Staying Motivated

 

Now that we’re past Thanksgiving and preparing for Christmas, I am amazed at how hard it is to get back into practicing.   I have found that I need to be working on a couple of things simultaneously to get motivated to practice – especially when I want to do other things like put up decorations, shop, etc.

 

For example, right now I’m learning a new showcase routine – one that has been designed to focus on technique that I want to improve.   So I need to both learn the figures (steps) and to execute them effectively, I need to improve my technique.

So when I’m bored with the technique, I can bounce back to simply learning the flow of the figures.

 

Fortunately my dance coach is also a master at breaking down the technique into micro-chunks so that I can isolate which parts of my body to use to initiate and flow through a specific movement.   Thus he provides great exercises designed to both ensure that my technique becomes consistent, but also eliminates bad habits.

 

The best part of these exercises – I can do them at home — when I am in hermit mode and don’t want to go to the studio or when I need to squeeze in a few minutes of practice between conference calls or other work related tasks.

 

And thanks to this post, I hear the next practice session calling, calling, calling…

 

The Power of Videos

 

I generally prefer not having my picture taken and that goes double for videos.   That being said, videos have become one of my best friends in my dance journey.

 

Early on in both our couple and my individual dance lessons, I tried taking notes – especially regarding foot placement with some of the figures.   We would get home and try to practice and the notes didn’t make enough sense to help us. As the figures have become more complicated, the note taking became too onerous to even try.

 

Back in the day, since phone technology wasn’t spectacular, we bought a video camera to help us – and it did.   Although we probably weren’t as consistent in recording as we should have been – the little clips did help enough to get through some practice sessions at home.

 

Of course, now that smart phones have improved so much, videoing just about anything is easier. I am also very fortunate to have had instructors willing to demonstrate figures for me, or get someone to video us doing the figure together.   Just having those clips at home has greatly enhanced my practice time.   I am amazed at how often I go back to the clips – even some of the older ones to refresh on a figure I may have forgotten.

 

Since our studio also brings in external coaches from time to time, videoing a new figure or a new way of shaping or arm styling as demonstrated by the coach has been a gold mine for improving my dance.  Repetitive viewing is critical to grasp all the nuances.   The first few viewings are to get the footwork right, then I can move on to enhanced shaping or arm styling.

 

As I add new dances for competitions (I’ve moved into international standard), and my American smooth silver routines have become more complicated (requiring more expression and shaping), we’ve also begun to video the entire “routines” for me to use for solo practice sessions focused on technique and footwork. My private lessons then become opportunities for partnering and refining – rather than re-hashing the content of a particular figure.

 

And after several years of avoidance – think never watching videos of my dancing (I really hate seeing myself on camera, etc.), I am gradually becoming reconciled to watching my performances. Must admit, I am picking up on both mistakes and progress. It is a bit of a kick when I actually see myself doing something well. Who knows, I might even come to enjoy it.

Group lessons…or not

 

The dance journey is always a gold mine, when we take the time to reflect, for revealing new and old truths about oneself.

 

A little bit of context – recently during some group classes, I found myself struggling emotionally and tensing up during the classes.   What should have been a fun and inexpensive learning experiences with friends had become a personal emotional challenge.   I would often walk out of such classes either frustrated or angry – and questioning if I wanted to continue doing group lessons.

 

Where were those feelings coming from? I like all my fellow dancers, but was I jealous of their success? Did I somehow think my competence as a dancer was being called into question? I love my instructor, so why am I so frustrated with him in group lessons?

 

And after several entries in my journal, I began to uncover what was underneath the emotional roller coaster.   The good news – I am not jealous – I am actually thrilled when a friend masters a figure or new technique. Group lessons can be an opportunity for additional bonding and deepening friendships with fellow dancers.

 

On the other hand, I have also discovered that some of the teaching techniques in group lessons don’t necessarily lend themselves to how I best learn.   For example, in a group lesson, we can theoretically learn from watching each other – especially when someone has mastered a technique, etc. This learning from watching others is also why so many folks gravitate to videos.

 

The downside, though, is we don’t all master movements at the same pace or in the same way.   So watching another dance student in a live class (as opposed to watching a professional on a video) can potentially lead to comparisons with oneself that actually erodes, rather than enhances, self-confidence.

 

Upon reflection, I was reminded that I learn best by doing first – having the technique or movement presented in micro chunks that I can feel in my body and use my body to experience.   Watching others without having had the personal physical experience isn’t generally helpful as I can’t always identify what they are doing differently to master the figure or technique. So to honor my own learning process while participating in group lessons, I have started to ask for what I need.

 

Finally, the “duh” factor – communication is key in getting past tensions or blocks in a group lesson – sharing feelings of frustration between instructor and student can open one up to acknowledging our vulnerability and humanness – and increase connection as well as self-confidence.

 

So, am I still going to group lessons?   You bet – not only are they great learning experiences on multiple levels, they are really fun experiences with great friends.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mental Explorations

 

Recently I again became aware of how much my mental state impacts my dancing.   I previously wrote about uncovering unconscious self-limiting beliefs – and I’m working on that.

 

Yet, as my dance coach and instructor patiently continually points out, I unconsciously tense up (even when I think I am relaxed) when learning something new – whether it be a new figure, a new routine, a new dance – especially if I think it’s going to be difficult.   Geez, not only am I not aware of the tension in my body, I intellectually know that this physical tension is actually detrimental to achieving my goals.

 

Ah – another journey into self-reflection – what is at the root of this unconscious tensing up?   For starters, I am a both a perfectionist and an over-achiever – despite my efforts to allow myself to enjoy the journey.   I work really hard when I’ve identified specific goals and I definitely have some specific long-term goals for my dancing. Not to say that the journey isn’t fun – it definitely is!

 

The upside is that I am finding myself practicing in new and creative ways – both at the studio and at home. However, the downside of my drive to “succeed” gets in the way of better dancing because “working hard” has somehow become defined in my unconscious mind as physically bulldozing my way through. In the course of reflecting, I also have discovered that the “tensing up” – especially in my upper body, has been my way to get focused.

 

So my question is how do I “relax” my body through the physical learning process – and when I am participating in competitions?   I don’t have any answers yet. Sports psychologists have long studied how top athletes approach their mental game. Thus, I have begun looking at what athletes in other fields do – and was reminded of the myriad ways they up their confidence and focus.   Great athletes use myriad approaches to get the results they want such as: establishing specific pre-game routines or rituals, using positive self-talk, incorporating a lucky talisman, eating a specific food, visualization, or incorporating known relaxation techniques such as deep breathing.

 

Not sure which of these approaches will work for me, but I am excited about exploring all the options.   Stay tuned!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

FOLLOWING

 

One of the most important skills an amateur female ballroom dancer (at least in the Western world) needs to master is the art of following – a progressive journey of several stages. And a journey that I believe is never completed.

 

When female amateurs first begin ballroom dancing, we are told that our “job” is to follow.  Especially in the U.S., that means learning to let go of control and let our partner “lead” us. The conundrum is that many of us women, when we first danced as teens, were the leaders, so many of us became masters at back-leading.  Or, if in our youth, we studied any of the popular dance forms such as ballet, tap or jazz, we most often danced solo and the whole partnering dynamic is a new experience.

 

In the beginning, this ballroom dancing dynamic of leading and following can often be misinterpreted as waiting for our partner to “push” or “pull” us around.  Early on, many of us also expect and/or prefer a “strong” lead so that we know where we’re supposed to go.  This approach also lends itself to a lot of early instruction telling us (as the follower) to “wait” rather than jump the gun by anticipating what the move will be.

 

As we progress and the patterns or figures become more complex, we are supposed to also learn our specific part – which may be a bit different from our partners’ part.   And again we are given instruction to not “help” our leader – translate – quit back-leading.

 

Thus, in addition to following, we are expected to learn how to distinguish between when to dance “independently” (understand and do what our part is)  and when to follow. Part of the process is also how to “feel” the leads into our specific part of the figure or pattern.  Put another way, this stage is the journey of learning what one’s job is in the dance partnership and learning when to “hesitate” and when to just move.

 

To further complicate this ongoing journey, every leader leads differently – some leaders are subtler and others prefer to be a bit stronger. Just learning how each partner leads is in itself a journey.   As we learn to follow with different partners, we need to work out together how each partner leads.

 

While the journey never ends, I’ve discovered that the joy of this progressive “following” journey is found in both big and small improvements – like when you dance with a new leader and can follow immediately – at least most of the time. Or when you realize that you have become more conscious and aware of the subtler leads.

 

And it’s these “victories” that can be addictive, so I keep coming back for the joy in the journey.

 

Argentine Tango

Cute little museum in Montevideo, Uruguay – devoted to La Cumparsita…and its impact on tango.  And there’s quite a debate between Argentina and Uruguay as to where tango originated.

 

When the Body Says No

 

It’s been a busy three months since I lasted posted.   Lots of international and domestic business travel – Dallas, Poland, India, Singapore and Uruguay.

It’ a good thing I like to travel – and the business does pay for dance lessons and competitions. On the other hand, the travel wreaks havoc with my dance goals since practice becomes a challenge.

 

It’s been a while since I’ve traveled so extensively to international locations – and I totally underestimated the toll jetlag would have on dance practice.   While I managed to get a few yoga sessions in, a tiny amount of dance prep exercises, plus some walking to and from the office or for meals, finding the additional energy to practice routines or improve on technique was nearly impossible.   My body just said, “No”.   I think I put my dance shoes on only once in the two week Asia trip.

 

So I am now exploring ways to honor both my body’s needs and make at least some minor progress toward my dance goals without feeling overwhelmed.   I stumbled upon a silly-sounding tip to work fitness into to a busy daily routine. The tip: every time you go to the bathroom, do a few targeted exercises – and before you know it, you’ll have done a half-decent workout.   Boy howdy, the tip also works for dance technique exercises as well – even at home when my energy is lagging.   The best news – after a few mini-practices, I’m actually more motivated to attack the longer practices.