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!