Sunday, August 28, 2011

Who's the Boss?

As the great Mary Anthony (contemporary dancer, mentor, and teacher) once said, “Technique is not an end in itself; it is the means to an end.”* Technique is important in a performance, but it is not the most important thing.  In class, “getting it right” is only important to make sure you don’t hurt yourself or others.  When movement is informed by what is within, from your heart, you and anyone watching you can feel your presence and passion.  Yes, technique is beautiful, but I’d rather see someone screw up spectacularly and passionately, than see a perfectly performed dance that is not infused with emotion.

You can dance for a teacher or an audience and try to dance the choreography perfectly.  Or you can learn the movement, let it go, and dance what is inside of you.  If you are dancing for an audience, the audience will feel your emotion and become your partner in the dance.  If you are just going for precision and what it looks like to others, the dance is only half expressed.

I was raised very strictly.  We had to say “yes, ma’am” and “yes, sir,” and we were absolutely not permitted to say “what?” to our elders.  We had to say “ma’am?” or “sir?”  I grew up in Pittsburgh, where none of my friends were “trained” to speak this way to adults.  Some of my friends’ parents would look at me wondering if I was being weirdly polite or just being fresh.  (If only!  I didn’t have the self-confidence to be fresh to anyone.)

The adults around me were so certain about everything.  They seemed infallible.  I thought my instincts about how to act in my life must be wrong, because the adults must be right.   It took me a long time to trust my gut.  For many years, I looked for validation outside of myself. And I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t very happy.  I tried to fit into a mold that just wasn’t me.

When I finally started to gradually take the messages from my gut seriously, I went a little overboard:

“Don’t tell me what to do!”
“But I was just telling you to have a good day!” 
“Oh. Well. Still.  Don’t boss me!” 

The funny thing is, when I went my own way, the people in my life who were important to me stuck with me.  Even if they were resistant and disapproving at first, they came around.  Some of them actually embraced the real me.

Dancing from your heart validates you.  It shows you and everyone else who you are.  You bring your audience with you.

When you live your life from your heart, you validate yourself.  Your actions announce to you and everyone the truth of who you are.  You bring your loved ones with you.

And no one is really the boss of you!

*Thanks to Susan Jacobson for this quote from her teacher!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Vertical Lines and My Mother

I am not a trained dancer.  I just love to dance, and I have made it my career.  Those are my only “qualifications.” 

When I was growing up, there was no possibility that I could study dance in a serious way.  My mother wouldn't consider it.  Also, as a single mother, she had no money for lessons.  Being a single mother defined her life.  (In those days, it was uncommon.)  Although she was only 35, my mother was unable to heal and move on after her divorce from my father.   She had to support four kids, and I’m sure she was afraid that I would starve if I tried to make dance a career.  That lifestyle, too, would undoubtedly lead to “premarital sex.” (Remember when that was actually a term?)  That was just too scary for my mother to contemplate.  I could dance for fun, but it could never be a vocation.   And I didn't have the confidence to question her judgment.

Because I am an expert at losing confidence—give me an inch of “maybe you’re not good enough” and I’ll make it into a mile—I think there are some things I just can’t do.  The latest is a barrel turn.

While watching the amazing dancers on “So You Think You Can Dance,” I saw a lot of barrel turns. (Turns off the floor that look as if the dancer is rolling backwards over a barrel).  I thought, I really want to learn how to do that!  And then I wondered, could I do a barrel turn? 

Why not?  At least I could try.  So I put a barrel turn in the choreography for “Summer Wind.”  The way I choreograph is to start at a very easy level and progress to more difficult levels.  My clients can choose to stay at any level they wish.

To develop a barrel turn, I started my learning process by first (a) turning in the right direction. Then, after internalizing this, I (b) arched my back and leaned my head back. Then (c) I practiced how to pliĆ© more deeply on my standing leg.  Finally, I worked on coming off the floor as I turned.  The most important part of the process, though, was first believing that if I could do (a), then I could do (b), and then (c) would naturally follow...

There have been experiments in which baby kittens were raised in environments with no vertical lines.  When the kittens were released from that environment, they bumped into chair legs because they couldn’t perceive anything that was vertical.  What they had no experience of, they actually couldn’t see.

My mother’s vertical line was having a happy life as a woman without a husband.  She couldn’t even imagine it.

When I was growing up, dance was my vertical line.  Lately, it was a really good barrel turn. 
What’s your vertical line?

You can manifest as “real” only that which you can imagine to be true.  What you think about yourself has everything to do with what you believe you can accomplish.  As you enlarge your perception of yourself, your reality will reflect greater and grander experiences.

Believe in yourself.  Believe in your right to be happy.  As you believe, so you dance.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

It's Just There

When you love dance (or painting or boating or tennis) it is just a part of you.  You don’t really have to think about whether you want to do it.  You don’t have to persuade yourself to do it.  You just do it. It’s just there. 

Love is an intrinsic part of you. It drives you to express your deepest, truest self.  Whether it’s your job, your hobby, your family, love for these things propels you along a path.  It leads you.

When you love a person unconditionally, it is not something you learn. You don’t have to think about it or persuade yourself to do it.  It’s just there.

Sometimes you can revel in love.  Sometimes you just have to accept that love is present and there’s nothing you can do about it.  It is irrevocable. It causes you to do and behave in certain ways without question. 

There have been people in my life that I love, and I really wish I didn’t.  Life would be less painful if that love were not there.  However, it is always present.  It’s like the sun.  Sometimes (frequently) you can’t feel it or see it, but it is still eternally there.

The bad news is that love can hurt you. 

The good news is that you can love unconditionally and that love leads you to your truth.

 It’s just there.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Body Intelligence, Part II

Although your body is always right about your true feelings, it does not always give you the right messages about how to move forward in your life.  Just like your body has memory and associates certain music with specific movement, your behavior can get set in patterns. 

The body is the last place to integrate new behaviors and is also the last place to let go of old behaviors.  So the behavior you may have used as a child to survive in your family, for instance, may continue to feel “right” in your body, even though you can see that these old behaviors no longer serve you.

I have a terrible time with any kind of confrontation.  I am addicted to harmony—but no one can have harmony all the time.  That’s why it’s an addiction; sometimes it’s just pretend harmony, like “I’m-dancing-as-fast-as-I-can-harmony” or “Birthday Cake” harmony*.  So, I am the Queen of Avoidance.  I will do just about anything to avoid unpleasantness.  I know (rather than feel) this avoidant behavior is wrong.  As a result, I have shame and then I’m ashamed of my shame—it just goes on and on.  Wouldn’t it be easier to speak my truth and get it over with?


Okay, yes.

I have a therapist who has helped me meet conflict rather than run and hide from it.  So, after screwing up my courage and facing the “battle” armed with my truth, my body is screaming, “STOP!  YOU’RE WRONG! NO!” However, in my thoughts, I reason it out very logically and I recognize that facing conflict with my own truth is right—even if my body has not yet internalized it. 

I have had to face conflict many times before my body would “come along.” I will probably always have trouble with confrontation, but my body has integrated the new behavior much better than I thought it ever would. 

The body is the last part of you to integrate new behaviors, and the last to let go of the old.  Your body still will never lie to you about your true feelings.  It’s just that sometimes those feelings have to be released and replaced with more healthy ones. 

 *See “Birthday Cake and Am I Dancing Too Fast?” Posted 6/26/11