I know it’s been longer than usual since I last posted. Searching for a place to live has been stressing me out of my gourd, which has left me with some major writer’s block. Some other things have been adding to the stress level too, and with Teacher out of town last week, I didn’t have any dance lessons to provide relief. So when this inkling of an idea pushed its way to the front of my mind, I jumped on it. The block has been alerted to its presence though, so hopefully it survives long enough for me to create something worth reading. (I have this image of this dark shadow slowly creeping toward the tiny glowing creature that is my inspiration inkling.)
The inkling was inspired by my lesson with Teacher last night (finally, after a week and a half!) and recent comments left on this blog post from 2015. Two years ago, I had pondered at what point I could call myself a dancer, as opposed to just a girl who dances. I wondered if I didn’t practice enough or have the right body or started too late to be able to call myself a “real dancer.” I didn’t go to school for dance. It isn’t my profession.
The recent comments on the post brought up the question of payment. The reader who wrote them dances almost every day of the week and is extremely active in her dance community. But she doesn’t get paid for any of it. Is she a dancer?
Since publishing that article, I have thought a lot about how people tend to identify themselves by their job. A common question to ask when you first meet someone is, “what do you do?” People usually respond with their job title. “I’m a lawyer.” “I’m a project manager.” “I’m a schoolteacher.” Because what the question is really asking is “what is your job?” I get it. We spend the majority of our time at our job, so it’s natural to identify ourselves through that work. If you’re still in school and not working full-time, you’ve probably replied to that question with, “I’m a student at [insert school name].” If you’re a stay-at-home parent, I’m guessing you’ve replied with that too.
Today, I feel more confident in my dancer identity. When I meet new people, I even tell them that I’m a dancer and writer (with a day job in another field). What I’m realizing is if I want to be identified as a dancer, I have to own that identity and project it to the rest of the world, so then it’s clear to others when they meet me.
With only a month to go until Desert Classic, on our first lesson back last night, Teacher decided we needed to do some work on my expression in Foxtrot. Two of my least favorite things! In response to my anxious ramblings about being afraid of looking like a fool or being laughed at, which would mean failing at being a dancer in my mind, Teacher reminded me that I have received an abundance of praise from other students and professionals for my dancing. The key to taking it to the next level is to let go of that fear. I need to own my dancing, including the expression, because if I did that, then there would be no questions left. People will be able to tell I’m a dancer just by watching me dance.
It sounds great, right? I just have to OWN IT! Yes! Boom. Mic drop.
What else is there to say?
Nothing really. It’s all about the action now. It’s easy to declare “I will OWN my dancing! I AM a dancer!” Returning to the studio tomorrow and confidently performing the Foxtrot styling and expression that is my homework for Teacher? Not so easy.
When it comes to trying something new or pushing to the next level, there’s feeling uncomfortable or awkward and then there’s feeling an anxiety attack coming on. Expression in dance triggers the anxiety in me big time. So I can’t just let the fear go or force myself to act how I’m supposed to act while internally I’m freaking out. It’s too big to ignore or push aside; it will force its way out and I’ll wind up hyperventilating in the bathroom.
For me, repetition and breaking the movements down are the tools I’ll use to own my Foxtrot expression. Instead of thinking about the emotions or expressions I’m supposed to convey like sassy, fun, flirty, sexy, etc., I think about the mechanics, that is where each body part is at each count. Finger point on 2, look right, arm up on 3, look forward, hand behind head on 4, etc., etc. It probably sounds very robotic, which is not how I want my Foxtrot to look in the end. Knowing the choreography is a comforting foundation for me though. So learning the styling movements in this way helps me to get used to them and numbs the anxiety trigger. Trying to look expressive and figure out what movement to make at the same time is too much. My brain doesn’t push through the fear fast enough. So Teacher and I figure out the movements first. We map out the styling, so physically I know where my different body parts are going. The more I travel the path we mapped, the more comfortable I become and the less anxiety I have over it. Just the absence of that anxiety will improve my expression because it won’t be hindered by fear.
It’s not going to be easy and there will most certainly be a lot of ups and downs. I’ll feel great about my styling one week and horrible the next. That’s just how it goes on this dance journey. But beneath the anxiety, there is a glimmer of excitement at the thought of breaking free of the fear, owning my dancing and being the dancer I know I am.
I can do this.