Expressiveness Part Two

 

Sometimes I have what I call “a blinding flash of the obvious”.   These insights are those “Aha” moments when I laugh in wonderment over something that I think I should have realized earlier.

 

My latest “blinding flash of the obvious” has to do with dance performance – more specifically, how to improve the quality of my performances so that my audience feels what I feel.

 

As I wrote in Expressiveness Part One, once the technique is at a credible level, I wanted to start uncovering the character of particular dances.   I chose to do this by emotively getting into the music and letting my body move naturally…still focused on me.

 

What I have most recently discovered is that every great performance is an interactive, emotional experience with the audience.   So my questions now start with:

1) What is my experience of this music?

2) How do I invite the audience into the experience that I am having with                      this music?

3) How I use my face and body in ways that enable the audience to connect with me…and to our dance (we do dance with partners).

 

Since all ballroom dancers dance with a partner/instructor, I can’t do this work of connecting in isolation.   So the next questions become:

1) How does my partner feel about the music?

2) What emotions are evoked for him?

3) What are his thoughts about expressing those emotions?

 

And finally: What story do we want to tell through our movement?

 

This approach assumes that your instructor/partner and you have the relationship to engage in said conversation. Once you have the conversation – probably multiple times for even one performance, the two of you can figure out how to incorporate each others’ styles and strengths to best tell the story you both want to tell.

 

This interaction and connection with each other in telling the story is what really connects with the audience…and hopefully the audience will be drawn into what you both feel.

 

 

Expressiveness – Part One (More in the next blog)

 

As I’ve mentioned before, there is a learning progression with any dance discipline.   In ballroom dance, you initially learn steps, how to lead or follow (depending on gender) and then patterns of steps or figures so that you can actually dance.   Depending on your personal goals, you may also discover that you are just beginning to mine the multiple variables of great dancing.

 

For example, my husband’s goals are to be a great social dancer who leads well.   Early on, I discovered that I had additional goals for my dancing.   Yes, I wanted to be a good follower and have fun.   Within a year, I also wanted to delve more deeply into technique and now I am keenly aware of improving performance beyond the technique.

 

To achieve these goals, my first move was into studio showcases (think adult recitals), followed by some initial competitions to demonstrate a level of proficiency in a few dances, usually by some set figures/steps or occasionally a choreographed routine.   After those first nerve-racking showcases and competitions, besides learning steps and improving the minutia of technique, I became aware that performance was more than just technique.   I became intellectually aware of needing to inhabit the character of the dance…not that I necessarily knew how to do that physically.

 

As my awareness grew, my instructor’s coaching also challenged me to be more expressive. For me, that word “expressiveness” took on a whole new meaning.

 

In addition to my dancing life, I am in a profession that requires I step out of my comfort zone (think shy, reserved, introverted). I facilitate change management and leadership workshops for large corporations. To be successful, I obviously need to make the content interesting and, depending on the audience, entertaining.   I prided myself on stretching my expressive muscles at work.

 

I quickly discovered that what I expressively did at work barely scratched the surface in dancing. Which shouldn’t have been a surprise, but it was.   Beyond the phrase “getting into the character of the dance”, I was encouraged to pay attention to “what emotions or feelings the music brings out for you”.

 

We all have music that resonates with us, that speaks to the heart.   Obviously, I could more easily identify the “character of the dance” with music that spoke to my heart. For example, initially I was especially drawn to tango, slow waltz and paso doble music…and as my repertoire has expanded, I resonate with rumba and Viennese waltz.   I can feel this music in my bones.

 

Recently I began to listen to music with the intent of allowing my body to find its natural movement, which for me is the first step in finding my personal dancing style.

 

The challenge was, and continues to be, how to express that inner feeling with my face and my body so that my audience could feel it as well. How do I use my face and body to convey what I’m feeling…and still be technically sound?

To be continued in Expressiveness Part Two

 

Moving Beyond Body Concerns

 

One of the biggest psychological challenges I faced in my first few years of dancing was body image.

 

I wasn’t nearly as svelte as I would have liked – actually I was a bit bigger than pleasantly plump. Being very aware of my pudge, I was extremely uncomfortable with another man’s hands anywhere on my body – let alone have our legs or hips touch. Since I was also reserved, other than hugs with friends or relatives, I probably hadn’t had physical contact with a man other than my husband in over 30 years.

 

And for some unfathomable reason, touching legs was a bigger deal that just hands on my back. I vividly remember the first time an instructor’s legs moved between mine – we were dancing American tango.   I am sure (although we’ve never talked about it) that he felt my involuntary flinch.   “Oh my”, I thought, “This is more intimate than I expected.” To his credit, we just kept dancing until I relaxed and became somewhat more comfortable.

 

The next big body hurdle – at least for me – is that I perspire – a lot.   I mean I perspire down my back to the point that my top gets soaked or I stop a lesson to wipe my forehead so the sweat doesn’t drip into my eyes.     Sweating profusely conflicts with my desire to be pristine – I don’t want anyone to touch my sticky back, etc.

 

So I’ve learned to:

  • buy tops that float and breathe
  • bring extra tops to lessons
  • tuck a tissue up a sleeve (or elsewhere)
  • realize many of us sweat, so our instructors are used to it

 

Finally, if you compete, there’s another concern – body odor.   For those of you who aren’t aware, if you are a female competitor, your dance partner/instructor may not want you to use antiperspirants during a competition – for fear of said products leaving a residue on his costume.     Really?

 

Fortunately, I’ve discovered some (almost) natural deodorants that don’t stain. So while I may sweat profusely, at least I won’t stink.

 

 

Flow

 

We often start ballroom dancing as a hobby or something fun to do with either a significant other or friends.   Some of us then move on to competitions and/or showcases which enhance our ability to perform.

 

And then there’s flow.   For me flow is the most addictive experience.   I do compete, I do showcases, but what really keeps me coming back is the experience of flow. Flow is when it all comes together and I, at least, feel completely at one with my partner/instructor.   Flow is when we are simply dancing with no extraneous effort. Flow is when I know we’ve “nailed” it together and I feel ecstatic. Yes, the ecstasy of a spiritual high. Dance for me is a spiritual practice (more on this in a later blog.)

 

I was again reminded of the power of flow during my last showcase.   I’ve been doing Argentine tango with my instructor for a little over seven years. Most of the time, especially during lessons, we are working on improving technique and attuning to the subtle leads.

 

And every so often, there’s the experience of flow. We were performing said tango at a showcase and every move was effortless. Each movement melded into the next as if scripted to perfection. It seemed as if I was totally attuned to every subtle lead and move he made. I lost the sense that I was performing at a showcase and just gave myself over to the dance. I recall only one tiny bit of verbal coaching – mostly we just danced – and it was wonderful.   And when we were done, I was ecstatic – and we hugged because we knew it had been great; we had created a beautiful expression of dance.

 

Even now, when I think about that dance, I am filled with tears of joy that I had been blessed with such a beautiful experience.   I am also reminded to reflect on what such a wonderful dance can teach me – about myself, about my partner and about my dancing.