Here’s the thing…
Have we forgotten how to dance in the rain? As a performer it’s all too easy to feel anxious about that all-important technique. But it’s also important to remember that technique’s not everything. Dance is heart. It’s so much more than constant comparisons, and Instagram posts of, dare I say, frightening flexibility.
Someone who says it better…
‘You dance love, and you dance joy, and you dance dreams.’ – Gene Kelly
Here we go then…
As a musical theatre obsessed child, I loved Gene Kelly. And I still love him now. Why? He’s obviously a brilliant dancer. But he’s so much more than that. He doesn’t just dance–he tells stories.
If I asked you to close your eyes and think about that classic moment in ‘Singing in the Rain’, what would you see? Would you describe perfect pirouettes, shuffles, and arabesques? No. You’d tell me about that grin on Gene’s face, as he leans from that lamppost. A man giddy in love–and with a rocketing temperature as history relates–who made us fall in love too. Gene ‘danced joy’ and carried us along with the narrative, before he collapsed back to bed to nurse that fever. One dance. Job done. Cinematic gold–a part of movie magic that even played a part in Disney’s ‘The Great Movie Ride’ (Takes a pause to recover from the fact the ride is gone forever, and sobs quietly at desk.)
Anyway, back to business, and onto the question: have we forgotten how to simply sing and dance in the rain? Are we all getting a little too distracted with flexibility, and tricks?
Perhaps I’m a little old fashioned, but is anyone else a bit bored of the yanking-your-leg-behind-your-ear move? You’re flexible. We get it. You’re a dancer. You’re supposed to be flexible. And yes, maybe I’m a little jealous because I’m not nearly as limber as I once was, but can I be honest? I don’t care. I don’t care if you have the best flexibility. I don’t care if you have the best turnout, the best core strength or the best posture. I care about the story. I want to be transported to your world–the joy, the sorrow, the rage. That’s what dance is. Emotion. Not a constant contest in tricks. Dance, in my book, has never been a sport. It’s so much more than that. It’s art.
So to all you dancers out there, young and old, (or stiff and creaky like me) please, please, please, let yourselves dance.
Let yourselves escape in music.
Forget everyone else.
Forget ‘compare and despair’.
Let’s get creative…
I started this blog to embrace my creative writing, so I’m trying to challenge myself to write a poem, short story or flash fiction to accompany every post. (Makes another coffee. Procrastinates. More coffee.) Right, here goes…
“Tape Measure Dancing”
A piece of verse by Chrissy Kett
Hello little dancer, how do you do?
It really is so nice to see you!
Step onto the stage and show me your dance.
Time to take your opening stance.
The music begins and starts to swell
but can you hear it? I can’t tell.
Graceful lines I can certainly see
but your heart and soul makes no plea.
You may hear the music but you don’t feel.
Nothing moves your soul to reel.
Little dancer what have you done?
Just what is it that your heart’s become?
It hurts me to see what’s become of you,
destroying the art that you seek to do.
Listen to me when I now say,
little dancer put the tape measure away.
What do I mean? I hear you question
with such an odd and vague suggestion.
In response I’ll pose some questions to you
and I’d really like you to think them all through…
When was the last time you danced without measure?
Danced just for fun and simple pleasure?
Danced for joy or danced when mad?
Danced because you were grieving and sad?
Danced because if you didn’t you’d burst?
Danced without choreographing it first?
However, little dancer, when did you
last measure everything you do?
Measure your turnout, measure your strength?
Measuring every pose and length?
Pulling those legs as far as they’ll go,
measuring dance is all you know!
I beg you STOP and listen to me!
This is not how dance should be.
It isn’t a sport to be measured and won,
a race that’s run and then it’s done.
NO! It’s an art to show how you feel,
an art to feed and an art to heal.
It is beauty to make an audience cry.
Beauty to make all hearts fly.
Stop little dancer, put the tape measure away,
and listen to the music that I play.
Feel it deep within your soul and be
released from this world and set free.
Enough creativity. I’m a ‘Type A’ personality–give me a list!
Five ways dancers can defeat the ‘compare and despair’ gremlin.
Yes, I know what you’re thinking, it’s very easy for me to sit here, telling dancers how to perform, as I take a break from the stage and embrace the creative side of writing as I hide behind my desk. But perhaps that’s what gives me a fresh perspective. Perhaps that makes me feel like I want to tell young dancers all the things I wish someone had told me. Back when I could just jump into the splits without warming up first. Here are a few tips to my younger self. Maybe they’ll work for you too…
- Stop ‘Should’ Statements
Do you often find yourself using statements that include a ‘should’? I should be able to do a perfect triple pirouette. I should have a stronger core. Sound familiar? These should statements can be very damaging to our mental health, and according to ‘Very Well Mind’ they are a common negative thinking pattern. They increase anxiety and depression, and for us creative types it’s all too easy to get sucked into a vicious whirlpool of shoulds, which pull at your self-esteem as your performance swirls down the drain.
- Use SMART Goals
One way that we can work to control these pesky should statements is by using the SMART technique. ‘Mind Tools’ defines the acronym and explains that goals should be:
- Specific (simple, sensible, significant).
- Measurable (meaningful, motivating).
- Achievable (agreed, attainable).
- Relevant (reasonable, realistic and resourced, results-based).
- Time bound (time-based, time limited, time/cost limited, timely, time-sensitive).
This technique can shift the ‘compare and despair’ gremlin into something more positive, and productive.
I know, I know! Everyone’s going on about meditation. But I don’t think it needs to be a long process with bells, cushions and candles. (Unless that sounds good to you.) Even a simple few minutes of mindfulness each day can have a huge impact on self-esteem. Taking your mind away from those negative spirals and boosting that all important performance confidence.
I’m a huge fan of the Calm app–there are so many different meditations and features to boost positivity. It’s something I really wish I’d had when I was back in college.
Dance doesn’t always have to be so controlled. Dare to look awful. Who cares? Put some music on, step away from the mirror or the camera, and just go for it. Feel the music, lose yourself completely. Isn’t that why you fell in love with dance in the first place? Before you took lessons, and started worrying about perfecting every little movement? Turn up the volume on your favourite tunes. (Starts dancing to Earth Wind and Fire…)
- Make the Studio your Stage
Forget class. Let yourself put on a show. Who cares what your classmates think? Ok, fine. I know you care. I did too. But I really wish I hadn’t. I really wish I’d just danced for me, and enjoyed all those wonderful lessons that I’ll never get back. They’re finished. And the truth is I never enjoyed them as much as I should have. (Sorry for the should.) But that’s true. I didn’t. I was too worried about my flat feet (thanks Dad–apparently, I couldn’t inherit Mum’s perfect arches for pointe work) or too concerned that I’d got the exact choreography, or about the placement of my arms. I was so busy worrying, I forgot to DANCE! Be selfish. Imagine you’re on the biggest stage in the world. Don’t wait for your next performance. Do it now. I’m the biggest introvert there is. I loved performance because I got to become someone else. The trouble is if you only let that character break free on the stage, they might not get to come out very often. So why not let them out in the studio too?
Let’s cut to the last eight bars shall we?
I confess I’ve stolen this from my mother-in-law, but it’s one of her many sayings that I just love.
It’s all too easy to focus on technique–all too easy to compare yourself to others, and lose the whole point of the dance. Don’t strive for perfection. It’s impossible. And boring. Tell the story. Show the emotions.
Dance in the rain.
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Want to read more?
Hi, I’m Chrissy! I’ve started this blog to celebrate the Arts. I’m a performer who’s taking a little break from being a ‘talking prop’, and am enjoying the teaching and writing side of things. If you want to know a little bit more about me and my writing journey check out my About page.
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