One of my coaches talks about creation working in a cycle of phases. You might be in a phase of exploring something new, excelling at something you’ve been working on for awhile, or transitioning to something greater. We go through similar cycles in dance.
The most obvious example is the way we move through the syllabus. We work our way through Bronze, get to a point where we feel strong and confident, and then move up to Silver, where we find out how much we still don’t know and start the process again.
Another example is the development of our technique. As we build our understanding of how and why we move the way we do, and refine our connection with our own bodies, we can add on new layers of technique that enhance the quality of our dancing and allow us to explore different movements.
It can feel like a rollercoaster as we reach peaks of confidence and knowledge and then drop back down to feeling clueless as we explore and learn new concepts. Sometimes we go through cycles with the same concept. I went through several cycles of feeling confident and clueless just with shadow position! Each cycle builds on the previous one though, so every time we feel incredibly clueless, we’re not actually as clueless as we were the last time we felt that way. Thank goodness.
These cycles are another reason to stay focused on your own dance journey. You may be in a phase of exploring new concepts while the dancer on the other end of the studio may be polishing what they’ve been working on for months, or even years. Your current status can’t be compared fairly. The layering of cycles is an important factor as well. A few weeks ago, another student caught the end of one of my dance lessons during which Teacher and I were working on our Open Foxtrot. We had come up with a new runaround trick a few months prior and that was the portion she witnessed us dancing. She was impressed and couldn’t believe we had only been working on that for a few months (once or twice a week). But to me, it was the result of Teacher and I working on Open level routines since we won our Closed Silver world championship in 2018. Years of work were behind that cool move. Yes, it only existed in its present form for a short time, but it also only existed because of what had come before it. The reason I could dance such a move was the result of even more years of work developing my technique, balance, coordination, partner skills, etc.
We can’t see the long-term progress we’re making until we look back and see the difference between where we started and where we are now. It often sneaks up on us while we thought we were working on something else. Working on my body awareness has brought out more styling in my arms without trying to style my arms. I feel what my body wants to do to finish a movement and just let it happen.
To keep us moving through the different phases of dance, we set goals like a competition, showcase or medal test. These goals help us know how to approach the different phases. In ballroom, we have a million and one elements that go into creating our beautiful movement, but obviously we can’t focus on everything at once. Knowing where you are on your journey and where you want to go will help you and your partner/coach determine what to focus on.
Right now, Teacher and I are focused on solidifying our Open choreography. Elements like technique and styling are naturally included in this work, but they aren’t the primary focus. The map of our movement is.
The goal is to get the routines post-pandemic competition-ready. The plan is to use lessons to solidify the choreography, down to the precise timing of the accents. Once it’s solid, I can practice it on my own and we can use lessons to refine the movement using technique and styling. See how the focus shifts and layers one element on top of another? That’s how I move through the phases.
I always like to have a plan of attack when working toward a goal. It gives me a foundation to go back to when I’m feeling frustrated. It helps me get back on track when I feel lost. The peaks and valleys can wear at the ego and make us doubt ourselves. Seeing someone in a confident phase while we’re in a clueless phase can make us believe we’re making little to no progress and will always be behind. Then of course when we’re in a confident phase, we tend to downplay our accomplishments because there is always someone else in a higher level confident phase.
As long as you don’t give up, you’ll continue to make progress and move through the cycles of your dance journey. You’ll reach a peak, drop down into a new valley, and then start the climb back up another peak. Just don’t forget to stop once in awhile to take in the beautiful views and appreciate how far you’ve come.
I’d love to know what phase you’re in right now. Are you just getting your feet wet with something new? Finally feeling like you’ve got a handle on things? Or have you reached the point where you’re ready to take on a new challenge?
Please share in the comments!