That was Teacher and me at my last lesson. I was the one yelling in frustration.
It was the first lesson after the practice rounds on Saturday. Teacher had gotten comments back from the studio owner. I love getting these critiques and to my relief, there was nothing surprising. There is something comforting about learning that there isn’t anything major that you’ve been doing wrong that both you and your partner were unaware of. All of the comments were things Teacher and I have discussed and worked on before.
While comforting, it can also be frustrating. I’m STILL messing that up!? How many times does it take to get it through my thick skull?
It’s not that I don’t know the correct technique though; it’s just not conditioned in my body to the point I don’t need to think about it. So when I’m thinking about swaying my head, I’m not thinking about keeping my core engaged and pulled back. Focus on my top and my feet forget what they’re doing. I think we’ve all experienced this. Our bodies are much slower learners than our brains.
There is another kink in the chain though. While trying to remember what I’m supposed to do or not do, I’m also fighting habits that I’ve had for decades.
This is where my yelling came in. Teacher had two main comments of his own from the practice rounds. I wasn’t pulling my core back like I should and I wasn’t keeping my eyes up.
No matter what I’m doing or where I am, if I’m not actively engaged in something, in that moment my eyes will drop. The resting place for my eyes is down toward the ground, always. If I’m walking somewhere, my eyes are down. If I need to think during a conversation, I look away and down. Down is safe and familiar.
You’re not supposed to look down when you dance. There might be moments when a downward look is acceptable for stylistic reasons. Typically though, eyes should be up, at least parallel to the floor.
Teacher wanted me to practice keeping my eyes up. He demonstrated how even in my approach, I would start out great with my eyes focused on his outstretched hand. But as soon as I started to turn my head and take my two steps toward him, my eyes would briefly drop and then raise again as I got into closed hold. It introduced doubt into my dance before it even began.
Of course, doubt is one of my ever-present demons so it is there for every dance! That doesn’t mean I should let others see it though.
I thought it would be a cinch. If I was consciously focused on keeping my eyes up, I could do it easily. Ha! The first approach, Teacher stopped me and said my eyes dropped. I almost started arguing with him, but he was right in front of me staring at my face the whole time. So he must have been right. I didn’t feel it at all though. Even while consciously thinking “eyes up,” my eyes naturally dropped to their safe place. The second attempt, I stopped myself. I was aware of the eye movement this time but only just after it happened.
It took a few more tries, but I finally kept my eyes up during my whole approach.
It was on my mind again today as I was walking the dogs. Such a little thing, but it made such a huge difference. I could see it in my photos and videos. When I drop my eyes, I also internalize and disconnect from those around me, so no one else can be a part of my dancing. But the whole point is to express outwardly and connect, whether it’s just to your partner or to an audience.
I tried keeping my eyes up as my boys and I strolled through our apartment complex. It was so hard! Somehow I felt vulnerable. Anyone could make eye contact with me at any time! My chin was lifted, so my throat was exposed! I can’t see the ground right beneath me, I’m going to trip and make a fool of myself!
A lot of ridiculous thoughts went through my head. I was amazed and a little annoyed at how deeply ingrained this act of keeping my eyes down was.
This habit may take awhile to break, but I’m hoping as I get stronger and more confident in other technique, I won’t doubt myself as much and won’t feel the need to stare at the nice, safe floor that never judges or attacks. I’ll feel confident enough to hold my head and my eyes high! I’m sure there will be plenty more lessons before then with me exclaiming in frustration as Teacher tells me once again, “you dropped your eyes.”
My second weekly lesson is scheduled for tomorrow, so I won’t have to wait long to see if pondering this habit will shake it loose at all.
In the meantime, happy dancing!