Wednesday, July 29, 2009

One (Year)

Exactly one year ago today I began reclaiming my dancer's soul.

I honor this day as a wonderful birthday of sorts, because the decision to dance again changed my life. (Dancing -- or not -- has always brought change.)

When I left my first class a year ago, I was wobbly and inspired. I was frustrated, too, because it was clear that I had a lot to work on.

I decided to give it a year.

I pledged to pass no judgment on myself for a year. I would not critique myself, I would simply show up, do the work and see what happened. I would strive to give myself unconditional acceptance, in part because it was offered to me by strangers -- two men who became my teachers and 100+ classes later, also have become my friends.

Silencing my inner critic is no easy task. It was really important to have reinforcements in that battle.

I persisted, and a lot happened in a year. 125+ hours of class and rehearsals. 2 musical theatre workshops. 2 new pairs of dance shoes. 1 recital in a red dress. 1 blog. Countless new friends.

What a difference a year makes.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Dancing With ... Myself

On Wednesday I did something that made me absolutely giddy: I rented a dance studio for one hour, all to myself.

Luxury, I know.

I prepared my iPod with a playlist of music from my favorite class and showed up 30 minutes early to relax and contemplate my opportunity. After a strong warmup, I had 25 minutes to "play."

Being alone in a dance studio had a slight "blank page" effect on me. Where to start? What to do? What will come out? One of my classmates encouraged me last month to have this "alone time" to dance. She assured me that I would know what to do. And I did figure it out, piecing together some turn combinations and then dancing a handful of pieces that I have learned in class. My nifty brain, loaded with memory and logic, figured it out.

Afterward, it occurred to me that my body knows a lot, too. But my brain is a persistent, dominant force in my dancing right now. It is time to get it out of the way.

It may not be easy. I realized this two months ago.

One day in May, I left a class full of frustration (I usually leave happy). We were learning a section of famous choreography from A Chorus Line, Music & The Mirror, an exuberant, desperate, vulnerable dance. It is earnest, raw, fierce. And trying to learn just 60 seconds of it created serious discord between my emotional (but emotionless) body and my brain.

Listening to this song alone, I feel this dance. Watching it on YouTube is so stirring that I'm nearly exhausted when it ends. Seeing Cassie turn, shimmy, spin, prance across the stage reminds me of a young girl whirling around the living room, creating a spontaneous dance that belonged only to her. That was me, around age 9 or 10. (I'm sure it wasn't so pretty -- but it FELT great.)

That frustrating day in May, I realized that my expectations stand in the way of my expression. Yes, the dance is hard, and I wouldn't expect to learn it in a day or even a month. (I'd like to take a year to work on it, but that's another story.) Even as my brain recognizes the facts about its difficulty, it bellies up to the barre with a load of half-cocked opinions. So as I tried to learn parts of Music & the Mirror, all I could hear was "how does this look, why do you feel silly, are you really going to do it like that -- and by the way, who do you think YOU are to even try?"

A dancer's emotions don't have an ice cube's chance in hell at that point.

In separate conversations recently, both of my teachers have noted my opportunity for emotional (or artistic) growth. So now that those cards are on the table, I want to play. I am not sure how. Without belaboring my ongoing brain v. body bout, it's not surprising that I go looking for more advice.

Well, the bellydancers are talking, and I'm listening. In a very poignant letter, a dancer asks how she can improve her sensuality when she performs. Can it be learned? In the thoughtful response, the teacher recognizes the role of technique before contemplating the role of -- or lack of -- soul. Is it, she writes, "Maybe you were so busy thinking about what to do next that you forgot to simply enjoy what you were doing."

Uh, yeah. That's definitely part of it. I've been saying for a year that my brain only has three channels to mix with -- hear music, remember the steps and move my body -- you want emotion with that?

My opportunity to grow isn't about increasing my "inputs" -- it is about trusting the output.

Because I feel vulnerable when I dance.

(And bless my stubborn brain, it may just be trying to protect me.)

For the last year, one of the many gifts I've received from my teachers is the lesson of learning character, of assuming a persona while dancing. To say that I received this gift is not to imply that I've completely unwrapped it. But I am aware of the connection between identity and performance.

Being yourself or creating a persona -- either can be a vulnerable endeavor for a timid dancer's soul. I found some empathy for my fear of vulnerability, again, among the belly dancers. But the empathy is followed by strong, sage advice -- go deep within yourself to find a character that's part of you, that is your source of emotion, then use it. "You can't be afraid to make yourself vulnerable. Give your throat to the wolves."

Next week I'm going back to the studio for another hour to myself, to see how it feels.