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!
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.
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.
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.
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 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?
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.
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.
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.
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.