Improving as an intermediate-advanced dancer – finding balance

I like the post on move(me)nt about how to improve as an intermediate-advanced dancer (read the comments section too). I am very lazy about trying to improve my dancing but there are some things I have done to facilitate self-improvement.

Back in March 2011 I decided to give up on Lindy choreography and general Lindy classes so I could focus on body awareness instead. The choreography classes were stressing me out and making me feel bad about myself/my dancing abilities and I wasn’t getting much out of the Lindy classes and felt my time was better spent doing something else.

I have tried a number of things to improve my dancing but the things I am getting the most benefit from include:

Balboa

Learning Balboa has definitely impacted on my Lindy Hop.  1 hour of beginners Balboa and I get more technique thrown at me that I might get in a year’s worth of intermediate Lindy classes. (I appreciate that this might be very scene specific). The focus on technique and a teacher that takes the time to demo how, for example, moving your left arm out of the way by moving your whole body throws your balance but simply lifting your left arm over your partner’s without moving anything else makes the dance go more smoothly, has been a great learning experience and I am much more aware of the impact my actions are having on my partner.

Alexander technique

Almost 2 years ago I started taking Alexander Technique lessons because I wanted to change how I looked when I was dancing. The Alexander Technique is not a quick fix and it’s expensive but I have learnt a lot about my body, where I hold tension, what my patterns of movement are and I am slowly but surely seeing the benefits of ‘thinking up’. It’s hard to define what impact these lessons have had on my dancing but I am more balanced and I can spin on the spot multiple times without wandering all over the place, I am more aware of where my feet are and what it means to keep them underneath me, I am not so stuck the floor and I am more responsive in my movements.  I like the way my dancing feels more that I did, even if it doesn’t look better.

Yoga

Yoga has also made a huge difference to my dancing by increasing my flexibility. Increased flexibility in my shoulder means that I don’t tense up as soon as I feel a badly done Texas Tommy move coming.  I know my arm/shoulder can cope  so I am more relaxed when I dance.  I don’t perform so rarely think about the lines my body is making but I have noticed that increased flexibility/strength means that I can make longer, straighter lines which look better.

Dancing less

Emily Kate Long (a ballet dancer/teacher) has a great post called Finding Balance: Dancing Through Summer, where she put together the following checklist to keep sight of her priorities:

  1. Am I meeting my body’s physical needs as best I can? Do I need to ramp it up or back off to get the most from myself?
  2. Am I managing my time well? Are my activities promoting or detracting from my wellness?
  3. Am I keeping track of what works and what doesn’t? Am I sharing my experience and knowledge generously and asking for help or advice when I need it?

Over the past year many of the decisions I have made about my dancing have been based on the rather clinical notion of return on investment. What will I gain by going to a specific class/workshop/social dancing/weekend event and more importantly what will it cost me in terms of health/money/stress/time?  I like Emily’s question “Are my activities promoting or detracting from my wellness?” a lot more.

I had some bad dancing experiences in 2010/2011 that left me feeling ripped off, incredibly stressed, physically exhausted and that I had wasted my time. Thinking about what I am doing and why and finding balance between my dancing, work, family and other activities means that I am dancing less but when I do dance (usually twice a week but not all night) I enjoy it more and my dancing is better when I enjoy it.

Things I haven’t found so useful:

Solo jazz

At the moment solo jazz doesn’t inspire me so I don’t make time to practice and I don’t work on it in social dance situations.

Tap and Hip hop (solo dancing)

Time pressures have meant that tap and hip hop classes happen infrequently. I love the way my feet seem to respond to rhythm of their own accord after I have been to tap classes. Hip hop classes have taught me a lot about choreography and that the small things matter – facial expressions, clarity of movement, best direction to do perform a move for an audience. No idea when I will ever use this knowledge in my own dancing but it has given me a more critical eye when I watch performances. Has solo dancing improved my Lindy Hop dancing? It’s really hard to tell but at the moment I remain unconvinced. For me to have a good partner dance I still need to direct my attention to what my partner is doing, too much solo dancing and I end up focusing on me and I break the partnership.

Learning to lead

I would say that learning to lead (I am still very much a beginner lead) has hindered rather than helped my following. I am beginning to understand the mechanics of the dance better but when I follow I am fighting rather than following my lead half the time. Leading has given me greater understanding but I’ve yet to translate that into better dancing.

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8 responses to “Improving as an intermediate-advanced dancer – finding balance”

  1. LadyD says :

    I’ve been reading through all your blog posts since I stumbled on your blog. Glad to read you are feeling a bit more positive about your dancing.
    I think Balboa sounds interesting.
    I think ‘hobbies’ should put a smile on your face. If your not enjoying it taking a break is always good. I do that with music sometimes. Just don’t play for about a month. Then find myself ‘desperate’ to pick up the box and play…and I notice improvement.
    At the moment dancing makes me smile, when it stops I’ll stop…and find a different hobby.

    • sleepingglitter says :

      Thanks for reading – I am always surprised people actually read my blog!

      I think the trouble with Lindy Hop is that dancing tends to suck you in and it becomes your entire social life. It might stop being fun but because you’ve invested so much time it’s really hard to leave it alone and start doing something new.

      I think about some of the people I dance with who seem to have put their lives on hold for dancing and I wonder if it’s really worth it?

      • LadyD says :

        I’m surprised people read my blog too.lol!
        It just shows everyone has different motivations.
        For me Its part of my effort to put more exercise in my routine. And I don’t see why exercise should be boring. Plus I was told you can’t play dance music if you’ve never at least tried to dance.
        So its a little clog (15-20mins) practice each day*…ok well most days. And then lindy hop once a week…well nearly. If I miss a lesson I’ll just watch some of the lindy hop videos on youtube. I class that as ‘learning’.

        *to clarify its the stepdance (mainly durham & northumberland style but I throw in some lancashire now and then) rather than the clog morris.

  2. carimoves says :

    Great post! I think it’s incredibly interesting how different people take different approaches to improvement. What is working for me is clearly not working for you in many ways. But it always changes constantly, and we find inspiration and improvement in different places — and in reality, I think that is actually the nature of self-improvement: constantly difficult, and constantly coming from different angles.

    I really want to take up yoga and see if it improves my dancing in a similar way; I just need to find the time and money first. I also like the idea of dancing less, actually; as I am a little over-stressed right now, and I think if I dance less, I might find time to focus on other things in my life which I need to take care of.

    Best of luck in your endeavors!

    • sleepingglitter says :

      Self improvement is very personal and it does change over time, if you’re one of those fortunate people that have great posture, body awareness and balance you won’t need to work on any of the things I need to work on. For some people it’s musicality or fitness or confidence that they need to tackle.

      There are lots of very good free yoga videos on youtube and plenty of yoga class podcasts if you want to try yoga for free.

      Good luck to you too!.

      • carimoves says :

        Thanks for the tip on free videos and podcasts! I’m always wary to try to learn difficult things off youtube videos (I cringe every time I hear a beginner say “I learned this from a video!”), but sometimes that’s all we can afford, I guess! I’m definitely going to look more into it. Have a good one!

  3. Catherine says :

    Great post! This is exactly where I am right now – trying to figure out how I can improve my lindy hop dancing by actually doing something else than lindy hop. Body awareness is what I’m trying to work on, too. I’ve started taking modern jazz lessons but starting as an adult can be a bit frustrating (the only thing I’m good at is being on tempo – not surprising I suppose given how this is crucial in any kind of social dancing). I’m quite satisfied with warm up sessions because I can feel how I’m working with my body in different ways than lindy hop dancing, but it seems like I can’t quite get used to the choreographies because the approach to music is really different from lindy hop, which means I have a lot of trouble a)remembering what I’m supposed to do b)understanding how all the different movements work together. I’ve actually been considering starting yoga and I think you may have convinced me!

  4. 4dancers says :

    Thanks so much for sharing the link to Emily’s post on 4dancers! 🙂

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