Category Archives: Community

Honouring Bodies

When dance is your professional craft, taking good care of your body is important. It is your  money-maker so to speak.  If it breaks, you can lose everything. Even the simplest defect in a movement by yourself or with a partner can cause an injury, especially if the body is tired from over-training.

One thing I have noticed among some amateur dancers is they forget how essential the professional dancer’s body is to making a living. There are times by the end of the weekend we don’t want to dance. We want to talk about and do something other than dance. We want to do something that our non-dancer friends get to do. We want to be normal rather than athletes in our downtime. This means going for dinner, watching a movie, having coffee, enjoying a glass of wine with the girls, etc.

When you are a professional in realms where social dancing is a large part of the culture of the dance, it can be hard to say no at the end of the week to going to a club to social dance. It can make us appear as stand-offish, non-participatory, or just a downer. I have been often to social gatherings with social dancers at the end of the week where the grand finale of the night is heading to the club to dance for 4-5 hours. When you have been in rehearsal 35 hours already during the week, logging another 4-5 hours doesn’t sound that appealing. Add to that nursing an injury and the sacrifice of that downtime for the body becomes harder to make. It also makes the risk of further injury so much higher as the mindfulness of our body is not always there with everyone that we engage with in a social dance.

With the intricate movements we put ourselves through daily, we are dancing with others who rely on their body to support themselves. This helps to reduce injury and irritation of the body because everyone is careful in how they interact with each other’s bodies. That is not to say we aren’t extraordinarily physical in our rehearsals. We are. We are just very mindful that all of our bodies have to make it to the next set of rehearsals and performances for survival financially.

Teaching one-on-one with people who do this for fun adds a dangerous factor. We are asked to put our physical bodies at risk because of dancing with those that are not as careful as our colleagues. I am surprised when I see my colleagues, especially the men, putting their career on the line to satisfy a student’s dream of doing fancy tricks. Having that dream is fine. It is commendable. However, when you see professionals execute tricks that you are wanting to emulate, you do have to be aware that these are people who put a lot of hours into studying movement and training their bodies to be responsive to the commands of their brain. Learning the tricks did not happen overnight and there was strength built while acquiring the knowledge to execute the trick.

Putting your instructor into a situation of executing a difficult trick when your body may not be adequately trained for it’s execution can be a difficult situation for the instructor. We have this battle in our brains between wanting to make you happy as a student and maintaining our own body. Your happiness often wins over knowing what we should be doing to protect our body in order to keep you as a student. I have seen gross injuries happen because of sacrificing and have colleagues who have sustained injuries from these situations from which they have never completely physically recovered. What I ask is that you are mindful that your instructor. Yes, we are there to satisfy your expectations. We are there to satisfy all their student’s expectations. Thus, we need you to help take care of our bodies while helping you fulfill your dance dreams.

Learning to Trust

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.

Mind Your Attitude

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.

Of Men and Mice

When interaction with other humans happens, no matter how awesome things have been to date, there is bound to be conflict at some point. How this conflict is handled speaks volumes about a person. How it is handled when you have to continue to deal with the person speaks even more.

In the ballroom world, there is often a male dominating attitude towards partnerships. This is news to no one in this realm. It seems to come out most in the least accomplished dancers in the mix. I am not sure if it is a need to prove manliness or just insecurity while being lined up and judged against others. It is palpable at times and I have experienced it first hand throughout my history with this group.

The domination can come out it in subtle ways that are ignorable at first, but eventually add up to a detrimental amount. Sly comments about the girl not following, being heavy, not being sexy enough, not being feminine enough, being too aggressive and the like are usually the start of the domination in these insecure men. Small putdowns to break her spirit a little at a time seems to be what is happening – whether consciously or not – it happens a lot. From there, it can turn into putting down a partner within a group, yelling at a partner in private or on the dance floor, walking away from the partner during practice, etc.

We have all seen it. If you are a female in this realm, you have likely experienced it first hand. Why do we continue to let this BAD behaviour continue? Is it because those we learned from modelled this BAD behaviour so we think it is just part of the game we have to play to succeed in this field? Is it because there is a shortage of male partners in the dance world and so we will take what we can get no matter how BAD the behaviour? It is because we are supposed to just shut up and listen and be a good girl? All these justifications seem like b.s. to me. They seem like justification of BAD behaviour because we don’t have the energy to fight and try to change the realm to be a healthier place. Often when we speak up, we are in a position to lose our partner, so having a voice carries risk.

Beyond the BAD male behaviour, I see BAD behaviour on our side of the partnership as well. It is often starts as a defence mechanism. Then it can turn into passive aggressive behaviour because if we don’t actually vocalize our malcontent, then we can’t get in trouble for our description of the problem. I also see descent into a pissing contest of who can behave the worst.

Who wants to work with someone who is going to undermine you then state “but we’re supposed to be a team”? I often see little team work when this BAD behaviour creeps in. I often see a broken spirit dancing with a demon trying to make it through x number of months she’s promised herself to win some trophy she has convinced herself will bring her happiness if she can just stick it out.

We ladies of the ballroom need to ask ourselves why we put up with this. We need to ask what we are going to do about it. We need to ask ourselves if it is worth it. If this were a romantic relationship, would we stick it out or would we walk away before our spirit is intact. The men of our ballroom world need to stand up and say that this behaviour is not ok. I know many of them would interrupt a man berating a woman on the street, but they turn a blind eye when it happens within the walls of a studio.

We want to bring a new and younger generation into this world. These young people are part of a generation that is finally starting to see women as equal to men. If we bring this new generation into the studio and the actions state that women are far lesser than men, is this something that will help build our community?

It’s time we start working with our dancers with the attitude that women are equal to men, that their experience is valid, that their ideas are valid, that their worth is valid. This will lead to a generation of partnerships that are stronger because both partners feel respected. This will lead to a generation of female dancers that do not put up with abuse in the dance relationship. This will lead to a generation of male dancers that will only be able to keep partners if they act like decent human beings. Doesn’t that sound like a better future for ballroom dance than propagating the past and present relational behaviours?

Get to the Bottom of It

It has been an interesting experience being invited in to teach technique to some companies. The interesting part is the fear of disinterest in technique. Every new session seems to breed this fear and I find it fascinating that this is a concern. Technique is like a slow burn that changes and develops through the class. It is not going to be exhilarating like a fireworks explosion, but the way that the burn shapes over the hour is mesmerizing.

I haven’t had anyone complain that they are bored in class. I have witnessed many think they know more than they do. More recently, the classes I have been welcomed into have given into the discomfort, set their egos aside, and gone with the teachings of the class. This has been refreshing for me and a release of anxiety for the directors of the class that their students are most definitely not bored out of their minds. Rather, I see them more intensely engaged than in other more exhilarating classes.

It is wonderful to see the bodies and minds trying to absorb the information being demonstrated. The watching of my body’s use of the information, watching their own body not quite get the information, then return to gaze at my body to cue themselves about what they are being asked to do. I see little chatter in these types of classes which is usually a sign of external focus. The beauty of technical classes is the ability to switch that focus internally. Trying to get your body to morph and grow into a better more coordinated mass of flesh.

Often, the concepts introduced are foreign to the participants which seems to help them engage more. Walking their brains and bodies into left field then connecting the information back to home base where they are comfortable is usually a lightbulb moment on their faces which is lovely to see. When the lightbulbs don’t come on, there is usually questions that come out from the group for clarification. Questions of insight that I never see when the exhilarating classes are taught. Insight from an internal place of knowing that they are not getting the sensation that has been described to them. Insight that they don’t feel natural or look natural like as demonstrated and they want to know how they can make themselves look more like that. Those internal searchings make me elated because it is so obvious they are connecting with their body in a way they haven’t been guided or able to before.

When a mind is able to make that deep of a connection with the body, change happens quickly because the mirror becomes less of a reference point and the internal dialogue between the body and mind are able to take over. From there, the questioning of how dumb do I look is often lost as well and the room gets quiet and meditative. That quiet often translates into the dancing and these people are more interesting to watch as the show comes from a deep internal place rather than an external look at me showing.

Body of Unacceptance

Maybe it is an age or maturity thing, but I have started to look at my body differently. In previous years, I looked at my body as something I had to perfect. A project that I had to undertake and work on everyday. I pushed it to the point of injuries. I pushed it to the point of over-fatigue. I pushed it to the point where it felt angry and irritated. I took it for granted that I was going to be a machine and was invincible. That it would be amazingly flexible and strong no matter how hard I beat it up.

I now look at it as something amazing in the context of what I can produce from it when I train in something new, when I am asked to move a way I haven’t before and can feel new muscles activating, when it changes due to a different type of training. It amazes me everyday when I have killed my training the day before and can feel new muscles fatigued or achy.

I have been fortunate to not have sustained any career altering injuries in my dance training. In fact, the older I get, the more beautiful my dancing is. Likely this comes from maturity of experience in life as well as the body getting smarter. When I hear my younger and older counterparts complain about their bodies, I wonder what happened. With the heaviness of training I put myself through all these years, I guess my body should be feeling more worn out like the rest of my colleagues. However, I feel the opposite. I feel stronger, more coordinated, and sexier than ever. I can actually now look in the mirror and think “wow” rather than examining for the flaws.

My acupuncturist told me that in some tribes that have been studied all over the world, there are groups where the elders can outdo the younger tribe members in physical endeavours. They are of the mindset that age makes us better athletes. This seems contradictory to the beliefs of North Americans where we see age as being a hindrance to our physicality. Is this because it is because we have been indoctrinated to believe that aging is a weakness and thus makes us weaker or are we just genetically programmed differently? I fear for those who I hear complaining that they feel a decade or two older than they are physically because of how their body complains. Is it because they actually have permanently damaged and worn out their body? Is it because they subscribe to the belief system that age makes you weaker?

I honestly thought when I was a decade younger, that I would be retired from the level of dancing I do by now. I grew out of that belief about five years ago and my body seems to have gone along with the concept. It seems to want to believe that age is making it stronger. I am not saying by any means that I am able to abuse my body like I used to. Maybe I am smarter in my training and my body is responding greatly to that? I don’t know. When you find yourself saying your body feels old, try to work on changing that thought pattern and see what manifests itself in your physicality. It may surprise you.

A Woman’s Worth

I am interested to enroll in a gender studies course. The reason is that gender identity has come to significant light in my life. I am seeing myself in a different way. I am seeing myself not so much as a woman, but as a human being. I know that sounds strange, but there are a lot of limits put on each gender. I know more about those put on women than men, so that is where my main discussion will lay.

A beautiful friend recently got engaged and told me that she can’t believe someone wants to marry her. There is so much that I take issue with in that declaration. First of all, the idea of marriage does feel archaic to me. I see so many people enter into this contract with the concept that it won’t be their last. I guess the same is in jobs these days as well. In days of yore, you looked for one long-term job and stuck to it. The same went for relationships. That point aside, I see so many of my lady friends putting themselves on hold until someone wants to marry them. Why does life only begin once you snag a partner? I see these beautiful ladies treading the water of mediocrity rather than swimming across the ocean to their own happiness. Do we really need a partner to feel complete?

I don’t believe a partner is needed for completion. I don’t believe that life starts after marriage. I don’t believe that anyone should need another person to be happy in life. Those I see ending their marriages at this point in their life, I see them in shambles personally. They don’t know who they are anymore is a common declaration. Honestly, most of those people didn’t know who they were back then either.  I see them in counseling, trying to find fulfillment in empty ways – acquisition of possessions, seeking attention in any way that they can get it – and becoming more empty as the days pass.

Why do women think they need someone? Maybe it isn’t someone. Maybe it is external validation that they seek in a traditional way that ends up in marriage. I suppose someone getting down on one knee and promising to love you forever could be validating that I am okay. Admittedly, that did happen at one point in my life where I was feeling like it was time for me to grow up. I got caught up in fulfilling societal desires rather than my own and promised myself to someone who was not good for me and who would have murdered me if I had stayed.

I don’t think it was such a matter of needing validation, but feeling societal pressure which is amazing to me when I look back since there is little in me that ever feels the need to fulfill someone else’s expectations. I have spent the last year and a half digging deep to figure out the essence of me. What I thought was the essence of me was stripped away unexpectedly and I had to learn a lot about myself to be okay. All the work I have had to do to figure out who I really am would be insulting to myself if I based my whole okayness on someone else.

I look back on my life and parts of it don’t even seem to belong to me. I morphed into a significantly different person when I got sick. I barely recognize who I was before this. I don’t know how I found happiness in the big things when the big things got stripped away from me so suddenly. These days, the little things are what make me feel good. Knowing that I have somewhere to sleep – yes, that was questionable a few times during this journey. I could never have imagined what not knowing if whether I would have somewhere warm and safe to sleep. I don’t think I judged others in the situation, but I am more empathetic now than ever.

Putting your reliance in another rather than yourself as a woman truly feels diminishing. We are in an enlightened age when women are realizing that they can do everything on their own. I think that we should do it all on our own at least for a time. this gives us strength. It gives us the insight that should a partnership fall apart, we will be okay because we were before we entered it. I think it allows us to put our foot down when we need to set boundaries because we know that should we have to leave the partnership, it will not be the end of the world to supporting our basic needs.

Best Partnerships

I have been one of the most fortunate girls in my city to be hooked up with an amazing dance partner. He is amazing on so many levels and I am so thankful everyday I have the fortune to work with him. I don’t know what I did so right in this lifetime to happen across him, but thankful is just the tip of the iceberg on this one.

Over the years, I have worked with many personality types. There are always going to be ones that I get along with better than others and vice versa. I can be a pain for some people to do deal with simply for personality, creative, and physical differences. There is nothing wrong with that and it will happen in any relationship or workplace. This is half the fun of the work in which I engage.

The characteristics that I have seen work best for me and generally are as follows:

1) similar work ethic – I am a beast when I train. I can push through almost anything even if I am tired. This is a strength and a weakness in myself as I can push things too far. Having the fortune to work with someone equally beastly is important to me. I have seen the same ring true for less beastly people. Having mismatched work ethics quickly leads to resentment and often the demise of partnerships.

2) similar goals – I am not okay with just being a prop in a show. I want to create and be part of pieces that expand the mind, bring the community together, and further me as a dancer. I don’t want to do what I already know if I am working for someone else. Even in my own pieces I want to break what I know into something more beautiful and challenging. Having someone with similar growth goals is important to feed the motivation in a partnership.

3) similar presence – being part of partnership where one person outshines the other can be a challenge. If they are equally talented, but one partner has more presence on the stage than the other, it can look like one partner is less talented and disappears into the background. I enjoy partners who actually are stronger than me in presence as it makes me find new ways to dig deeper in my expression internally. This doesn’t mean bigger facial articulation or movements, but the projection of myself. By the time we hit the stage, the presence should be closely matched with the weaker pulling up their socks to match the stronger.

4) similar investment – this includes finances, time, and life dedication to the art. If both have to invest money into training, it is easier to share the load if both can invest equally. Sometimes this also means having to invest in how to raise funds through combined effort as well. Time investment can be a huge disparity. If one has relational, work, and other interest commitments heavily beyond the other, trying to find time to come together to work on mutual goals can be difficult. Hobby versus professional investment to the art is another sticking point. For short term projects, this can be less of a concern, but in the long-term for a partnership to work, the commitment level has to be similar in quality.

Sitting down outside the dance floor is important before making a commitment to a partner. Dance partnerships end up as similar commitments as romantic relationships so you want to set them up right and make sure the chemistry is there to make it work. Coming into a meeting outlining points pertaining to the previous discussed can help determine if this partnership will work. Can there be negotiation, give and take, and leeway on all the above. Of course. The general dance morality of both partners have to be similar though and that meeting can help be a determinant.

The truth about adversity

I am bumping along nicely in my life. Everything seems to be falling into place, just as I have always dreamed it would. I am feeling secure in the certainty that life is starting to truly even out. I am sure that all the plotting, planning, and wars I have been through until now have laid the ground work for me to end up in this zen-like paradise of calm. Yup, I am the master of my universe and the controller of all. That is until I am not.

I have often fallen into this egotistical sense of security that all is right with my world. My career is lining up the way I dreamed. I have freedom to choose my schedule. I have the strength to say no to things that do not serve me. The seeds I have planted are ready for harvesting. Yes, all can seem so right with my world. And then, it all gets turned on its ear.

Aspects that seemed calm, normal, and reliable blow up into these monsters that steal my sleep. Devils that sap my energy. Ghosts that blow through me and nab my soul. Suddenly I am aware that all that seemed right suddenly seems wrong. How does it happen that I swing from one pole of greatness to another of devastation within such a short period of time? It’s beyond me and I admit it is exhausting.  Sometimes it makes me feel like I was duped into believing the best in something and once I am committed, the mask of what I believed in is removed and the reality of what I committed to becomes clearly different than what I thought.

I am not sure if I am built tough so that I can endure struggle? Maybe this is my place in life? Maybe I am meant to be an ambassador of strength? To shows those who are struggling that things could be so much worse if they were in my boat? That sounds quite depressing, but I am trying to figure out why I attract struggle.

I definitely attract dichotomies. I am either truly loved or truly hated by those in my life. I seem to have this power which I have not honed that allows me to switch those from love to hate and back so quickly that I often don’t know what happened or why. It is a taken I do not wish on others. It can turn bosses against me quickly and it usually lies in my truth telling nature. I am not skilled at spinning situations. I call it as I see it and this can cause that love to hate shift, I too frequently enjoy.

So what do I make of all this? I am uncertain. I do enjoy when I fall into that sense of security, false though it may be, where I get to just enjoy life and feel carefree. Though time after time that seems to become broken, I still enjoy wearing my rose coloured glasses of naivety. Maybe that is just naive? Maybe I try to see the brighter side of life and this skews my perception? Maybe I am just cutely gullible? I actually doubt that one as I see through people so easily. Perhaps this is my coping mechanism to give myself reprieve after difficult times. It does make for good material to work out in new work or just random play on the dance floor. 

Partnerships and Such . . .

Why is the idea of a new partnership so tantalizing? I can taste the excitement in my body whenever the opportunity comes up. It doesn’t matter whether it is in dance, business, or personal relationships. The excitement is still the same every time.

Maybe this means I am a people person more than I thought? I used to always think it was easier, smarter, and more enjoyable to be a soloist. That has been the thought since I was little. I found ties to others confusing, more often disappointing, and quite frankly a nuisance. I think I still had that excitement when those partnering opportunities appeared, but I was guarded against them because it seemed they were more likely to fail than succeed, so why get attached?

Maybe I am growing up and becoming more insightful? I still value my alone time. I think that is my personality. If I don’t get that time in my own head and physical space, then I start to feel crawly and overwhelmed. Like the world is trying to steal my essence. I need that time away from others to recharge. To reconfigure who I am and want to be without the influence of other’s ideas. Maybe this is selfish in some people’s eyes? For me it is survival and the healthiest way that I can deal with my situation.

I have been told before that I don’t let anyone support me. Honestly, feeling supported is a scary thing. There have been few times in my life where I needed support. When they did happen, the support quickly dwindled away and friendships and relationships were lost. It was not that I was overly needy during those times. I was still standing on my own two feet. The topics of those periods were rather heavy and scary. Apparently, they were scarier for those witnessing on the outside than my experience on the inside.

That dwindling of support reinforced my childhood instinct to be independent because I did not feel I could rely on people. In those periods of need though, I was so sure that these were people I could count on. They were people who had counted on me to support them when things went awry in their life. The reciprocal support was unfortunately not meant to be. Nor was a long term relationship with those people after the suffering period had passed.

Because of all that, I have approached my relationships since with a different attitude. I don’t know what tomorrow will hold for myself or others. This is the fun of life. I could be dead tomorrow and so could they. So in today, I am going to enjoy those who are part of my life. I am going to make the most of the connection I have. Tomorrow they could be gone metaphorically or literally, so I am not going to lay my happiness in their hands. I will just find happiness in what I glean from knowing them.