We all have capacity for lightness and darkness. What we express most in our everyday life is moot in the capacity that we have. Some people choose darkness, expressing it sometimes in private ways. Some express darkness intended for privacy that gets exposed when acts are beyond societal normalcies. Others purposely express their darkness in public ways.
As a choreographer, I often head to dark places. In my daily life I may be considered a little edgy and expressive in my appearance, but playful with some intensity in my daily life. So where does this dark expressivity come from? I haven’t a straight forward answer.
I have experienced many dark situations in my life. Situations that would haunt your mind for years if the full details were revealed. I have also had dark periods in my life where depression overcame reason. Maybe my expression is my subconscious dealing with my darkness in ways I can’t verbally express? Maybe I am pulling from past memories? I don’t know. I create drastic imagery that can make your hair stand on end. It has happened a few times with my students this semester and it makes me giggle.
Part of my humoured approach to their reaction is it is the reaction I would expect from the audience, not my performers. I have often been in a show where my choreography evoked such reactions in those in the audience. Something as simple as walking straight toward the audience at a slumbered pace. Sometimes simple connections with the audience that are not beaming smiles or charming glances, evoke strange emotions.
I wonder if the performer reveals to the audience when the expected smile and charm are missing in a glance? A revelation so personal that it sends shivers down the spine? Sometimes parts of choreography rehearsed with innocence turn out to be the darkest moments on stage. If you have insight into this emotional provocation, write me as I am curious to understand this better.
I have been in partnerships – personal and professional – where I have been identified as less than equal due to my gender. These partnerships included situations where my qualifications, experience, and knowledge far outweighed my partner’s yet I was expected to be smaller in input.
Unfortunately, this is frequent in dance partnerships of the male-female competitive type. Why? Men are in short supply, so they are treated with kid gloves to get them to stick around in the partnership. I recently had one of my students ask how much she may clarify with her partner regarding behaviour in the partnership, goals and their modification through time, and general needs from the relationship. Sadly, this was not a surprising question. However, my answer was not straight forward.
Both sides of the partnership should have equal input or at least maximize their input based on their knowledge injection to the partnership. If you have a 10 year dancer dancing with a 1 year dancer, obviously the balance of information contributed will be different. That balance is not synonymous with balance of power though. Many a male partner has quashed my power to the point of telling me should I continue to have an opinion, I am free to leave.
This is asinine behaviour and expectation. Yet, I continues propagation as women are desperate to please and keep their dance partner. This passes acceptance of bad behaviour to the next generation if we do not stop it now. Humans are humans. I have no care for what gender you are identified as, being a good and respectful human should be protocol in dance partnerships.
How do we implement this rehabilitation of attitude? Stop putting up with bad behaviour. Stop putting the worst behaved men at the top of the pyramid. Start revering the ones who are respectful. One of the easiest ways to extinguish bad behaviour in a community is to oust those who do it. Don’t give them the time of day. Don’t reward their bad behaviour with accolades. Don’t support their projects. At the end of the day, those you invest your time and money in are the ones who will best survive. So invest in the good ones. Invest in the people who you respect as good humans. This is how we will see a change in our generation.
Finding physical strength in dance is a strange balance. Too much and mobility is jeopardized. Too little and mobility in function is jeopardized. It speaks to the element of balance required in all things. Too much work makes you useless to work as does too little work.
A recent personal project in my physicality has been tapping into the strength of my back side – literally the whole thing from crown to heel. A practitioner brought to my attention that I am not firing on all cylinders (physically) due to habits picked up from societal influence and those learned in various forms of training. I was literally locking my muscles and bones into positions that were forcing me to create contortions in my body in order to compensate for the lack.
Once this was brought to my attention, suddenly, all these professionals who had never been in my direct circle, suddenly appeared and became part of my direct circle. People who had the knowledge I realized I had been lacking. They were trained in genres that I had studied as an adjunct, but they were saying things I had never heard before. Things in line with my philosophy of do no harm to myself or my students while training rigorously. Things aligned with enlightenments in my knowledge since I returned to full-time teaching and studying.
How I got so lucky they appeared was I was drawn to register for some classes during my downtime – the time that I use to study, choreograph on myself, and research ways in my own body to create movement from a different place. These classes weren’t meant to train for a professional level, but the information coming out of their mouths and bodies was astounding. I was thrilled for days just thinking about what I had learned.
I was incorporating their group class teachings into my daily thoughts and physical practice and I was seeing a difference in myself very quickly. I have rarely felt I am in a physical rut, but I was realizing I had been just that. My limitations were because I had been thinking in the way I understood from my exposure to knowledge. These teachers were taking knowledge I already had and smashing it wide open to see from a more holistic perspective.
Tapping into this knowledge has strengthened my conviction that I am on the right path in my physical explorations. That I am passing on solid intel to my students in trying to help them get better. That I am revealing the right secrets to them to get them on a deeper path of exploration in their own physical practices. I ask that you seek new strength regularly in your practice and continually grow and grasp new knowledge wherever possible. There is so much more beyond what you already know. Seeking this is where you will infinite strength.
Trust is a precarious thing. Often given before earned. Often broken before built. Trust is precious and we give it away with our power. Here is my heart, don’t hurt it. How can we ask that? It is our job to be good to ourselves, trust ourselves, protect our own hearts. Our hearts can only be broken if we give them away. If we keep them for ourselves, we will rarely break them.
I am not saying don’t trust anyone or keep cement fences around your heart so that no one ever gets in. That’s a sad existence and one witnessed in increasing amounts. We are becoming a community where trust is low and the cost of breaking it at a premium. I understand why we wall ourselves off and am tempted to do so myself as well. It is because we give our power away with trust, but they are not inextricably linked.
I recently broke up with someone after a relatively short but time-intensive bout together. I let him in like I had no one before. I was vulnerable, exposed, and trusting of him and the experience. I was ready to let someone in. However in letting him in, I also gave away my power and then he had the power to break me. How did I let that happen? I am known for being strong and resilient. The experience left me feeling weak and foolish.
I felt fooled because I had believed he was letting me in the same amount as I. This proved to be untrue. It was seemingly easy for him to walk away which left me feeling unvalued. Why did I need that validation from him? I know I am a strong contributor in my communities, I know I am good at lending myself to those who need me. I know I am a good friend and supporter. So what was it about him that left me feeling useless and unlovable? It was me needing to remember that the love in my life needed to come from myself, from keeping my own heart strong.
Others will have opinions that may tear us apart. It’s human nature. It’s whether we trust ourselves that will determine our strength and resilience in the end. Once we trust ourselves, we open ourselves to so many more possibilities because we become dependent on our own opinion rather than dependent or co-dependent on the opinion of others.
Trusting ourselves sets us free creatively, emotionally, and mentally to be our best selves whether it is in our art or relationships. Being set free to trust ourselves is the best gift we can bestow on our soul.
Admittedly, self-love is not a skill at which I excel. When complimented, I shrink because I feel I have somehow deceived the person. I don’t feel deserving of praise. I’ve had a brutal awakening bringing my self-deprecating behaviour to my attention.
I have known many dancers who truly love themselves. They are confident in what they do even when they are far from perfection. They are confident to learn in front of others. They are confident to put their ideas out even if unsure how they will be received. Sometimes their confidence doesn’t match their ability, but it is truly admirable.
My family was devastatingly critical. This lead me to push to be more in everything as I observed so much lack. This was a benefit to my educational goals, business goals, and career fulfillment. It forced me onto the cutting edge of technology and knowledge, to the point it was addictive.
Achievement solely fuelled my self-fulfillment. Anything measurable was useful – how far could I run in how little time? How many certifications could I put on the wall? How many satisfied patients could I create? Quantifiable achievements were my route to temporary happiness. Those achievements never satisfied, akin to highs that quickly wore off and left me lower.
Because of my lack of self-love, human connection was craved and hardly achievable. I knew as a youngster moving around that connection was severable and unreliable. I have hid from connection. I am trying to amend this. The past few years have taught me much about choosing connections. Not everyone is who they seem, so fishing carefully for friends and only keep a few close is key.
My greatest failure in life has been relationship. I have easily cut ties when relationships went sideways. It’s recently I have realized I want to fight to maintain connection. I am seeing this is what life is about.
There are moments when I feel connection: when I tell a story through dance that moves my audience, when I spontaneously move with another body, when I teach my students. These are great moments of connection that satisfy my soul. My goal these days is to increase connection. Find common ground with more people and start to move forward with people by my side rather than checking in with them when struggling. I am ready for collaboration and it is terrifying as it’s a vulnerability that could go madly awry and devastate me. However, life is not worth living in safe-mode. So I am taking a chance and putting myself out there to receive connection. In doing so, I hope to find my ability to accept kindness increases, especially from myself.
Sometimes it feels I’m imminently going to explode. The pressure of having to be on all time can be overwhelming. There is pressure to perform well. There is pressure to teach well. There is pressure to do business well. This is part of the artistic experience and can be beauty and ugly wrapped into one. I’m going to tell you of the beautiful side.
The pressures inspire creativity out of necessity. I have never been a procrastinator, but when I am on top of everything, I realize that a moment of rest can set me behind. Does this mean I have procrastinated? It sometimes feels so though I don’t think that is really what is happening. The deadlines continue on a daily basis. Continuously ready with choreography. Always a show around the corner. Always a class to research.
I love the lifestyle of what I do. I get to push growth constantly. Continuously researching, studying, and learning so I can be my best self and bring out the best in my students.
I take my responsibility to my students seriously. They look to me to guide them to be amazing while enjoying the journey. The journey is the most important thing. This is hard to forget as I wonder whether there is an achievable destination. Whether I will feel I have made it. I don’t know that I will ever have made it.
In the athletic nature of this genre of art, my career could end instantly. I could injure myself outside the studio, my body could fail, I could get creatively blocked. Enjoying everyday for the journey it is the best way to survive. Nothing will ever be perfect enough, artistically boundless, physically hard enough. There is always room to grow. That is the journey. Enjoy the ride.
Mirrors can be a deception. An object reflecting things as we see it, not as they are. Mirrors reflect warped perceptions and their surface is often warped distorting our view of self further. But mirrors are useful and lauded objects.
We love to spend hours before them, pondering our perfections and imperfections alike. They are used to decide whether a movement is good enough to present on stage. We use them to analyze our technical correctness. We use them to admire the beauty and ugliness in our bodies. The polarity of observation in the mirror can be mind-numbing.
Though the mirror can be used for observation, it can be used for avoidance as well. It can allow us to escape our lives. Have you been lost in your reflection? So much so the world around you disappears? Staring in the mirror can be a great time waster as we pick apart our flaws and dream of ways to fix them. Many a dancer has been lost in their reflection and lost touch with reality over time.
Too many hours before the mirror can become an addiction. An addiction to the search for perfection, an addiction to pulling ourselves apart. Too much time in the mirror can sink your soul into depression as perfection will never be achieved. Perfection is a reflection that we can chase forever and never reach. What is perfection anyway? A state of flawlessness? Is that realistic? Is that achievable? Is the mirror ever a true reflection of our reality anyway? Rarely. So why do we love this mirror so much?
I have spent most of my life fighting. Fighting to make it through bullying. Fighting to make it through school. Fighting to get scholarships to pay for said school. Fighting to make my way in the arts world. Fighting to survive being beaten in a relationship. Fighting to have a business that did things differently. Fighting those who wanted to take me down because I was getting ahead of them for my lack of fear to stand out in the crowd. Fighting to be the best that I could be. I have to admit, it was exhausting.
Just when it seemed like the fighting was staring to pay off and that I would get a reprieve from it, it started again. The last couple years have been the greatest fight of my life. A struggle to get to the other side of losing nearly everything. A struggle to deal with severe pain and still try to be a pleasant and motivated person. A struggle to find myself when everything I defined myself by was lost. A struggle to find the motivation to carry on when all I want to do is lay down and have the world stand still for a while. Carrying on this struggle while feeling alone is a difficult thing as it gets to the point where I wondered what the point of all this struggle could be and whether it was worth even trying anymore? When it takes so much effort and it feels like half a step forward results in ten steps back, it gets discouraging.
A lot of questions as to why this struggle was bestowed on my shoulders came about. Is it so that I can be a better person? Is it so that I can learn some grand lesson? Is it so that I can be humbled? Is it so that I can be someone who is a model of strength? Is it so that I can learn to not fight? Is it to increase my depth as a human? Is it to make me more human and realize the grave imperfections in my soul?
All these questions have tumbled through my brain many times and they still tumble. What I have learned through all this fighting though is to find gratitude. To be thankful that I am still alive at the end of all this. To be grateful that I didn’t just give up and throw in the towel because it was easier than dusting myself off after getting walloped to the ground and strangled literally and metaphorically. To be thankful that I have the fortitude to survive things that should have ended me.
I try to be thankful for the opportunities that have come out of all this. The insight into who I am which used to be equated with what I do. Now these things are their own separate definitions in my life. The insight that what doesn’t kill me truly makes me stronger and can leave some pretty awesome metaphorical and physical scars as souvenirs to remind me that I am able to survive. The insight that things could be worse as this journey – though tremendously difficult at times – could also not be happening and I could be cold in the ground instead. That would be worse than the challenges I get to face.
I choose the wording “get to” as I am trying to look at all this as opportunities for growth – sometimes not growth that I wanted to experience, but growth none the less. There are always going to be struggles. Whether they be in professional, personal, or spiritual life, they will exist. They give rise to better things even though they can feel devastating in the moment: a better ability to deal with loss, a stronger belief in self, a stronger sense of worthiness, greater conviction to succeed. I choose to feel grateful for this life I get to live.
Training the body into new movement is a process. Whether it is a new choreography, new technique, or a new genre. You may get the surface of something new the first few times you try it, but it won’t be truly in your body.
Movements that start to happen without thinking are engrams. Rather than give a definition, I will give you an example. If you have been driving the same car for a while, you start to control parts of the car without thought. You an insert the key without looking, adjust the radio effortlessly, grab and change the gear shift without taxing your brain. Think about when you step into someone else’s vehicle. Often, your engrams kick in related to your regular car and you try to do all the things you normally do without thought and you suddenly feel a sense of disorientation. You hit the key on the dash, you reach for the radio knob and miss, you reach for the gear shift and overreach. This is because your normal patterning of movement no longer works in the different car. When you get a new car, it takes time to develop new engrams for the spatial awareness of where everything is in the car.
The same development of movement patterns applies to dance. This development is often more complex because the movement in dance is often more complex and delicate than that of driving a new car. If you are an adult and have danced for a while, thinking to the first time you took a highly technical class be it ballet, ballroom, contemporary or the genre you have always enjoyed, you felt self-conscious at the first class if you aren’t still feeling self-conscious years into your studies. This is because the movement isn’t second nature. It is not engrained in you.
If you are studying technique behind a dance genre you are familiar with, it will be challenging to disturb the engrams you have for the genre when you are trying to bring new technique into that familiar movement. This is why you may have the technique by the end of a class, but when you revisit that movement in a familiar environment that you used to dance a different way, the technique can go away.
Application of technique takes time. It takes repetition to get it it to stick especially if it is a modification of a movement you already know. When I get an opportunity to work with a new teacher that I can study from, I am always looking to get back to basics. If I am studying a new genre, I am looking for the same thing. I want to deeply understand the fundamental technique behind the genre rather than basic patterns of it. Why? I want to develop those technical engrams from the beginning so that I don’t have to go back and relearn something and try to break the engrams of bad habits I have developed. It’s like not taping or not taping well before painting. If you do it right from the beginning, there is so much less of a mess to clean up and it saves a lot of frustration and time. I suggest you research who you are learning from if you are looking to learn good habits from the beginning so you aren’t left with a mess a few years down the line from which you have to untrain.
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.