All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Dancer

Happy holidays, dancers! I was gifted a poinsettia today, so that means I have officially started decorating the apartment for Christmas. Between getting sick immediately after Thanksgiving and a packed schedule, I just haven’t had much time to clean and break out the holiday decor. I’m sure Santa will understand if the poinsettia is as far as I get.

I know some of you have been busy too with end-of-the-year competitions including Ohio Star Ball, South Open Dancesport and Holiday Dance Classic. It dawned on me after my last lesson that it’s only two months until my first competition goal of 2020 (California Open). I had a brief “oh shit” moment as the doubts all popped up like prairie dogs in my brain. It still feels like I have so much work to do!

That work isn’t what I wanted to write about today though. Recent experiences have reminded me how important it is to just tap into your creativity and play.

Back in the middle of November, literally days apart, I was contacted by two different people about being a part of their respective artistic projects. The first was a woman who was creating a short film based on a spoken word piece she had written. You may recall my social media posts with these images from the shoot.

I had an absolute blast that day. As you can see, I was painted with yellow paint (the main symbol of the piece). I also painted on a canvas with the same yellow paint. I stared into a camera set not two feet from my face as I acted out different emotions. The best part was the dancing.

The creator behind this project wasn’t originally planning to have dance in her film, but since I had the background, she changed her mind. At the end of the day, after all of the paint was washed off, I spent about 10 minutes improvising dance to the ambient music she had chosen as background for the film. I danced while that camera sat right in front of me and two people watched. It was a perfect storm scenario for my anxiety.

And yet, I felt none. No anxiety, no panic, no doubt. I heard the music and I moved. I never hesitated in fully expressing what I was feeling. It was almost shocking that I felt so comfortable when the setting was so perfect for panic. When I reflected on the experience later that night, I realized why I was able to perform so freely.

I felt accepted and “good enough” before I even walked in the door.

The reality is there were no anxiety triggers. The people watching, the camera, the need to perform in the moment…none of it roused my inner demons because none of it triggered any doubt or fear in me. I was in a safe and supportive space. I was enough. So I could do whatever I felt the music move me to do and it would be the right thing. Without realizing it, I let go of my demons for awhile and was just me. And that was enough.

The second person who contacted me is a music artist out of New York City. He was looking for dancers to create pieces that he would incorporate into a music video for his new song, and he was inviting me to be one of them.

The song was catchy and fit the tempo of an American Rumba or a slow Slow Foxtrot. After the incredible experience I had making art with the spoken word artist, I jumped at the opportunity to collaborate with another artist.

I convinced another amateur dancer to join in on the fun and together, we choreographed a 90-second routine from scratch. We’ve been training to compete together in the near future, so this was a fun detour from our usual practices. The focus was on the creativity instead of precise technique and what would please the judges. It was about what movement the song inspired. We used the dance libraries in our brains, built from all of our ballroom training, and knitted together moves from a slew of different ballroom dances. The music and us drove the choreography, nothing else. For two dancers who have never choreographed a routine before, I think we came up with something pretty cool! I’ll be sure to share the music video with you guys if we end up making it in.

Even though they didn’t pay anything or directly help me in reaching my dance goals, these side projects fulfilled me on a soul level.

They reminded me how important it is for me to be creative for the sake of being creative and to let myself play without worry of judgment.

It’s usually incredibly difficult to get to that kind of space of self-acceptance. Because that’s really what it is – when I get into that creativity flow and just go for whatever I’m inspired to do in the moment, I’ve accepted myself as I am. I don’t question, I just do. But even the day after the yellow paint shoot, I kept catching myself start to worry over how I performed and if it will turn out ok.

We’re so used to carrying the burdens of doubt, fear and pressure to prove ourselves and be accepted by others. I had thought that I needed to take on something additional in order to gain confidence and accept who I am.

But what I’ve experienced recently wasn’t an addition, it was an absence. Instead of adding mental strength or confidence that would then battle the demons that sat heavy on my shoulders, I just dropped the demons.

I’ve tried to keep these experiences in the forefront of my mind, so I can inject the effects into my ballroom training. It won’t be easy to drop the demons in a competitive environment where I put myself out there specifically to be judged. But I’d like to try, because the dancing feels so much better without the extra weight.

I think I need to take back what I wrote earlier. I believe these “side” projects will 100% prove to have a large impact on helping me reach my dance goals. Dance isn’t all technique. Even if you’re dancing at a closed syllabus level, you don’t go out on the dance floor and just move through the dictated steps like a robot. You still connect with the music and character of the dance and express that.

The main thing I struggle with in ballroom is the emotional expression. Tapping into that creative flow that brings out the expression is a muscle that needs to be exercised. These opportunities to get into that creative flow state and experience that feeling of pure self-acceptance will only help me return there when I need to express the emotions of my Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot and Viennese.

So in between drilling technique and timing, take some time to play with your dancing. Forget what’s right or wrong and just let yourself be you. Put on some music and just dance. If you find the idea of complete improvisation horrifying, even in the privacy of your bedroom, put on some music that you know is the right tempo for one of your favorite dances and start dancing some basics. Then do a little turn. Then do whatever you want, even if it’s not a real ballroom step. Be creative. Play!

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6 thoughts on “All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Dancer

  1. alexandria adair. says:

    letting go and allowing myself to express what i’m feeling fully is so hard for me. but you’re right, dance is more than getting the right steps in the right order. this was a great read. thanks for sharing these experiences 💗

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