Monthly Archives: May 2016

Ceiling of Complexity

Have you been training and found that suddenly you can’t seem to break through a barrier. Sometimes this is called a plateau which can be a physical leveling of progress – perhaps the body reseting, repairing, and preparing for the next phase of change. Sometimes it is psychological manifesting as physical.

I’ve seen this many times in my past business with employees and colleagues. Thereis great capacity to improve, but they have limiting beliefs and so they self-sabbotage often without realizing. An example is taking a course that could grossly expand their skills and they have all intention of implementing. A few months later, the skill has not been implemented and the knowledge application and skill expansion is lost. The same thing happens in dance.

Why do we do this to ourselves? There is a concept called the ceiling of complexity and it relates to our comfort zone. A common example is those who win the lottery. When they are followed up with a few years after the win, the money is gone, nothing has changed in their life, and they are back to their original earning potential. It is an interesting phenomenon which boils down to aversion to change and how we perceive ourselves.

Let’s put it in dance terms. We get to a point where we are satisfied with ourselves – on the social floor, the stage, in our teaching. We have resources around us that can take us to a new level, past this comfortable plateau. We tap into these resources, maybe invest some money in our training. Check in a year later, not much has changed. We went above the comfort zone by acquiring new skills then allowed ourselves to slip back into it by not putting it to use.

The reverse happens as well. We get comfortable and we start slipping in our skills. We see others around us who we had surpassed starting to be more skillful. This lights a fire in us to up our skills so that we maintain our ranking within the community in whatever capacity. We have brought ourselves back to that comfort zone after slipping below it.

So how can we push ourselves to continually increase that ceiling of complexity and move that comfort zone up to a higher level? Awareness is usually the key. Start off by setting some goals for the next time period. I like to work in quarters – 90 day chunks – as it puts a time limit allowing for reasonable change in myself while keeping me on a short time leash so that I can’t procrastinate. At the end of that 90 days, I look at what my goals were, what I achieved, what I didn’t achieve and why. Then I set the next 90. I do look ahead as well for 6, 9, and 12 month chunks also because often there are steps that need to be taken in the short-term to achieve those longer term goals. If you are feeling like you have hit that plateau, put ten minutes aside and look at where you want to be in the next 3, 6, 9, and 12 month periods and outlay the steps to get there. The awareness alone will help you move that zone up a notch easily.

Symmetry

In life, balance is always a fleeting state that is chased by many. Balance in personal vs. professional. Balance in acquisition. Balance in relations. Balance in spirit. Balance is always sought and rarely achieved. In the physical body, this is another chased state. In dance symmetry can be hard to achieve, but is important for so many reasons.

Symmetry of training inputs help build symmetry of our physicality – muscle, nerves, blood vessels, brain activity, flexibility vs. strength of tissue. It is important to make sure we do things symmetrically so that we keep our body in balance. Many a career ending injury has been due to asymmetry. A friend last year tore his achilles tendon right off as his strength and flexibility were not in balance. Another friend ended his professional competitive career due to a severely asymmetrical sport.

When we are learning patterns of movement – whether a solo choreography, partnered patterns, or technique – it is easy to practice our stronger coordination also known as dominant side more than our weaker side. It is pleasing to our ego to do things well with less effort. However, this is where asymmetry in our physically stems. Often when choreography is built, it is built to the strength of the choreographer. I remember having a choreographer with a sore knee who inadvertently created everything involving leg strength on her healthy side. This ended up creating injuries in the company members of various types (back, knee, ankle) because of such heavy reliance on that side without adding inputs to our training that balanced it out.

In partnered dancing, especially ballroom and social dances, there is heavy reliance on unilateral forces to delivery leads and respond as a follow. As such, we end up with asymmetry in arm, shoulder, back, and leg musculature (whole body asymmetry really) if other inputs are not made to our system. I competed last year at Canadian Championships with my partner having had to correct many leads to my “wrong side” in dancesport because my “correct side” was injured and unable to take the stress of my lead’s physical input. It was an eye-opening experience for my partner, myself, and my coach as we were determined to make it to the championship regardless of my physical condition. Normal lead and follow partnering was something we hadn’t realized we too so easily for granted. There are dancers in my field with career ending injuries of soft tissue and spinal nature because one side was so strong from leader’s physical demands on their receiving side, that it altered the rotation of the spinal column and musculature and created a chronically painful injury that was no longer worth trying to overcome.

How do we combat this in our training? Try mirror your choreography – this is a great physical and mental challenge especially when certain moves are classically unilateral. If you are training in a solo style class, you can ask your instructor to make you go through the mirrored version or take the sequences home and work on doing this yourself. It is good for the body and an interesting challenge for your brain that will clearly point out where physical and neural weakness exist from one side to the other. With a little know how and discipline, we can make sure we are giving ourselves symmetrical inputs to sustain our bodies and careers maximally.

To Date a Dancer

So you think you want to date an impassioned dancer? To date a dancer, you need to be a strong person – emotionally, mentally, and socially. It’s not easy dating a full-time dancer. Many fantasize and some fetishize dating a dancer. There are some things for which you have to prepare yourself.

You have to be emotionally strong to date a professional dancer. Why? Dancers are going to go through ups and downs and need someone grounded beside them who isn’t going to add flames to the fire. The ups and downs are part of the job. The ups may include excitement about new work, new partners, travel, artistic influence, the creation process. The down may include not getting the desired role, politics in the community, back-stabbing by other artists, artistic blockage. This realm is not a typical 9-5 job. Even if you are hired with one company full-time, you are likely to experience many ups and downs as you bump up against ego of directors, fellow dancers, financial influencers, politics, fatigue, etc. Being a freelance dancer is worse. There is constant seeking of work, constant artistic creation, and fighting for survival against emerging and existing artists.

You have to be mentally strong to date a professional dancer. Why? You are going to have any insecurity in the relationship easily flushed out especially if your partner performs professionally. Jealousy is usually the easiest way to identify the insecurity rearing its head. Watching your partner being lauded by audience members as they watch from afar then meet up close. Watching students who admire your partner interact in a friendly way with your partner can be threatening. Dance tends to be a professional where physical boundaries of other workplaces would be crossed. Because dancers interact physically in their work, they tend not to be as aware of physical touch being an issue as their bodies are often touched so often in a day, there can be desensitization to it.

You have to be socially strong to date a professional dancer. Why? You are likely going to be on their arm at events that are highly social. You are going to see people who get shy in your dancers presence because they have your dancer on a pedestal of admiration. You will have people coming up to find out who you are related to your dancer. If you are someone who is used to being in the spotlight, being on the arm of your dancer can be difficult as you are likely a nobody in their realm. You will also be curiosity in their realm. It can be hard to be the arm candy when you like having the arm candy admire you in your realm. You may have to set your ego aside and let your dancer be the star here, even if you are used to being the star yourself.

Dancers are amazing people. The amount of work they put in to teach, perform, and create is astounding. The artistic process doesn’t sleep so their mind will often drift to it. This can be hard to understand if you have a job that you either just like or don’t like at all. Dancers tend to be intertwined with their work so much so that to try to unwind the work from the artist is nearly impossible. This is a reality of the dancer that has to be understood. Are you tough enough?

 

Learning Variety

How I learn and my students learn can be disparate. This is always the challenge in teaching – being able to present the information of study in a way that satisfies the various learning styles in the class room.

Some students need words. They are more intellectual or heady. They can repeat described patterns like a mantra and create them in their body. These are curious people to me as I can’t talk myself through things fast enough to keep up with my body’s muscle firing to do things on music. It is wondrous to me to watch them listen the words and create the movement. These are more the exception than the rule for my school, but their needs are always addressed.

Many of my students are mimics. They like to have an image created for them of the end point and then they try to replicate. This requires high reliance on mirrors and a lot of mirror studying time – they have to spend time before a mirror to input into the body what that image may feel like. Often the image is not downloaded into bodily sensation because the visual cue is missing, so without the mirror and an image to mimic, the information does not stick. This ends up with returning to the studio repeatedly with the same issue.

If I have the opportunity, I like to touch the person I study so I can feel the anatomical positioning and activation of their body to download that into my own body. By touching their body, I can estimate what it should feel in my own body.  I have students who operate this way and so we employ a hands on technique in classes for anyone who needs this kind of input to understand the concept. It works for less than half of my students, often not working if they are not well in tune with how their muscles activate to create movement. When we do isolation work, we talk about where muscles’ origins and insertions are and how they ultimately move bones closer or farther apart. This helps create mental image of what is happening at a deeper level.

Most people are not solely a verbal, visual, or sensual learner. They are a combination of two to varying degrees and the degree can change dependent on the information being studied. It is fascinating to watch people learn and discern what kind of learner they are so that I can best facilitate their studies. It is one of my favourite challenges in my classroom.

To Dance a Lifetime

High level dancers know that to dance a lifetime at that level is not possible. Past our twenties often proves difficult. So how do some dancers survive to dance high level in their thirties and forties without showing their physical age? It isn’t easy. It takes self-tuning to be able to maintain high physicality with a body that is aging.

First off, we have to realize we are no longer teenagers. We are not made of rubber. We no longer bounce back quickly. It takes discipline to remember that even though our body may still look like that of a teen, it’s healing capacity has diminished. As such, paying attention to our thresholds of movement has to be done. When our bodies say they are fatigued, we can push a little more, but while respecting our own boundaries.

In this respect, we get a lot smarter in our training. We no longer try to dance marathons for the fun of it. We get strategic. What training and inputs will give us the most milage for the fuel we have to burn? We look at the twenty-somethings burning and hurting themselves in their assumed invincibility and think, if they only knew what the ramifications will be in 10-20 years. We know better know and work to preserve and nurture what we have so we can still grow in our skill without injury.

This discipline is what creates mastery. We get specific about what we want. We look at what adjunctive trainings will increase the body intelligence for our specific goals. We seek out master coaches, therapists, and trainers that get us and what we are looking for. We understand in our 30’s and 40’s that we actually do know something about what we need and we are allowed to ask for it. This is a skill that takes time to develop. The discernment of who we solicit for help comes with the wisdom of age.

For those reading this in your 20s, if you know some high level dancers in their 30s and 40s, ask them how they are still going so hard at that age. Remember that you will be lucky to be dancing hard at that age and it will take some design to make it so that you can continue to grow your skills to that age. You eventually will no longer be made of rubber either and that body you have is the only one you get. Do everything you can to preserve it while still pushing the envelope!