What I often find when teaching class is that I have to take a moment to invite dancers to bring their whole selves into the studio space. Not just the physical version of them that has a kick-butt tendu or a killer right leg extension. Whole self. All of you.
This even happens at open class level, which is where you often take class once you’ve graduated from your home studio [the one that part-raised you, helped grow you and gave you your foundation and so much more ;)] The temptation is to turn up in the best physical way. Which is awesome. Every ounce of body training, engagement, alignment and precision will be there. But there’s more. Your dance skill set has more to it than execution.
When you walk into a studio what I find most constructive is to leave your 'judgy' stories, labels, self-sabotage skills, expectations and insecurities at the door and take the rest of you right on in. Because when you dance I want to see YOU. Not your body making shapes because I’m telling it to.
Here’s the thing. When you show up and focus just on the physicality it looks just like that. The cross the floor work can seem wooden and the combination a series of arms, legs, rotation, contractions etc… lacking that extra something. Funnily enough, when I gently point this out to dancers, that they may be concentrating too hard on physically nailing even the simple walks across the floor, so concerned to 'get it right' and put their body to work - they usually smile. And exhale. All of a sudden they've really arrived now they've let go of the vice grip.
That extra something? It’s you. Your animation, your expression, your emotion, your story, your experience, your vulnerability, your unique take and interpretation, your magic. And we want to see it. Because dance is so much more than just what your body does.
Dance is a conversation.
Our shapes & movement are our words.
Trying to repeat them in someone else’s voice is never as powerful as speaking up with your own.
Important point here: I DO believe in learning other people’s choreography and listening to the way they wish for it to be danced and performed. This is how we grow and learn to make choices outside of our comfort zone. Let’s be real – if we only ever do our own choreography we’ll consistently choose the stuff that feels natural and, in our opinion, works. The catch with this? Only ever hearing your own opinion limits your ability to connect with others. It’s also no way to expand your vocabulary and explore other ways of moving, communicating and reaching each other OR the audience (back to my first sentence – this is the reason for conversation!!)
Here’s what I mean…
A scriptwriter creates a script, spells out the words that make up the story to be told. Each actor that comes in to audition is given a portion of the script. With guidance, context and information from the casting director each one gives their version of a character. IN THEIR OWN VOICE. The words off the page are the same, the voice is the difference. There’s no way one actor can 'voice transplant' to be another. Some do give very clever impersonations but most realize that impersonating is only ever going to be a lesser version of SOMEBODY ELSE. Entertaining for a moment but not a place to live.
Power and impact lives in the unique take and voice that each individual brings. One person will be hired. This doesn’t mean the rest were wrong.
The WAY you breathe life into the shapes we make as dancers is your voice. Your tone and energy are felt in the choices you make + how you apply the direction and instruction given. And respond (not react) to the feedback. This makes all the difference – your voice won’t be a fit for everything but you WILL find that when it is – it comes so much more easily to be yourself than keep up the effort to be somebody else.