still not be identical. Why? There is no way that we relate to the information in an identical way, thus we don’t internalize and use the information in the exact same way.
I love being criticized. Yes, sometimes it hurts my feelings, makes me question my abilities, and makes me wonder if I will ever feel good enough. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t feel this way from time to time. However, even when these defensive sentiments come up, I know it is coming from my insecurity, not my knowledge base. My knowledge base informs me that I have so much to learn. That I will never really feel like I have made it because there is far too much information to consume before I will be able to feel that way. This is okay. This is how I will get myself better. This is how I will improve my physical, mental, and emotional self.
When I ask for an outside eye to see my work, I am not asking for my ego to be stroked. I am asking to be pulled apart. I am asking to learn how to do my stuff better. I am asking if my approach may not be the best. I am asking to be pushed out of my comfort zone. I have seen others when asking for an outside opinion stop the dialogue about their piece when they receive a compliment. That is what they were looking for rather than criticism. How is that a help?
Anytime I have an opportunity to teach, I have an opportunity to learn as well. I learn because my students are having a different experience receiving the information I share. They all have different questions on how to approach the information. They have questions that come up related to things they learned previous that they are leaping off of to connect to the information they are receiving. They ask me questions that make me able to approach my own delivery of information differently the next time I teach. I get surprised by their questions all the time because sometimes I feel like I know what I know inside and out and then a curve ball question is thrown at me that makes me go through all that I know and realize that I know so little. It’s exhilarating to experience these new insights and makes me have an adrenaline rush. It makes me crave more information.
How do you approach your teachers? Do you go to a teacher who just strokes your ego? Do you go to a teacher who is so passionate about your success that they want to pull you apart and put you back together so that you are your best self? Some of us dance to feel good – to be seen and lauded. If you are looking to be the best you can be, the adoration can’t be enough. Seeking information and betterment is what drives the best. Talk to the top dancers in your community – you will see that this is what they seek and they never feel like they have made it. When you think you have made it, it’s time to retire.