We all want to find that magic formula that allows us to level up in our dancing. We've been tirelessly (or exhaustingly) searching for it our whole dance lives. Ever since we learned to tie our first pair of pointe shoes, we've hunted for the tools that will make us successful in our art. We find things that work for a time, we make improvements, and then move on in search of the next "thing" that will make us better.
Rarely do we come across overriding principles that span our entire careers...that could have helped us get to our peak performance state at any point along the way. These are the realizations that make you say, If only I'd known that sooner...
Ironically, it's age and experience that allow you to see what you needed all along. In lieu of being able to travel back in time to share these insights with my younger self, I will share with you the two things I wish I had focused on decades ago.
Strength is behind every aspect of your dancing. From balancing & extensions in adagio, to speed in petit allegro, to height in jumps, to coordination for turns, to the detailed artistry behind your technique - they can all be enhanced by strength. You don't need to dedicate your life to amassing Ms. Olympia power; a little extra strength goes a long way towards helping you level up in your dancing.
Strength is also what allows you to do almost any choreography thrown your way…almost immediately. Forget about months of practice and multiple trial and error attempts. Strength gives you immediate competence. Sure, you may not be stage-ready after your first try, but using your rehearsals to polish things up versus figure out how to do them in the first place makes a big difference.
Strength gives you injury resilience and longevity in your dance career. It makes your body more efficient and capable of handling challenging choreography so you avoid making mistakes that could cause injuries. But, it also fortifies your bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments, making them less likely to incur damage should an accident occur. This higher tolerance to injury is what allows you to really attack choreography without having to worry about your ankle crumpling if you piqué wrong or your knee buckling in a less-than-stable position. You are free to dance full-out and carefree.
Real, authentic confidence. Confidence is what allows you, ironically, to be vulnerable with your dancing...to go full-out and all-in. The more resilient your body is to strains, sprains, and broken bones, the more you trust in your physical ability to perform the almost supernatural feats that are required of you in our competitive art...and, the more you can take risks with your dancing. This is the stuff that gives your dancing the look of reckless abandon…even though it’s not reckless at all. It’s unrestrained, no holds barred movement with the freedom to indulge in your emotions and artistry while you remain a master of your physical body, in complete control and exhibiting prowess with your technique.
It’s not just confidence in your physical body but confidence in who you are as a person. Criticism doesn't ruin you, and your worth is not determined by other people's opinions of you. You have a strong sense of self, knowing your purpose in the world and what you want to share with it through your dancing. That is what will really allow you to open up and touch people, when there is actual intent behind your artistry. You are not performing to please other people, but to connect with them. To create an impact with your movement, you have to be willing to expose yourself, flaws and all. It takes real confidence in yourself to pull that off. This confidence can determine whether your dancing comes across as just movement in the physical realm or as real art with the power to touch, connect, influence, and transform the world.
Focusing on these 2 key ingredients would have saved me not only heartache but time in crafting my niche in the dance world, a performance career I can be happy with and fulfilled by. I eventually found my way here...but, If only I'd known that sooner...
Hopefully this gives you some things to focus on as you work towards your peak performance state. Don't discount the significance of these two vital ingredients to your dance career. There's no better time to start honing these skills than right now.
Photo credits (title shot and top picture): Rachel Neville