Of Painting and Dancing

Training the body into new movement is a process. Whether it is a new choreography, new technique, or a new genre. You may get the surface of something new the first few times you try it, but it won’t be truly in your body.

Movements that start to happen without thinking are engrams. Rather than give a definition, I will give you an example.  If you have been driving the same car for a while, you start to control parts of the car without thought. You an insert the key without looking, adjust the radio effortlessly, grab and change the gear shift without taxing your brain. Think about when you step into someone else’s vehicle. Often, your engrams kick in related to your regular car and you try to do all the things you normally do without thought and you suddenly feel a sense of disorientation. You hit the key on the dash, you reach for the radio knob and miss, you reach for the gear shift and overreach. This is because your normal patterning of movement no longer works in the different car. When you get a new car, it takes time to develop new engrams for the spatial awareness of where everything is in the car.

The same development of movement patterns applies to dance. This development is often more complex because the movement in dance is often more complex and delicate than that of driving a new car. If you are an adult and have danced for a while, thinking to the first time you took a highly technical class be it ballet, ballroom, contemporary or the genre you have always enjoyed, you felt self-conscious at the first class if you aren’t still feeling self-conscious years into your studies. This is because the movement isn’t second nature. It is not engrained in you.

If you are studying technique behind a dance genre you are familiar with, it will be challenging to disturb the engrams you have for the genre when you are trying to bring new technique into that familiar movement. This is why you may have the technique by the end of a class, but when you revisit that movement in a familiar environment that you used to dance a different way, the technique can go away.

Application of technique takes time. It takes repetition to get it it to stick especially if it is a modification of a movement you already know. When I get an opportunity to work with a new teacher that I can study from, I am always looking to get back to basics. If I am studying a new genre, I am looking for the same thing. I want to deeply understand the fundamental technique behind the genre rather than basic patterns of it. Why? I want to develop those technical engrams from the beginning so that I don’t have to go back and relearn something and try to break the engrams of bad habits I have developed. It’s like not taping or not taping well before painting. If you do it right from the beginning, there is so much less of a mess to clean up and it saves a lot of frustration and time. I suggest you research who you are learning from if you are looking to learn good habits from the beginning  so you aren’t left with a mess a few years down the line from which you have to untrain.

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