Monday, July 18, 2011

Mouth Closed, Ears Open.

There's often a point in most dancers' training where they have to try and justify everything - sometimes why they're doing something right, but most especially when they're caught doing something wrong.  Whether it's about a performance, or something being done in class - the automatic reaction is the mouth opens and words come. The hardest part is not about doing something right or wrong, but learning about when to shut the mouth.

This revelation came in two-part process for me, more or less.  And I believe it involved a grilled cheese sandwich, as most things do.

It was a weekend, about 6 or 7 years ago, when I had traveled down to Southern California for some events - I think it was a few strung together to make the trip extra worthwhile - a performance at a benefit, teach a workshop, and a theater show.  Back in those days especially, a trip to LA really threw me off energy-wise, almost like coming down with the flu - without the vomiting - but I hadn't really figured this out yet, and let's just say that first performance I'd probably file under "craptastic." And I knew it, and I just couldn't keep my mouth shut about it, even at the event.  The next day, after the workshop, I was having lunch with Princess Farhana (like you do), and I was telling her about how badly it went the night before - at least according to me and my brain -  in between nomming my grilled cheese sandwich.  And that's pretty much when she told me I needed to (learn how to) shut up.  That even if it goes badly, zip the lips, put your chin up, smile, and keep it yourself.  Took a while for that to sink in, but she was very much right (as usual).  If it goes really bad, it doesn't help anyone, especially yourself, to be apologetic to everyone and wallow in it.  Nobody wants to hear it - and if people did enjoy your performance anyway, it doesn't make them feel good to hear you think you sucked, and most often we're our own worst critics anyway. Move on, make notes, do better next time.  I would extend the same theory to when it goes really great - be happy, enjoy it, take notes, and move on. Either way, acknowledge people's feedback positively and graciously, and be congenial, yet concise. 

So, that's part one of keeping your trap shut.  The other part is in the classroom.  I don't remember the exact point of when I learned to do it myself (and whether it involved grilled cheese or not), but I do remember the time I became aware of it as a phenomenon via a class I was teaching.  It was a performance-level class, and part of the class involved me critiquing the students so they could be better performers.  And for every item I commented on, there was a response for why or why they didn't do something from the students.  In a nutshell, there was an excuse for everything, and it was starting to irk me - until I remembered doing it with one of my own teachers back in the day.  As a student, you desperately want to be right, to show your teacher that you do know better, and you want to voice that.  But in the larger scheme of things, this is really unnecessary, and is a waste of breath and time.  Your teacher (most likely) knows you are not a moron, and knows and believes you can do better - he or she is trying to help you be the best you can be.  And the only way to do that is to listen and acknowledge what is being said, and start to think about how to make those changes - instead of making an excuse or trying to prove you know better.  Don't talk about doing or knowing better, DO it, SHOW it, BE it.  The only way you can prove yourself is by demonstrating that ability in the classroom and on the stage, not debating it with your instructor. 

Lastly, this is not to say you shouldn't discuss problems and concerns with your teacher.  There is a time and place for that - usually outside the classroom or perhaps during a private lesson. What I'm talking about here is learning to accept critique from your teacher by realizing you're not on trial, you don't need to cite evidence to prove your case - just open your ears to listen to what your teacher is saying, and look realistically at what you're doing and see what needs to change.  Saves more meaningful mouth-time for that grilled cheese sandwich. 

1 comment:

  1. In college I took a video editing course where we had to show our projects each week and let the class openly critique it. The instructor's rule was the person being critiqued couldn't speak. It was horribly painful, especially for my chatty myself. I wanted to defend every cut I had made, justify every choice....but I couldn't! I have never thought of applying that technique to dance, but it makes sooo much sense! Thanks as always! :)