The Best Class Ever …
The Best Class Ever: An Invitation to Joyful Dancing
By Lane Gormley
Two Dancers by Edgar Degas, Shelbourne Museum (Vermont)
Ups and Downs
There are days when dancing is simply the most fun that anyone could ever have. The dancer has the energy, the strength, the balance, the timing, the high spirits, and the peace of mind to rejoice in the concentrated detail of barre exercises and the soaring leaps of grand allegro.
And then, there are other times: midwinter when a cold is coming on… or when Nutcracker has ended and final exams are beginning… or when a small, nagging injury threatens developing skills… or when something we wanted fell through. For female dancers, even the monthly cycle with fatigue, cramps, or fluctuations in water weight can feel like a major setback when it comes at an inconvenient time.
The secret to survival during stressful days or weeks may be simpler than we think. Here are some ideas about that:
As the saying goes, This too shall pass. Energy and strength and joy will return if you are thoughtful and wise. During challenging times, work more slowly and more technically. Proper technique has saved many a knee and many an ankle. Tell your teacher if you have a physical injury. Listen to your body. With the utmost care and precision, do everything that you can do, but do not do more than that. It’s quite simple. If you consistently give more than you have to give, you will soon have nothing to give. A “down” time can be a profitable time if you know how to work gently through it.
Learn How to Relax
There is no situation that cannot be made worse with tension. Learn to relax your body and your mind. Stretch. Get a Yoga DVD. Change pace after class. Do a breathing exercise. I have one that you can put on your phone and use to calm and center yourself. Get extra sleep. Do you have any funny friends? Call them. Laugh. If you are low on energy, eat high-energy foods – add vegetables + fruits + lean protein to your diet. Sleep is critical at low-energy times. Make sleep your friend.
Understand and Value Errors
An error – a misstep or a fall – is nothing more than the opportunity to learn and to improve. No matter what you are working on – whether it’s physical strength or unshakeable self-confidence, you have a good chance of succeeding if you make friends with mistakes. Here’s how:
- Examine the error (What was it? Has it happened before?)
- Understand it, and learn from it (You may need your teachers’ comments for this).
- Release the mistake, and move on with new knowledge.
Never allow critical, inner voices make you afraid to learn and grow. Avoid negative statements. They can become patterns. Be careful of words like “always” and “never”. They can create patterns that you do not want. Examples: I always screw up pirouettes. I never can do brisées. If you catch yourself thinking the worst, stop and encourage yourself. Cognitive Behavioral Therapist Donald Meichenbaum called it “self-talk”. Repeat to yourself how you intend to be and what you intend to do. I am relaxed and confident. I am flowing through the steps. Visualizewhat you want – not what you don’t want.
Focus and Awareness
What you focus on, you create. Beautiful thoughts create competence but, more than that, they create radiance. Have you ever seen a dancer who looked consistently at the floor? If you focus on the floor, you might end up on the floor. Miss Ruth used to tell her dancers to focus upward and outward. She always said about big jumps: Where your eyes go, where your hand goes, where your highest battement goes, there, too, will you go. Similarly, if you focus on what is “low”, on what is incorrect, on what you fear, on errors that you want to avoid, your confidence might falter. Be as positive as you can. Let your thoughts and vision help you.
Just Do Your Best – Whatever It May Be at a Given Time
The best that we can do can vary distinctly, even dramatically, from day to day. Very few people are on top of their game 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days per year. It would take years to imagine and to write about the many factors influencing classroom performance.
What might not vary, if we pay attention, is the love and care that we put into what we are doing.
If you do your best over time and do it with love, you will most likely create a positive experience – not only in dance but in whatever else you choose to engage in.
So, have SO much fun, young dancers! Be present to every moment of your process. Use your beautiful minds and bodies wisely and well. And, always say after every class, NO MATTER WHAT HAPPENED,
“That was the best class ever!!!”
Lane Gormley is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Board Certified Coach at East Paces Counseling in Buckhead and Ray of Hope Counseling Services in Kennesaw, GA. She has taken class, taught, and participated in the GDC community for years.