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.
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.
Defeat is a strong word. For a long time, it felt like I was defeated. It felt like I had no more fight. It felt like everything I had been fighting for had been stripped from my life. I still felt like a shell at the end of the day. I admit, I didn’t feel depressed during all this. Even during the days I describe as darkness. It was more a shock and awe that had caught me by surprise.
The feeling of defeat was exhausting. One day it just left and I had this sense of surrender I had never felt in my life. I had spent my life fighting for what I believed in. Fighting for what I wanted out of my life. Fighting for what? At this point, it seemed like a wasted effort and energy. I was realizing at all this fighting had left me vulnerable. If I hadn’t fought through the pain in the first place, I may not have ended up hear. This echoed as a daily theme. I had messed up and put myself here. I was the master of my demise. I was the one who broke me because I didn’t listen.
The diagnosticians told me otherwise. That this would have happened regardless, maybe not on the exact timeline, but it was going to happen. This was the hand that I was dealt and I needed to start accepting this otherwise I was going to do my esteem damage.
That was a hard thing to accept. That something in my life was not fully in my control. I had always felt responsible for everything that happened in my life – good and bad. There were some turns of luck in either direction, but I had a hand in all of it. According to them, I did not have a hand in this and I would not have a hand in it in future. It was done. My fate was sealed. I needed to get on with my life.
Letting go of that life I had been fighting so hard for was a daily battle. There were days that I couldn’t. I could feel my roots so tightly wound around that life and I didn’t want to break those. After all, this was what I wanted since I was little. How was I supposed to unwind myself from that long and big of a dream?
Mondays were the worst. They were the days that I woke up excited to live in that life which would crumble quickly as the memory of what was happening to my body crept in and I could feel those roots tighten to hold onto what I wanted so badly.
Eventually, I got tired of the roots pulling so hard at my past. I was tired of avoiding my present let alone my future. I remember sitting by the river and making a decision that this was the fate I had been handed. I could tie my roots around it and integrate myself. I could find a new path which was unknown in every sense to me. I would be flying blind as I no longer knew what I wanted. I no longer knew where I was going. I could give in and let the new adventure begin. That night, I decided to do just that.
It took months from the diagnosis to feel like I could ever feel again. During the period up to that, I had shut down parts of me. I shut down the physical parts that hurt so much. I imagined that they weren’t there to try to help my brain shut up about the signals it was receiving. I had shut down my heart. How could anyone love me when I felt so empty and deformed? I couldn’t even find it in myself to love me.
Anyone who happened upon me and wanted to show me kindness I regarded with skepticism. I didn’t need to be rescued in my past, now or ever. I needed to rescue myself and that was difficult to explain. I was reaching for desperate treatments, hoping someone would be able to do something to help me without invading my body. I looked to everyone outside the realm of medicine. For a good 6 months, I felt like a researcher and a research experiment.
I felt like I was also a submissions department. Everyone who had found out what was happening with me had their own version of a cure that I just had to try. And I did for a while. Then I got tired of the submissions and put up a barrier to that help as well. I knew it was with good intention that it was conveyed, it was just time for me to have a break from chasing. The chasing was tiring. It was also harmful as it seemed to keep giving a false sense of hope that landed me flat on my face when it ran out.
I put up a wall to myself. If I didn’t admit how tortured I felt being in this body, maybe my body would stop torturing me. It was like my mind and my body were trapped in a room together and it was a fight to the death. The mind was losing to the body. So the mind tried to not give into the body after a time. Maybe if I stopped acknowledging my body through verbal confirmation of the situation to others, maybe the body would stop misbehaving and return to its normal self. When those who knew would ask, sometimes I would not even answer or just change the subject. It was hard to deal with the pity on their face. I tried not to pity others as it felt like I was shaming them. Seeing the pity in other’s faces, definitely made me feel shame for having this weakness.
Living in denial, believing that everything that was happening was nothing but a dream, helped cope with the day to day. The devastation seemed all too unreal to fathom that it could be anything but. I was waiting, putting on hold, truly waiting to wake up.
The day that reality set in was the day that I was diagnosed. It felt like the messenger had taken a sword through me and let me walk away punctured. It felt like a slow bleed. My mind was in shock. I didn’t believe what I had just been told. I was leaving the messenger, on my way back to home and I couldn’t breathe. I could feel the crumble of the past months piling on top of me. Choking me with the weight of it all. It took a while before I could even really cry about it. There had been so many tears in the beginning because I didn’t understand what was happening. Now that I had a glimpse of understanding, it should have felt better, shouldn’t it?
Was the truth worse than waiting for the wake up? For a time, it felt like it. The holding pattern I had been in seemed to continue no matter how I plotted to end it. There had been uncertainty before as to where my life could take me. Now there was uncertainty about what this all really meant. It wasn’t going to be an imminent death sentence, but it almost felt like that would have been better. Then I would have an end in site. This just felt like an abrupt end with no light to guide me to the next chapter.
What was I going to do in the next chapter? I had no idea. I was still a shell. I had no life essence. I had no meaning. I had no direction. How was I supposed to grow from nothing? I had lost everything by this point, but a few basic possessions. What was I going to do? Being a shell, I felt that I had nothing to build on. Like building a home made of straw. I wasn’t even enough to be considered flimsy straw.
Creating original choreography is thrilling. Discovering a song that just makes my brain keep going until I stop seeing the dance that goes with it. Reading a poem and visualizing bodies expressing it on the stage. An idea that comes out of nowhere that can only be expressed physically. The process can take many forms and be inspired in many ways.
Building original choreography can be a challenge – even if there are many minds at work helping create it. It is being within the body rather than outside. It has been a while since I have been choreographed and I admit that I am enjoying it. In years past, I didn’t believe in myself. I did not believe I could create original works that others would like to see. That doubt still creeps in, but the response to performances have been such that I am believing I have a creative voice in this community and something to contribute. Something that can touch people at a level that they may not be able to express which I have seen throughout the summer. It is amazing to be able to move people.
That being said, there is something amazing about being someone’s instrument – being choreographed. Knowing what it is like being the choreographer – being responsible, exposed, and vulnerable – then giving that over to another person is an exercise in trust. I am handing my reputation, body, and control over to another person. I am giving them carte blanche to do with me as they please. It can go both ways. I can end up being part of something that has the influence of my own work. I can end up being part of something that is fluff.
The process of being choreographed is like being on So You Think You Can Dance – some pieces are epic, some pieces are flops. Regardless of the success in either direction, there is something to be learned from every piece. Even as far back as my childhood, I can recall lessons I learned from that period. If you are being choreographed rather than choreographing, be present. Be aware of your choreographer’s process. Become the instrument they want. Let yourself morph from what you are comfortable being, into something so different that you didn’t know you had in you. Every work is an opportunity to grow and learn if you can let yourself go. Surrender.
It took a while for everything to finish its crumble. While in the midst of observing, I started to find this quiet inside. This quiet that I had not experienced before. This quiet that was deafening. I had never understood that phrase until I experienced it. I would want to blast my music and daydream to get away from this blasting quiet. It made me afraid to be still because I didn’t want it. I didn’t want any part of it.
I was who I was and I was okay with it. I liked who I had become as an adult. I was doing good things with my life. I was capable. I was in many’s eyes exceptional. I had accomplished more than many would across multiple lifetimes. I was doing things that others didn’t dare to do because they were too afraid to dare. I was proud of myself until the crumble started.
Then, I didn’t know myself anymore. My identity as a provider, a giver, a contributor disappeared with my career. Even my physical life was stripped away. All that was left of me was the shell I had covered up with accomplishments. I had always felt complete in my accomplishments, my provision, my giving, my contributions. Without them, I didn’t know myself anymore. I didn’t know who I was without all these medals of honour I had collected. I had always known that I was good at accomplishing, providing, giving, and contributing. Beyond those things, I felt worthless. Losing those abilities rendered me worthless.
I started to wonder if my time here was supposed to be coming to an end. Maybe I had burned too bright and my fuel was running out and I was going to crash. Crash is a good descriptor of what it felt like. I felt like I had fallen off the pedestal that I had been reluctantly placed on – I was always comfortable being exceptional in private, the public part of it was difficult – and I cracked wide open to find that there was nothing there.
I truly felt like an empty facade. Relaxing back and watching how everything had unfolded was an experience I sometimes wished I could hand back. I wanted nothing more than to be done observing, experiencing, and hiding the pain of what I was going through. I wanted this nightmare to be over and for me to just wake up to my former life. It wasn’t to be so.
Fear can be a phenomenal motivator to stop moving forward. Why? There is discomfort in fear. There is a chemical reaction that happens that puts us into a state of increased self-protection to keep ourselves physically safe. Those who are thrill seekers like this chemical reaction and seek ways to provoke it in order to get that adrenaline high (also known as fight or flight). Those who don’t like it, often do everything in their power to hide from it.
I have usually been a “lean into the discomfort” kind of girl all my life. I liked the thrill of putting myself far out of my comfort zone in order to see what happened. Usually, nothing bad happened. The odd fractured bone or other physical injury may have ensued which my parents were just in love with having a dare devil child. For such a shy little girl, I was unpredictable in my physical adventures. I still have this dare devil streak of which I am thankful to have never grown out. I think that this far into my life, if I still have it, I am stuck with it for life. Truly, lucky me. I know a few people who would love to have that trait, even just an ounce of what I have.
I have been called adventurous all my adult life which I never fully understood until I started comparing what my life was like to those of others. I am truly a laissez faire person when it comes to other’s lives. If it makes you happy, great. If it doesn’t fit into my perception, I won’t try to change you, but I may not stick around. If you are happy being vanilla, stuck in your life, making harmful choices, that is your option and there is nothing I will do about it unless you ask how to change.
My answer to a lot of thrill related situations I am presented with is why not. If I have done something a few times, given it a fair shake, and I still don’t like doing it, I won’t repeat the behaviour. However, even if it seems like the scariest thing ever, and I haven’t tried it, I venture into my why not mentality so that I can put myself into a new experience. This life truly is short, so why not get as much experience out of it?
I love being involved in many genres of dance. Maybe I have a little ADHD in me. Maybe I am easily distracted. Whatever the reason, it allows me to pull insight from various sources to create, to dance, and to grow. This is a blessing in my eyes. I never knew when I started on this adventure that everything I did – even those things that seem like grievous mistakes – have all come full circle. I am in a place where I can now reflect on this adventure and use all this information to advantage. Even the stuff I hate comes in handy, because the hatable parts are usually those that require the most attention.
One thing that I best learned from this adventure is that having moments of stillness punctuate more beautifully than physicality. I have been in pieces where I was on stage totally still or just slowly walking. Those were the parts that the audience always remembered best. The quiet seems to sink in, especially in the midst of the chaotic. There are a few genres where the stillness is avoided. People involved in some genres just want to go at full speed and never give the audience or themselves a moment to breathe. This makes for a stressful performance for the audience. The brain is so stimulated that it absorbs nothing but maybe the colour of the costume. Allowing some breathing room into the dance doesn’t betray anything to the genre. It does allow for remembrance.
If you think of it this way . . . you throw a grand trick into your choreography. From the time the audience sees it, recognizes that it was grand, puts their hands together to acknowledge it was grand, this takes time. Allowing this time for the audience to digest grand moments is part of the art of performing. If you throw the grand trick in the middle of fast movement with no calmness after the movement to absorb it, the trick gets lost. This allows for no acknowledgement to the audience either that they acknowledged you.
Punctuation with silence can also be a way to add character to choreography. Think of hip hop dancers. They often will pause either on their feet or in a grand trick. During that pause, there will often be a cheeky look at the crowd to acknowledge, “Oh, yeah I did.” Those moments endear the performer to me and make me want to giggle. All the tricks and speed in the world never touch me like that. It’s those quiet moments of interaction that do.
I have definite opinions about technique and how it applies to dances. My friends know this as I can argue adamantly about how some dances and dancers refuse basic technique. I find it wondrous when I see people who have been dancing at a professional level for a long time in certain dances, that they are still not using basic dance techniques that benefit us all across all genres.
Believe me, my technique is not perfect. I have to work on it everyday and I guess that is why I am still in this industry. There is always something to work towards. There is never going to be a perfect performance. Nothing in my dance life will ever be good enough not to continue working on it. There will never be enough rehearsals before a show. There will never be enough time to get to the point where I actually think I am great. That is what keeps me hungry and motivated in the dance world to continue pushing myself to be better.
I still study under others weekly or more often because it gives me the opportunity for growth. My eyes are critical about what they see in the mirror. My brain has a lot of calculating to do while trying to watch – activation of the right muscle groups, the balance between relaxation and strength, remembering technique that I am supposed to apply. These, among many other, things are going through my brain which is an overload at times. That and trying to be self-critical can be a bit much. This is why coaches are so important.
I am lucky that I came from a competitive background as a kid. I was always being evaluated (almost to a flaw). Criticism was always welcomed in my world. Okay, almost always – I still have feelings and an ego that can be bruised. There was always someone trying to improve my technique in gymnastics, arts, and other sports. An outside eye was just what I was used to.
External criticism was so commonplace that it took self-discipline to be able to criticize myself as that had always been someone else’s job. This criticism was needed to slow myself down. To delve deeper into movements and try to explore their limits. Trying to keep my balance while also trying to move through balance challenging techniques takes gut and drive. This is part of where the self-criticism comes into place. To be able to improve during times where I don’t have an outside eye, I have to find my edge of ability. Once that is found, I have to try to push through it. It may not be beautiful to the eye, but it will be physically progressive which is helpful in growing on my own.
In having external eyes, I do take people from different genres to participate. I want people who think the same as me, sometimes. Other times, I want someone who is my polar opposite in thought. Why? Because I want someone who is going to broaden my understanding of movement. Someone who is going to break my current technique and infuse their own into those pieces. This is the way that I know how to grow.