I’ve been itching for a new blog post topic, but my dancing has been limited lately. It’s hard to write about dancing when you’re not doing much of it! For awhile, I was dancing four days a week between private lessons with Teacher and Teacher’s friend and Teacher’s group class. So spoiled! But right now it’s just my private lessons twice a week with Teacher. Rhythm is progressing painfully slowly (at least to me), but there are “clicks” here and there. Teacher even did a little celebratory jig over my rumba during our last lesson. And we finally went through the swing routine. Only two dances to go!
This post was inspired by something other than my reduced dancing schedule though. I saw this article on Facebook about ballroom not being thought of as an expressive dance and it reminded me of something that occasionally bugs me, like a little burr in the back of my brain.
Of course, with expression being my biggest challenge, my first reaction to the article was anyone who considered ballroom as lacking expression didn’t know what they were talking about. I don’t have anxiety attacks over non-expression! The article does a lovely job of pointing out all the ways that ballroom IS an expressive dance, particularly in the way you converse with your partner through your movements. The part that triggered the inspiration for this post, however, was the last sentence of the very first paragraph: “But an expressive dance is defined by more than range of motion alone.”
What followed was a picture of two girls doing standing splits on a pier with the caption “We’re expressing!” This image and caption sums up what has been bothering me, that dancers and their level of skill are defined by their flexibility or range of motion.
I follow a few photographers and dance publications on social media that publish daily photos of dancers on their feeds. I like seeing and learning about these strong and beautiful people who are pursuing their dance passions. But it seems like everyone is depicted in some kind of split pose.
Granted, to be able to stretch your legs into a split, whether it’s standing or on the ground or while leaping through the air, is an impressive feat. It seems to be a symbol of the dancer. The iconic dance move. Want me to prove I’m a dancer? Watch me pull my leg straight up over my head.
So where does that leave me? I can’t do a split. My adult body isn’t as flexible as I’d like, despite my attempts to stretch regularly. What if I can never do a split? Maybe it’s too late for me, since I didn’t start when I was still young and pliable. What if I can’t even lift my leg higher than my hip? Does that mean I’ll never be a “real” dancer?
If I was to believe the message that social media seems to be feeding me, I would have to say yes.
I’ve made jokes and sarcastic comments to Teacher that I’ll never do well in the Open levels of ballroom because I can’t do the tricks that people break out when they’re not restricted to the syllabus, like super high leg extensions or kicks and the splits. I can’t do those eye-catching, photo-worthy moves that thrill the audience and grab the judges. My body just isn’t conditioned for them. All I have are my ballroom figures.
Luckily, Facebook and Instagram are not reality. The photos that I admire every day are representative of just one tiny part of what is means to be a dancer. Yes, people who dance are generally strong and flexible. But just because I can’t stretch my legs so far that they’re pointing in opposite directions does not mean I’m not a dancer.
Another thing I’ve seen on social media and I’ve shared on my own feeds is a meme with a quote reportedly by Martha Graham, a famous dancer and choreographer:
I completely agree with the thought and I love that whoever created the meme chose a picture of Ms. Graham in a dance pose that is not a split. It doesn’t even show her entire body, but it certainly shows her passion and commitment to her craft in that moment. Seeing something like this among all of the photos of hyperflexible dancers reassures me that despite my relative inflexibility, I can still become a great dancer.
There is so much more to being a dancer than range of motion, especially when you considered how many different types of dance are out there! I realize that the photos filling my social media feeds that are identified as photos of “dancers” are actually photos of ballet dancers. It’s an important distinction since the skills needed to become a great ballerina are very different from those needed to become a great hip hop dancer or ballroom dancer. But they are still all great.
So don’t worry if you can’t do a split or some fancy leg extension. We can still become great dancers without pulling our legs over our heads!