The Emergent Dancer

So it’s that time of year when it’s all about Nutcracker. I actually like the ballet, I know a lot of people start grumbling about it. But there is something charming about the old fairytale that is endearing to me. For the most part, I take classes at studios that cater to adults but there is one studio that I sometimes attend that is mostly little kids and I have to tell you it’s both adorable and sort of obnoxious. Watching 8 year olds dance WAYYYY better than you is not inspiring – ever. And it’s so NOT cool to be wearing the same outfit as tiny people who still believe in the tooth fairy. Although it is amazingly uplifting when a six-year-old walks up to you and says in all sincerity “I like your shoes.” Awwwwww. That’s so sweet, just please don’t touch me with your adorable but germy little self.

At any rate… all the little kiddies are getting ready for their winter recitals, mostly some variation of The Nutcracker, of course. And it’s at this time of year when I start thinking about the whole issue of performing. It’s strange to me that there are actually lots of opportunities in my area to get into performing on stage. But as I’ve never been one to whom movement has come naturally, I’ve also never been one who has been drawn to any kind of stage or requires any kind of attention. Okay, I do go to academic conferences and whatnot but mostly because I have to. I don’t hate giving lectures, I enjoy talking about my field, but I don’t particularly enjoy it either.

I have begun to consider the idea of performing, in terms of confidence and fear. Not the actual auditioning and performing on stage for an audience but the idea that whenever I dance I should have performing in mind. I actually don’t. I don’t know if that’s normal or not. But when I take class, I concentrate on learning steps and learning combinations. I concentrate on doing them correctly – whether I look like I’m dancing them or not hasn’t really been much of a concern. I’m pretty sure that’s wrong. Well, not entirely wrong though – because a beginner has to start somewhere and that is with the steps and basic combinations. But, dare I say it, dare I think it… maybe I’m not so much of a beginner anymore? Maybe I have reached a point where I should really start concentrating on dancing.

This all came to me when I made nice with the mirror and I realized that I was very much doing barre work in center. I sort of hiccup through exercises that look fairly decent technically but in no way look like dancing. I also realized that trying to let go of my rote mechanical movement was scary. It also hasn’t helped that I’ve been having really bad injury anxiety lately. I go into b plus and voices in my head start to scream. Screaming aside, there comes a time to take a chance, to step up and out from the holding pattern of comfort if there is to be progress.

Maybe it’s just me, but seeing myself as anything other than an extreme beginner has been impossible. But in the same way that looking in the mirror and seeing a dancer changes the way I now work with the mirror, perhaps changing my self-identification from absolute beginner to “emergent dancer” can help me change the way I see myself and free myself to dance, to perform, in class.

“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.” ~Alan Watts

7 thoughts on “The Emergent Dancer

  1. Nodding my head along with a lot of this. When I came back to ballet after the 10 years I took off I spent a long time focusing on remembering steps. Any expression resulted purely from muscle memory. And the decision to do any sort of performance in class was a scary one that took a lot of time to work up towards. There was this whole feeling of worry that my teachers or fellow students would think I was uppity or showing off or something. Even after my technique started to come back it took a while to work up to feeling comfortable performing in class; I guess confidence takes longer to return than skill. The funny thing is that I had been performing on stage with this group within a few months of returning. That didn’t bother me… it was dancing in front of my fellow dancers that bothered me. Go figure.

    It does get easier with time. I find it helps to begin with the exercises you’re most confident in… even if those are at the barre. There’s a lot of performing that can happen at the barre. Once you start to get it it’s rather liberating… and I find it actually does help technique in many ways.

    Oh, and I love the term “emergent dancer.”

    • Thanks, Rori! My confidence wasn’t all that great to start out with but after the injury it’s been practically non-existent. It’s a work in progress but it’s getting better. It’s amazing how much of dancing is all about what’s going on in our heads as much as what’s going on with our bodies.

      Thanks for sharing your experience! It’s a great thing to be able to learn from each other and our various but oh so similar experiences.


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