I wrote that last week’s lesson was a “thinking” lesson, so not exactly full of fun. Wednesday made up for it!
Teacher had a new approach that he wanted to work on – falling. I remarked sarcastically that I’m excellent at falling (long-time member of the klutz club). He didn’t mean that kind of falling, not exactly. Teacher was talking about using gravity as a source of energy and momentum in my dancing. I don’t know if I can describe the idea well enough in words, but basically, instead of me thinking about activating some part of my body to push/pull/drive through the movement, I was to just “fall.” Let gravity start the movement, and then just before I feel like I’m going to kiss the floor, I redirect the momentum to dance into the next movement.
It sounds a little out of control, but I’m still maintaining proper posture, frame, and whatnot. Something really cool happened – when I just thought about “falling” and letting gravity assist me, I didn’t lose my frame or pull back my right arm like I usually do. I just got into position and kept it while gravity carried me on this dancing wave. I guess the only other thing besides falling that I had to think about was counterbalancing. If hips went forward, head stretched back. That sort of thing. It helps produce the nice arc that we all admire in the pro smooth and standard dancers. Although I’m pretty sure a lot of the top standard dancers are also relatives of Gumby.
Falling wasn’t really a change in the mechanics of dancing. All of the technique that we’ve been working on still applied. My steps were the same. It was my focus that changed. Instead of thinking about where my head was, which side was forward, was I dropping my right side and was that step a heel or toe, I just “fell” and then rode the wave that was produced. When my brain had less to think about, it made it possible for my body to react naturally and I danced! Really danced too. I came into the studio tired from a long day and long week, but I was smiling and felt refreshed, albeit physically worked, after we spent those 45 minutes just riding those waves around the floor. This is what a waltz is supposed to feel like!
I think in an effort to explain how they dance and what they see when others dance, people try to break down the movements into actionable steps. First, I engage this body part, then move this one, then this body part engages, etc. It ends up sounding like everything needs to be a conscious effort when in reality, some things are happening naturally. The body just does what it needs to do.
It reminds me of the hip lift technique that was all the rage (is it still? I don’t even know.). Full disclosure: I never actually took a class or private lesson where I was taught this technique. My impression from talking with Teacher and others about it is that this technique made the lifting of the hip that you see in the rhythm dances a more conscious “active” action. The name itself immediately makes the hip lift the focus. What was interesting is to then hear in a rhythm workshop from two professional rhythm finalists that the hip action wasn’t really an action, but a reaction from other body movement. When you maintained the correct body positioning through your dancing, the hip naturally lifted. You didn’t need to think about it.
I understand that “it just happens” isn’t an acceptable explanation to anyone when they want to know how they should do something, but it’s funny how quickly things can get overcomplicated when we try to explain our natural movements. We don’t explain the mechanics of standing or walking to our babies (“Ok, first thing to do, honey, is lean forward. Send pressure into the floor through your feet and engage your glutes…”). They just start moving their body and it happens!
It may be a problem of focusing on the “how” instead of the “why.” Many times, a technique has “clicked” for me after Teacher explained the purpose behind it. Oh, when I swivel the foot like that, I’m already set up for the next movement! When I stretch my head that way, I counterbalance my base and feel so much more stable!
In the same sense, sometimes telling someone to not do something makes them focus on doing the opposite, which isn’t necessarily the desired effect. I’ve experienced this when I’ve been told to not lock my knees when I rise in waltz. When my brain was focused on not locking my knees, I ended up with them awkwardly bent and feeling like I couldn’t rise as much. It made me feel like I was a terrible dancer because it didn’t feel or look good, but I thought I was wrong when my knees naturally straightened. The whole point though was you didn’t want the rise and fall to look or feel jerky or robotic, you wanted it to flow like a wave. If you locked the knees, that would jolt your body and disrupt the flow. Telling me to not lock my knees did not produce the desired effect, but focusing on other things, like falling, did.
Everyone learns in different ways. We’ve all had that experience when we’re having trouble understanding something, and then someone comes along and explains it in a different way and we get it immediately. It’s been fascinating to learn from different coaches and discover that sometimes the approach the higher level coach is teaching doesn’t work for me. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong. My brain just doesn’t produce the ultimate desired effect in my body with that approach. Recognizing this and focusing more on the purpose of a technique, rather than just the mechanics, is making me a better dancer, and that’s very exciting!
P.S. – If you didn’t see the announcement on social media, I’m rereleasing the first Solo Practice Guide video (how to practice when you don’t have time) to whoever is on the list by this Sunday (December 10)! So if you haven’t signed up yet, now would be a good time.
P.P.S. – Once you’re on the list, comment below on what you want the next Solo Practice Guide video to be about. I’m thinking 1) how to practice with limited space, or 2) how to avoid getting bored with your practice. Let me know!
Happy dancing everyone!