Category Archives: Life of a Dancer

Performance Anxiety

Anxiety and self-doubt are common before a performance. Even your most seasoned performers continue to experience it, especially presenting a piece for the first time. Why? It means we care. It means that the performance has significance to us. These are all good things.

So how can we parlay our anxiety and doubt into something useful that will help us on stage? It’s about mindset. We have to use these things to help us get that slight edge to get to the finish line at our best. This is eustress which is a good kind of stress. Use it to help motivate you to get a better grip on your choreography. The more you practice the more you can just dance and not think about the counts. The more you practice, the more you can just feel the rhythms and story.

Most of us, when we practice, spend a lot of time counting – especially for group performances. Counting helps us to be on the same page so we can create synchronicity and clarity in the piece. As you are playing the music and counting, you are also training your brain at the same time to hear the rhythm in the music so that when you stop counting, your body will dance on time.

It can be hard to let go of the drive to count and to do a piece perfectly. Once you do, a lot of the anxiety will dissipate. Know that mistakes may happen. This is part of the live performance. Give yourself a break, a little love and forgiveness as well. You are going to do your best. Get out there and perform your ass off and let the cards fall as they may.

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?

 

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!

Junk and Adjuncts

Variety is the spice of life, right? How do you choose the variety so that your dancing keeps moving upward (adjuncts) rather than sideways or down (junk)? In the social and amateur realm this is a difficult question and depends on the issues you are trying to resolve with your cross-training. There are usually two poles of the body – the over-disciplined and the under-disciplined.

The over-disciplined students tend to be perfectionists. Perfectionism in dance may manifest as extreme control over the movement and may be observed as stiffness or hollowness of the movement. In their strife for perfection, they forget that they need to express their character, find their voice, their flavour, and their mark on the genre. These types of dancers usually seek out ballet which can add to stiffness and perfectionism. Learning ballet as an adult is not easy. It is a difficult genre and one that doesn’t translate well to dances that move through the torso (latin). Ballet requires discipline of the body for the limbs to move seemingly independent of the torso – exactly the opposite of what we do in latin dances. You can imagine if someone is already too stiff and too perfectionist in their dancing, ballet is not going to resolve this and in fact often makes it worse because there is so much information to try to perfect. My recommendation is usually modern, hiphop, or contemporary because these allow more flow and experimentation – less perfectionism  – while still incorporating high levels of technique. Perfectionism is where I mulled for a long time.

Then you have the under-disciplined students. These students usually need increased input that will create greater neurological and muscular control, These are not people who lack discipline in their mind by any means. Often these people are greatly frustrated as they understand what needs to be done, but have a body that is not as obedient as desired. If they are part of the latin realm of dances, I often direct them to more disciplined and classical genres. The discipline of latin ballroom (dancesport training) can be amazing.  It requires great mental, neurological, and muscular coordination while maintaining expressivity. This training is very specific in its execution, requires overall body coordination, while maintaining coordination of the torso with limbs to produce the esthetic and function of this training. It is a difficult genre to master and mastery may not be what is needed to correct the disobedient body. The mind-body connection of this dance is why it is recommended. I also recommend contemporary and modern for this pole of students. These two allow for creativity, exploration, and discipline to be intertwined which is often needed for this category of student as well so they can grow in coordination without being discouraged.

There are of course many genres of dance that can be explored and other kinds of movement as well. I attribute much of my coordination to gymnastics and circus arts. They contributed to my coordination, high strength to weight ratio, and the build of my body. Seeking out classes that are deemed functional or conditioning are great because they build strength with dynamics to maintain muscle length and increase neural coordination, and increase overall tone of the body.

How Much Do You Want It?

I get solicited on how to make it as an amateur or a professional in the dance world. The answer is always the same. You gotta want it badly. Talent is never going to be enough. Talent will definitely be helpful. Without natural coordination & inclination toward dance, you will not advance far. However, believing that you are never good enough or finished learning are the larger determinants.

My biggest success contributor has been my internal locus of control. I have never believed that anything but myself was at fault for any stumbling blocks in my career . This has also made me a little too harsh with myself, but it is a huge contributor to my success. I have never left anything to luck. Anyone who knows me, knows I work myself hard in business, dance, and previously in dentistry. I leave nothing to chance. If I want something I find a way to ask for it, get connected to it, and push myself until I get it. I am independent and believe my success is up to me.

You also need to put the time in on the floor. I rehearse my work on my own, minimum 10 hours per week (that’s aside from time I spend with partners which works out to minimum 10 hours per week). Whether it is mental rehearsal, physical rehearsal, or physical preparation, I put in the time. The body needs to make things automatic. The work needs to be an engram when the music comes on. It has to know without thinking what has to be done to that piece of music. what order everything comes in, what nuances need to built in. When it reaches that point, that is when things get to the next level. That is when time slows down on stage or the competition floor and you can become what you cannot become during practice time.

You also need to have any amazing team of dance professionals and healing therapists helping to mentor and coach you. I spend roughly eleven hours per week with these people. I spend four hours per week with my one coach who knows how to push me to be better everyday. He tireless cracks the whip even when I don’t want him to which is what makes him so good at his job. I take minimum two hours a week of high level group classes where the teachers understand my career and guide me with a heavy hand. I spend two hours a week with my physiotherapist who applies neurokinetic therapy theory to my treatments to keep me healing and growing towards optimal function. I see a craniosacral therapist twice weekly for treatments to keep energy lines open in my body, to control pain, to connect to my body at a deeper level, and to promote healing. I also have a massage therapist who works three hours per month on my body. I also have restorative exercise therapist who trains me on day-to-day alignment for healing to combat the strain I put my body through with professional dance. I am currently seeking a sports nutritionist to boost my nutritional support of my immense activity as well.

Aside from training hard and having outside help, you have to be studying all the time. This includes recording, dissecting, and putting my own dancing back together. For the classes that I teach, I spend hours weekly studying the latest trends and best information that I can be presenting to my classes. I study the kinesiology, energetics, and anatomy of how people move. I pull apart videos of my heroes to see how they move and how they could move better. There is always a ceiling of complexity that can be pushed through to get to the next level. This is what I am always seeking when I am studying for my own improvement, my improvement as an instructor and coach, and for the improvement of the overall dance community in my care. I am never done. The day I think I am done is the day I need to retire.

Losing to Gain

Sometimes you lose something great to gain something greater. In the moment of loss, it seems that it will never be replaceable. That nothing will be right with the world again. It can be so painful that everything physically hurts and feels like we will never be whole again. Time always has a way of healing and showing the truth of the matter.

This was the situation for me just over a year ago. A beautiful dance partnership ended almost overnight. It was devastating and I was broken over it. Nearly simultaneously, a boyfriend spread a false rumour that effectively severed most ties I had built in the community. I was standing on the edge of my career alone.

The situations propelled me forward into the unknown. I was always good on my own – personally and professionally. However, these betrayals took be aback. It was a lesson in self-reliance. Only I can only control what I do, how I act, how I move forward. People silly enough to believe the absurdity of the rumour, well that was not on me. I could not let myself let this setback stop me. Looking back, I was being held back by these partnerships that I had been attached.

In going out on my own, I was forced to fully mature in my dancing, teaching, performing, and choreography. It was a move that was brave and terrifying. What if I was only half a dancer? What if stepping out solo exposed my weaknesses? What if I only was good with a partner? All this doubt crept into my mind and was intermittently paralyzing. I chose to persevere. I could no longer be half a dancer. I could not hang my hat on someone else’s talent or ambition. I needed to incubate myself and develop my skills and put my mark on this world.

In all this, there have been great people who stepped up to support me and there have been some who tried to plant doubt. Someone I had grown close to and trusted was especially devastating due to his own unhappiness with his dancing and life. He told me I was an ugly performer, that I was not good enough to do this, that I was going in the wrong direction and wasting my talent and time. We had severed ties about a month before the performance, however, the days before I stepped out on stage as a soloist at the most important event of my year, his unkind seeds sprouted. They grew around me and nearly stopped me from stepping on stage. I was fearful I would fail on stage, that he was right and the community would know it. It took a lot out of me to step onto that stage alone. It also took kind words of my ex, my colleagues, and students to smarten me up and to realize these were the words he believed about himself and was solely a reflection on him.

The important and respected people in my life stepped up to support me to put myself out there – alone. To be judged as a whole dancer. To be judged as I smeared my soul on the stage. I am thankful for those who propped me up and nudged me to do what they knew I could do. It has strengthened, energized, and motivated me to push even more. I am thankful for my loss for I have gained so much more.

Finding My Way

My journey in the dance community has been tumultuous. I entered with rose-coloured glasses that leaders were in it for the greater good of our art. Some are and a portion are in it for ego, control, and financial gain treating those under their tutelage as mere numbers and trying to be the biggest bully in the playground. This was a sad realization and I lost my innocence about the community.

When I entered, my goal was and continues to be to make a difference. I bring a large box of tools in a complex way that is unique to the rest. We all have a unique toolbox because we aren’t cloned when it comes to our historical training. My history comes from being deeply studied in multiples genres. I have never been a one-trick pony since I was a kid as it was not fulfilling. I still cannot just pick one genre that I love most. I need to study movement from many perspectives to gain clarity of what I want and need and how I want to approach movement no matter the genre.

This studying has given me tools I never would have if I studied extensively in only one genre. It’s allowed for holistic research and examination that goes beyond dance itself. It goes to understanding the long term ramifications of certain movements, of where our physical power comes from no matter the movement, and how to bend movement to a more interesting way.

What I bring to the community has been viewed as a threat by some leaders, which is something I still shake my head at in lack of understanding. I did not come in with the same package of information at all. I did not come in with mal-intent toward any other schools. I came in for the betterment of the community so that students could see dance from a different perspective. I want my students to understand concepts from other genres that strengthen their preferred genre. This cross genre training allows for new inputs to the brain and nervous system allowing more complex patterns to be achieved and developed in the body.

Being taken aside and scolded for growing my brand and school was not something for which I was prepared. I was dumbfounded. It made me question whether I wanted to be part of the community because it seems I would have larger, more deeply serrated knives to pull out of my back if I continued forward with my vision. For a month, I contemplated folding as the toxicity of these bullies did not seem like the effort to develop my programs would have enough fulfillment to be worth dealing with these people. It took soul searching to understand why I was doing this.

When I dug deep, I realized why I wanted to be here. It was about transference of information to those who were open to hearing it. A necessary transference due to a neurological illness that could take me down at any time. I want to make sure my students and succeeding teachers receive my information while I can still demonstrate and give it. It is important to me to pass on the information as quickly and clearly as possible so that it does not get lost with the the illness. I had to pick myself up, verify that I was going to be okay and that the other’s ignorance was not going to take me down.

Choose Your Associates Well

Judgement is a part of human nature. It is inherent in keeping ourselves safe – if we were in nature we would constantly be judging environment and other animals to protect our longevity. We have driven that judgement into some dysfunctional methods. We are judged on our hair, how nice we smell, how well our skin looks, how we are dressed, how our body looks esthetically. This is part of our societal culture and within dance culture it can be exponentially greater. Aside from the physical, there is often associative judgement of who is in your circle.

Sometimes life still feels like high school. There are the cool kids, the geeks, the nerds, the misfits, and those that either don’t care or are blissfully unaware that they are required to fit into a group.  There are leaders seemingly promoting this high school mentality within their following. Why? My guess is they are trying to have the popularity they had or maybe lacked in that era of life. Maybe this is the nature of small communities? But does it have to be so?

I think there are actions by leaders that breed and reinforce this divisive mentality. Leaders pressuring for exclusive studying with themselves is a contributory factor because if students feel they MUST be exclusive with their leader, they have to choose carefully who they are going to commit their time. My question is what right does a leader have to demand exclusivity? The leaders are not paying you – you are paying them. It would be the same as a store you buy from demanding exclusivity of your shopping. I think you would tell them to take a flying leap.

It hurts the community having this pressured exclusivity. I see students feeling squirrelly when they are even thinking of stepping outside of some of these leaders classes as they are afraid – actually afraid – of the repercussions. Should there be repercussions for a student trying to gain holistic education? If you are required to limit your learning through exclusivity, you are limiting your knowledge growth rate. Hearing information from various directions on the same topic, your brain will connect the dots quicker than if you are only getting a linear input. If you are studying various genres simultaneously, the various inputs will increase your coordination faster.

When students realize that they are in the drivers seat, it will create a stronger community. Eliminating having to choose the coolest leader to associate with will also create strength. After all, this is supposed to be a community not a group of cults. With less judgement of association and more cross-support of leaders, everyone wins – especially the students! Stand up for yourself and protect your right as a customer to protect your best interest in learning from every leader that aligns with your learning pathway. Be strong, brave, and allow yourself to spread your wings and grow.

The Tightrope Walk

Have you ever walked a tightrope? It’s a classic circus apparatus requiring extreme balance. Many factors are involved in the balance – amount of slack, material deformation, personal weight, inner ear health, ability to be present. Any modification in these factors can be devastating to the walk and cause a fall.

Living a life outside the norm is a tightrope walk. It takes courage. In the artistic profession, there are so many things to balance that can make normalcy nearly unachievable. Maybe we are selected for this profession due gravitation toward abnormal? There is a factor of risk – financial, physical, mental, emotional. These risks can easily sway and throw the balance.

The financial balance is seemingly obvious, but it is a more complex component in this tightrope walk than observed at first glance. There is the balance between accessibility to and the pureness of art. Accessibility can be viewed as soul-sucking servitude in exchange for financial stability. Being purely artistic and poorly understood is a serious financial risk. It can make you famous or lost in the mix. If an artist can reach into an observer’s soul and touch something unspeakable, it can result in fame. Achieving this is difficult requiring brilliant design, often subconscious.

The physical balance is also seemingly obvious with physical artists. We are always trying to outdo our own work to keep things fresh for those we entertain and to challenge ourselves. In pushing to outdo, we can stretch our physical capacity and cause a break. Pushing toward greater achievement is a temptation from which it is hard to turn. It is a drug so tempting. Finding that limit of where physical boundaries are pushed but the body is better rather than broken. It is a drug that takes many artists out of their performance career permanently and can change life in an instant.

Mental balance is one less discussed. The mental toughness to survive in artistic profession is hard. To be a working artist, it takes a special perseverance. There is perseverance against the nay-sayers swearing you will never make it. They can place such a seed of doubt from which an artist may not recover. There is perseverance against making a name amongst other talents. There is perseverance to innovate to stand apart from those talents. There is perseverance of spirit against our own self-doubt, against how hard things get. Many artists drop out of their profession because the mental game becomes unbearable and they wave their white flag in surrender.

Place these balancing points amongst attempt to lead a life with a normal person and it can be unachievable. Mix in abnormal scheduling, physical exhaustion, mental stress with someone who lives in normalcy and the combination can be deadly causing a unrecoverable tumble from the tightrope. Unless you have engaged in the life of an artist, it can be hard to understand. Even if you are engaged in their life, it can be something difficult to comprehend. As such, a trek on the artistic tightrope can be a lonely place.

I resolve to . . .

The season of new year’s resolutions is upon us! Winter has encircled us plummeting us into hibernation provoking reflection as the year closes.  We reset everything including the calendar to 01/01 seeming like we are able to erase our past and set on a new path to be better, do better, and want better for ourselves.

My resolution this year is to be get into better shape. My body aesthetic is not a concern and is not something I aim to change. However, the inner operations of my body is my concern. I have been laissez faire and taking my body’s capacity for granted. I have worked many hours in the studio and not thought about whether my body will keep up. It has withstood much punishment well, but there has been breakdown which alerts me that things are progressing in the wrong direction. So my resolution is to take better care of myself so that I can try to stave off breakdown as long as possible.

One big part of this better shape program is dedication to diet. With a busy day, I grab food unconsciously when I feel light headed rather than planning out my nutrition through the day. This demands attention as I will get busier as the businesses expand. My body needs not only enough food, but the right kind to stave off further disease in my body. I have never been a believer in false supplementation. Powdered or pre-packaged food is not something I can justify, so it will take some planning on cooking, packing, and getting everything on a schedule of preparation and intake.

Another component of the resolution is morning training to break me into new physical territory. Training consciously will tap into new aspects so that I may create new work for myself. The past quarter of a year has focused on my students and their choreography to bring them to a point of understanding body mechanics integrated with artistic movement. The new year will bring that to a shiny polish. Now it is my turn for development. I have not completely neglected my needs, but they have taken a back burner to the school and progress of those under my tutelage.

The third component is mental shape as well. I am a woman obsessed with progress. It is easy for me to justify working endlessly on projects, but it is not healthy. This has been the greatest disease of my existence. It is time for me to let that go. It is difficult as it is part of my normalcy. It makes me feel like I am contributing because I am sacrificing. But to what end? I need to contribute to myself. Find something other than work to do in my downtime from the studio. Find other things that feed my soul other than progress. This will be a large and complicated endeavour to deprogram my busy-ness, but it must be done.

So there you have my lofty list of new year’s resolve. What changes are you seeking in 2016?