Friday, July 8, 2011

How Does Your Dance Grow?

I think one of the most important things I have learned on my journey, and that I try to impress upon my students, is the different avenues that are available to us to grow our dance, and the best way to use each.  I believe there are 3 main ways that are crucial to a dancer's development, and it's very important to understand how to use each wisely.  These are: performance, regular classes, and workshops.  Each of these things are vital learning opportunities - the crucial point though is to understand how to use them properly to get the most of yourself and your dancing.

Regular Classes:
Regular classes should be the command center for technique: foundation, movement development and exploration.  This is the best opportunity to not only learn new core movements and dance structure, but to also perfect your understanding of them, review them, and to master them.  The familiar classroom is the best place to get proper critique and correction, to insure that what you're practicing at home is the best way for your health and body.  If your teacher doesn't give you feedback in class (often due to class-size, or sometimes because a teacher fears that critique will lead to student loss), then make sure you let him/her know that you are looking for it, and perhaps schedule a private lesson with them to work on certain points.  Don't assume because you're not getting any personal critique, doesn't mean you're doing it right/you are made of awesomesauce. Often when I draw my class's attention to a specific detail or insight, it's because it's something nearly (if not all) everyone needs to pay attention to.

Sometimes there just aren't regular classes in your area, or your schedule or budget makes it very difficult to attend them.  Then you need to supplement them with some sort of other regular program.  One option is DVDs - which can be great sources of information - the only drawback is you can't get corrections or critique from them.  So if there is at least a teacher in your area, or someone you can make a monthly trip to go see, then schedule a private lesson with them.  Often just one hour of private lessons with a good teacher can give you a month of key points to work on - and they can compare your progress with the last time.  There are also now a variety of online classes, video-review options, skype lessons, etc. 

Sometimes a dancer will think because they have been dancing for a couple years, they've outgrown all of their local classes - rarely is this true.  Taking a basics class can be a great refresher on moves you may have forgotten or have gotten lazy about - and different teachers have different ways of approaching and explaining things.  The best dancers never say "I'm above all this basic stuff."

Workshops are ideal for expanding upon the foundation you create and grow in regular classes. They're also a great way to be exposed to new/different ideas and styles.  The best way to get the most out of any workshop is to have your foundation elements in place, so that you can worry more about getting the concepts down. 

A single workshop in a topic should be seen as a sampling of a concept, which means a single workshop taken does not make you an expert on the subject or now qualified to teach it yourself.  I have heard people say "I want to learn a choreography in X style of dance, so I can add it to my repertoire." That's not really the point of taking a workshop - you can't add a new style of dance to your offerings after a couple of hours.  Rather, a choreography or group of combinations in a given style is presented for you to start understanding how it's put together, why it's done that way, etc - and generally just be better educated about that dance form. 

Workshops are also a great way to study with dancers you may not get to see often, and deepen your understanding of their style and skills.  They can also be really key in unlocking new doors for your own personal style, figuring out what works and what doesn't.  They should challenge your mind and your body in healthy, creative ways, and you should come home with at least 2-3 new points of consideration - whether it's an idea, a movement, etc.  Don't be disgruntled if you can't remember a whole choreography - again, that's not the purpose.  You're going to most likely have a lot of new information thrown at you, and chances are, you're not going to remember all of it.  And that's totally OK!  Just take the time to explore those several concepts you do remember, and add them to your journey.

The last way we grow our dance is through performing.  No matter how much you practice a piece, something else happens when you go on stage and perform it live for an audience.  Through performing, we learn a lot about ourselves, the best and the worst.  We can learn what works and what doesn't work, AND we have the freedom to change it for next time.  I think it's crucial to have a goal that you set for yourself for each and every performance - anywhere from "pretty hands" to "connecting with the audience" - and these goals really do add up and help you process your dance better.

The Power of Three
Lastly, what's really essential with these three things, is that they are used TOGETHER. If you only ever do regular classes - and only with one teacher, you won't expand your dance horizons without workshops and experimenting with different styles.  If you only ever do workshops, you're cutting out the foundation upkeep and critique you need from regular classes.  If you only ever perform, your dance won't grow anywhere as much as it would with classes and workshops. If you really wish to truly grow your dance, and grow it strong, consider how you can make room in your life and your budget for all 3, because it will make the difference.


  1. I love that you found a tree that look like a dancer! :-)

    I never thought about the trifecta of growth- but you're right on, as usual! :)

  2. Timely. Have felt like I haven't been growing lately. Go figure - I'm performing less due to lack of opportunities, I'm not hitting 2 classes per week but more like 1 every 3 weeks, and I am going to 2-3 workshops per year instead of 1 per month. No wonder!

    Cutting myself a break though because I am growing immensely as a mother.

  3. Love the tree picture too! Am am in complete agreement with your article above...great post!