Don’t get in your own way.

This week in Folkloric Fusion class with the incomparable Andrea Sendek, we focused on trusting our muscle memory, our bodies’ own intelligence, and letting the movements happen. Those attending the class are all experienced and dedicated dancers, and we have quite a lot of technical training… but many of us think a lot, maybe too much, about what we’re doing when we do it, and that analytical thought gets in the way of letting the dance flow from our whole bodies, from the tops of our heads to the tips of our toes.  I know that I struggle with this a lot.  When I taught regular weekly classes, I sometimes saw this in my students, beginners and more experienced ones.

A few weekends ago, I went ice skating again for the first time in several years.  The first step on the ice was strange, but I was wearing my old familiar skates, which brought me some comfort that I wouldn’t actually kill myself.  I kept telling myself, “You can do this.  You did this for 14 years.  This is all still in your muscle memory.”  And it was.  First I just skated around the rink.  Then I let myself try out single rotation jumps, one by one.  Salchow. Toe Loop. Flip.  All OK.  After a few hours of ice time, I worked up the nerve to try an Axel, which is 1.5 rotations in the air.  And I surprised myself with how easy it was… once I just got out of my own way and let it happen. Once I trusted my body, I was able to land a jump that I hadn’t actually attempted in years.  (So many years that I can’t remember the last time I had tried an Axel.)

With any sort of movement, whether it’s sports or dance or painting, if we have trained and dedicated time to ingraining an action in our bodies, we know it.  Of course we can always improve our skills, but I think a very difficult thing for adults is to trust it.  To let it happen.  To breathe and mentally step out of the way.  Children don’t seem to have this second-guess quality in to their thoughts the way that adults do.  They just do something, and part of that is because they’re too young to have a lot of people tell them they can’t.  They’re also too young to think that they can’t.  Many times when we find something difficult or it seems outside our reach, it isn’t because it isn’t attainable… it’s because we psych ourselves out of it.  We tell ourselves, “Oh, that’s too hard,” or “That’s scary”, or “Oh, I can’t do that”.

The reality is, though, if you tell yourself you can and that you will, you will probably surprise yourself and be able to push yourself well beyond your perceived capabilities and limits.

There’s also a really fantastic book about this topic called The Body Has a Mind of Its Own, by Sandra and Matthew Blakeslee.  It’s accessible for those without a background in neurology, and I recommend it to anyone interested in how the body learns how to move itself through space.

 

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So true… this really strikes home. Speaking as an amateur dancer, this is why I’ve always enjoyed the dance most when doing it on my own, at home… I can improvise, be spontaneous, and really enjoy the music and movement. It also makes it easier to put emotion into the dance, as I’m not so worried about it being cheesy or the like.

But don’t you think we also have a bit of a technique fetish in N. American bellydance? It’s all about skills and drills, but there are fewer resources for the more ineffable parts of dance.

 

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    I think our new-found obsession with technique is a good thing, to a point. It’s essential IF we understand that technique is the foundation on which we build our art; it is not the art itself. We must have impeccable muscle memory through which we can express ourselves physically and emotionally, whether it be through improvisation or choreography. If we don’t have the physical skills of the dance, then we’re just moving around on stage emotionally without control or finesse.

     

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