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:
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.
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 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.
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:
- 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?
- Am I managing my time well? Are my activities promoting or detracting from my wellness?
- 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:
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.