It’s ok if you don’t feel like dancing right now

Officially two weeks in with this new “stay at home” reality (technically it’s been about a week and a half by order of the state but I started earlier). Week 1 was stressful and surreal, like “crap, is this really happening?” Week 2 was more contemplative. Yes, this is happening and it could be happening for a long while.

It’s been interesting to see how the dance community has reacted to their entire industry essentially being put out of work until further notice. Some reacted quickly to shift their services online and minimize disruption of their business. Some have shifted to giving away their services and asking for donations to keep them afloat. Others are simply showing up online frequently with inspirational messages and short dance demonstrations to encourage people to keep moving. The common thread is no one is ready to give up.

I wrote last week that my schedule hadn’t changed that much. I’m still working full time, taking care of my fur babies, managing the Girl with the Tree Tattoo blog, and fulfilling book orders. Of course, some things have changed a lot, the biggest being that I’m not taking dance lessons or practicing with my amateur partner. I don’t know when I’ll be able to do either in person again.

You would think I’d be feeling depression or other withdrawal symptoms from not dancing. You would think I’d be missing dance terribly and be aching to get back into the studio.

I do miss it. I miss dancing with Teacher and having him push me to reach the higher potential he sees. I miss working with my am partner to puzzle out how to make our pivots feel more grounded or our shadow position more connected. But honestly, it’s not tearing me up inside.

After seeing someone else admit on social media that they also didn’t really feel motivated to dance right now, I thought I’d use this week’s blog post to offer an alternative tune to the “stay connected! keep moving!” chorus.

It’s ok if you don’t feel like dancing right now.

In one form or another, we’re all suffering from a tremendous loss because of this pandemic. Life as we knew it is gone. Life moving forward, even after the virus is brought under control, will never be the same. We have to grieve that loss before we can move into a new “normal.”

Grief looks different on different people. You’ve probably heard of the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. People handle these stages in different ways and they take different amounts of time to go through each one. Sometimes you end up jumping around or repeating stages. Without getting into the details of the psychology of grief and loss, I think we can all agree that it is a messy and complicated process. You can think you have worked through a loss completely, and seven years later, something triggers you and sends you right back to the beginning. Mind you, that does not mean you were just living in denial and never actually worked through anything. It just means a new layer was uncovered and it was time to work through that one.

For us dancers, a big part of our loss is not being able to dance like we used to. For ProAm ballroom dancers in particular, we’ve also lost our partners. Yes, we can solo practice and we can take online classes, but it won’t be the same. Ballroom dancing without a partner feels incomplete.

We are not completely abandoned. Like I said in the beginning, many teachers are showing up online offering paid or free classes and inspirational messages. They still care about their students and still want to be there for them on their dance journey, even if it’s only through a computer screen. Some are even continuing private lessons via video conferencing.

If those online offerings are making you feel less than motivated about dance, it’s ok. You’re grieving your loss, and “something” doesn’t feel much better than “nothing” right now. Maybe it even feels worse because it just reminds you of what you’ve lost.

Or maybe there has just been way too much else happening for you to process. You’re too busy trying to find your bearings to think about dance.

I think that’s where I was. I don’t mind change, but as an anxious person, I need extra time to process it. It’s not that I’m resistant, I just need time to understand it and its effects before I can move forward. Week 1 of staying at home saw a LOT of change in the world around me. Around all of us really. I didn’t have the mental capacity to miss dance. My brain was too busy figuring out which way was up to think about anything else.

Week 2 was a little calmer. I had the supplies I needed at home. I stopped watching the news so much. I released the pressure to show up online as much as the extroverted dancers were. I also started to envision what my dance journey was going to look like in this brave new world. Once I’ve processed a change, I like to act on it. I don’t like to sit and wait.

So ok, my new reality is no private lessons, no partner practice, and no competitions. Do I still have strong enough reasons to continue working on my dancing? If yes, then what does my dance training look like in this new reality?

Diving into the plethora of online classes still didn’t sound appealing. I like taking the occasional workshop to get new and different perspectives, but the other side of that coin is bringing that back to my dance lessons with Teacher and talking to him about how to incorporate what I learned in the workshop into my dancing. I don’t have that anymore. The same problem comes up when I look at my solo practice. What’s the point of practicing my Open routines without the accompanying feedback from Teacher during my lessons? Solo practice and partner work are interconnected.

For those of you who have purchased The Solo Practice Guide for Ballroom Dancing, my answers came out of Chapter 5: Supplemental Training. Right before the virus started wreaking havoc in my area, I was going to a studio four to five times a week between private lessons, partner practice and solo practice. I had goals to improve my stamina and core strength, but it was difficult to find the time and energy when I was working so much on dance itself.

I certainly have the time now!

I’ve already made an effort to attend more of my fitness studio’s online Zumba classes. They get me a cardio workout and it’s good stress relief to just move my body to music without worrying about proper frame. Dancing in socks or bare feet on my living room carpet isn’t the best for my knees though, so it isn’t something I can be doing every day.

However, I do see physical fitness as the new primary focus of my dance training. Teacher was always getting on me about using my core. I hated it when I felt my frame falling while I was dancing because I was losing steam. I also recently realized that I’ve lost some strength and gotten into a bad habit of playing it safe in my movement because of last year’s knee injuries.

There is a lot I can do on my own to maintain and improve my body’s strength, flexibility and stamina, so when I do get to dance with a partner again, I’ll be primed to perform even better than before. What’s more – I can monitor my own progress and make my own adjustments. There isn’t the missing other side of the coin.

I still plan on some actual dance training as well. I don’t want to forget my routines or ballroom-specific technique. I’m also thinking about other solo dance styles I can explore, which will help my ballroom as a cross-training tool.

This new direction for my dance journey designed to adapt to my new reality will not happen all at once. I haven’t created a new schedule of workouts to replace my old dance lesson and practice schedule. I’m still adjusting to the new reality and the idea that it may stick around for a long time. As I contemplated what’s happening in our world right now, I had to ask myself, “what if we’re in “stay at home” mode for the rest of 2020?”

I hope and pray things are calmed down before the end of the year, but at the same time, I don’t think it’s unrealistic to think this current state will last at least through the summer. As I thought about what being a dancer right now looks like for me, I extended that thought into the future. What does being a ballroom dancer look like six months from now, if this pandemic still has us on lock down? A year from now?

That’s why I’m switching my focus to taking care of my body instead of holding onto old practice routines that don’t make sense if I’m not going to work with Teacher for that long of a period. I do believe we’ll recover from this and another reality will emerge where we can gather again and dance with our partners. But I don’t believe it’s going to be in a few weeks.

I apologize if you clicked on this post hoping for some feel-good and uplifting inspirational message. I felt like some people needed to hear a different message today.

I do want to give you something to do with all of this heaviness though. So here are the steps I’ve taken to transition from grieving the loss of my old normal to determining how I’m going to survive and even thrive in this new normal:

  • Allow yourself to grieve. We are all suffering a loss and it’s ok to take a break from dance if you need to.
  • Remember why you dance. Are those reasons still relevant and strong enough in this new reality? Or do you need to dig deeper?
  • Think about what being a dancer means to you now. Without all of the competitions, performances or even in-person social gatherings, what does being a dancer look like for you?
  • Think about how you want to continue your dance journey in this new reality. What can you do independently? Do you want to work on your physical fitness like me? Do you want to explore new styles of dance that don’t require a partner? Or do you want to stay focused on ballroom and take advantage of everything being offered online?

This is a unique time to look inward and more deeply consider our identities as dancers. Dance is an outward expression of music and emotion, but it can also be a very internal experience. I’ve used dance to release pain or anger, to embrace joy and excitement, and to simply be in the moment. All from the privacy of my own home with no one to witness it except my dogs. Maybe now is the time to explore that more inward experience of dance.

I don’t like to waste time, which is perhaps why I’m pivoting so quickly to make the most of this new reality. I’m not just thinking about my dance journey; I’m thinking about yours as well. As I pivot my own dance journey, I’m also pivoting The Girl with the Tree Tattoo brand. Stay tuned for an announcement in the next couple days about that (or watch the header menu on this website). 😉

Stay healthy, dancers!

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