One of the most enlightening aspects of learning to dance has been an increased awareness of my body/mind connection. We’ve all heard how our self-talk can impact our performance…and often aren’t aware of how much that self-talk is rooted in childhood experience. I am continually discovering how especially true that is for me in dance. I’ve become aware of how my self-talk either enhances or inhibits my dancing. For example, when I was taking ballet lessons as a child, turns (more specifically spotting during turns) were a challenge for me.
Fast forward several decades and my default psychological approach to spins and turns has been that turns are difficult…and so they are. My mind (childhood message) is telling me that I will have trouble with turns; I tense up and reinforce the internal message that I will experience difficulty. However, when I shift my self-talk to a different focus such as “my turns are beautiful” or “I can do several spins successfully”, my body relaxes and my turns are executed well.
The other aspect of this mind/body connection is learning to let go and simply trust my body’s innate wisdom – the body often knows what the mind can’t articulate in words. For me, after all the practice and technique, that means attempting to shut my brain off and let my body take over. I am continually discovering how much I want to control my body with my mind…and how that control is actually counter productive. I’ve discovered that, given the appropriate practice/conditioning, my body will do the right thing if I just let it.
I recently had that exact experience while polishing a routine that requires several independent spins/turns in a row. During one practice, my coach/instructor saw on my face that I was worried (which I didn’t realize). He told me “You do these spins well – don’t overthink – just let your body go – your body knows what to do.” Yeah, right. Well, of course he was absolutely correct. And as I continue to practice these turns with the mindset that my body knows and the self-talk that I turn beautifully, you can guess how much better (and fun) they are.
Dance Instructors or Dance Coaches
Over the last 10 years, I’ve been blest to have worked with several fabulous dance instructors. Thinking back, I can honestly say that I’ve learned from each of them. In addition to learning steps to various dances, our first instructor got us past the fear of looking foolish – and on to the dance floor at practice parties. Our second instructor helped us learn leading and following as well as more advanced steps so that we weren’t bored.
When I decided (with my husband’s blessing) that I wanted to do showcases and compete, I started taking additional lessons without my honey (we still do a couple’s lesson). These instructors have helped me continue to improve my technique and expressiveness (always a work in progress) through learning how to:
- holding my frame correctly
- using my arms more effectively – and starting to dance with my whole body
- how to distribute my weight appropriately – especially for turns
- recognizing subtle leads
- proper hip action for rhythm dances
And yet, as much as I learned and as fabulous as these instructors were, not all of them were great coaches. For me, having a great instructor who is also a wonderful coach has helped me transition from the mindset of “taking dance lessons” to acknowledging myself as a “dancer”.
So what’s the difference between an instructor and a coach? For me, a great coach goes deeper than the technique and fun aspects of dance.
A great coach (often by asking gentle, probing questions):
- recognizes how you best learn and adjusts his/her teaching style accordingly
- understands who you are as a person – especially your emotional make-up – and taps into that understanding to motivate, challenge you and still build your self-confidence
- takes the time to learn what your dance goals are – and teases those goals out when you’re not sure
- goes beyond the lessons to provide tips and hints for practicing at home
- knows before you do when you are ready to take your dancing to the next level and gently pushes you to achieve more than you thought possible
- uncovers the dancer within – helping you to inject your own expressiveness into each dance
- listens to your concerns in multiple ways – verbally and non-verbally. For example, a great coach can read fear and doubt on your face without you having to say a word – and offers tips on how to manage/overcome your fears.
Finally, a great coach, even knowing you are the student, treats you as a partner. Partners recognize that we each have knowledge and perspectives to share and we learn from each other. For example, as the student/partner, my perspectives might enable the coach to see his (or her) gifts and talents in a new light as well. And when we are blest to be in such a partnership, we also learn about ourselves more fully. We are on this dance journey together.
Life has a way of intervening – consequently I had to put this blog on hold for several months. I am back now with lots to share about my learning journey into dance, bodywork and connections. Over the next few weeks, in no particular order, I’ll be sharing my lessons learned, insights and a few tips and hints.
When I started ballroom dancing with my husband ten years ago, we were looking for new ways to have some fun together. We naively thought we could learn how to dance in a few lessons. Yes, we did learn some basic steps to fox trot, rumba and tango. And then we discovered that there are so many fun dances, that even to learn the basic steps would take lots of lessons – and we were hooked – at least I was.
Looking back, that first year was about learning steps and beginning the journey of partnering. I say beginning because I am still learning how to be a better partner (more on the partnering path in future blogs).
This partnering thing was particularly difficult for me as all of my previous dance experience – ballet, belly dancing, etc. — had been as a solo “performer”. What do you mean I have to wait for someone else to “lead” the step?
Intellectually I understood the concept of waiting for my partner to lead. However, getting my mind/body to wait was another story – especially since I tend to learn patterns of steps quite quickly. My natural tendencies were: 1) to anticipate the lead and move ahead on my own or 2) to back lead, meaning to “help” my partner complete the pattern of the step. Neither of these approaches is beneficial to your partner or to your dancing partnership. Your partner never gets to learn how how to best lead certain moves, whatever the dance, and you never learn how to appropriately feel and interpret the leads.
And, ladies, on a deeper level, we have to examine our own need to get it “right” so that the dancing looks good to others. So ask yourself, how is your desire to look good on the dance floor impacting your partnering? How is that need interfering with letting your partner learn to lead? How is that need interfering with your ability to follow?