Category Archives: Studying

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.

Gang Mentality

For a team compilation, everything starts with the audition. We gather in a room, test out everyone to see where their level lies – or so it seems. There is so much more at play. I am monitoring the whole list at once – personality & ego, talent, and interpersonal relations. I am looking for those who will play well with others balanced with talent. If someone is seemingly off in one of the factors, it can be a deal breaker to allowing them on the team.

Personality and ego are one of the hardest things to judge. If an auditionee is someone that I have never met before, I can have one pulled over on me during that short audition. Luckily, many who audition are familiar so I can make a decision based on history. I want to know how corrections are taken, whether a person takes responsibility for their errors, whether they are good with learning new information in front of other people. These three things can be vetted quickly in an audition and are one of the greatest deciding factors.

Obviously talent is a deciding factor. Sometimes people come in with oodles of talent and they know it. They are well trained in what they have previously done. Then you throw something unexpected at them and they look like they are ready to run out the door. This isn’t always a nail in the coffin. Sometimes challenging someone’s confidence can be a great factor if they can come around to the idea by the end of the audition. Feedback after the audition is always a good place to look to see if they did recover. Sometimes there is raw talent in a group that has not been honed. Watching them learn and improve in a short audition can tell a lot about where they can end up.

Interpersonal relations is my most important determining factor. Why? If someone isn’t going to be a team player, they don’t belong on my team. There is a difference between the soloist and the group performer. Being able to put yourself out there as a soloist or in a single partnership is a great talent. It takes guts and courage to do this. Being part of a team is equally courageous – sometimes more courageous. As a team member, we have to hand over our control to the group. We have to dance within the parameters of the choreography, be synchronized with our team mates, and blend within the group. There is not a place to try to be the star. Everyone has to share that status.

Trying to pick the best mix of these things is tricky. Any director can attest to this. Sometimes we pick wrong as well if we become enamoured with an auditionee that seems to have it all while later finding out that they are not a great fit with the team atmosphere. Give your director credit for putting themselves out there to try to bring people together in a team atmosphere. It is a complicated maneuver.

 

Point of Diminishing Returns

You are keen and hungry for knowledge of every kind. You want to take this class and that class and become a perfectionist of all genres . . . all at once. As a teacher, I see this often. I have students who want to know everything . . NOW! Is this a realistic perspective? There are two polar approaches I witness. One is all in for one genre with no cross training at all. The other is in too many genres with no specialization at all.

It is not to say that you can’t become amazing at many dances. Of course you can. Knowledge can be acquired at great depth in many dances and one person can be amazing at different genres. This doesn’t happen overnight though. Masters of many have trained extensively for a time in a single genre while maintaining their other knowledge. When you have genres that require specific training e.g. a dance where the torso doesn’t twist versus one that requires frequent twisting, it can be hard to train extensively at both simultaneously because the body needs to understand and develop the engrams to that one movement well so that when the music for that genres comes on, the body kicks into that genre of movement inherently. That doesn’t happen overnight and sometimes it never does start to naturally happen for some people.

So what is the best approach to training? Balance is key. If you want to excel at one dance, and enjoy variety, this is a great approach. Try to pick things that are complimentary to the genre you are training or a non-dance training to complement e.g. gyrotonics, restorative exercise, fitness, yoga or conditioning classes. Choose something that will make you strong without confusing the movement you are trying to program into your brain and body.

All too often we want to gorge on our genre and are left feeling exhausted or defeated by it shortly down the road. Too much of a good thing can be too much. It is always good to have balance in life between social, physical, emotional, financial, and psychological well-being. Investing too much in one aspect of any one of these can tip the scales to being unwell which is not what we ever intend. If you are bent on one major genre right now, take a look at what you can cross-train in to keep yourself motivated, having fun, and enjoying your dance life.

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.

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?

Finding Strength

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.

 

The Journey

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

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?