Excuses and Self-Limiting Beliefs

 

This dance journey is so much bigger than just physically learning steps and I am continually amazed at how many life lessons are interwoven in my dance

 

I would guess that most of us who are amateur competitive dancers have to work as much on our mental state as our physical technique. Both excuses and self-limiting beliefs speak more to our mental state and often manifest when we’ve sidelined or forgotten our personal long-term goals.

 

Excuses often surface for me when I’m not doing all I can to move forward. For example, I make excuses for why I’m not practicing like I should.   Excuses usually surface with the phrases “I can’t” or “I don’t”:

  1. My body can’t do that – I’m not flexible enough
  2. I don’t have enough time to learn that
  3. I can’t practice in hotel rooms
  4. Or even, I’m just too tired to…

 

Self-limiting beliefs, on the other hand, are generally how we hold ourselves back due to some kind of fear. Said beliefs can take many forms; they often begin with the phrases “I’m too….” or “I’m afraid…” (fill in the blank). An early self-limiting belief might be that “I’m afraid that I’ll look silly/ridiculous, etc.”. Some of mine are:

 

  1. I’m too chunky to look good on the dance floor
  2. I’m taking too long to master the technique
  3. I’m too old to… compete on a national level
  4. I’m too…to wear those costumes

 

So how do you overcome either excuses or self-limiting beliefs?   Thoughts for another post!

 

 

 

 

Practice, Practice, Practice

 

Let’s begin with the question “Am I really serious about my dance goals?”   If yes, than I need to practice regularly – preferably daily – right?   Yet as many of us know, easier said than done – especially when we have busy lives, other commitments, and make our living outside the dance world.

 

So how do I motivate myself to practice?     I’m learning to apply several “tricks” – some of which I picked up from my professional life and others that I’m learning as I go.

 

Motivational tricks right now:

  1. Remind myself of my numerous dance goals.   This trick works for me because I can get bored easily. Since I have several different goals, on any given day, I can either practice a showcase routine, focus on technique for a particular dance or work on using my whole body for greater expressiveness.
  2. When I’m home (I travel extensively for business), schedule mini-practices throughout my workday – sort of bouncing back and forth between work and practicing.
  3. Sometimes schedule a larger block of time for practice, with built in mini-rewards like playing a video game.
  4. Watch dance videos – especially ones that focus on a particular technique I may be struggling with
  5. Since I have, like most of us, favorite dances, I might watch videos of professional dancers for inspiration – especially useful when I’m working on technique.
  6. When I do travel (and this is probably the biggest challenge to practicing), work in mini-practices that focus on technique I can do in a hotel room. For example, I might work on arm movements.
  7. Begin by doing some other physical activity to get me moving first – I’m finding that doing a little yoga or ballet barre technique gets me into the right headspace to practice.

 

And finally, just writing about dance – like this post – gets me excited and motivated.

 

 

The Power of Your Eyes

 

“Close your eyes, tune into your body.   Notice what your body is telling you. What are you feeling in your body. “   These were the words with which our yoga instructor opened her class.   Yogis know that to quiet the mind, one’s attention needs to be drawn into the body – and that one’s attention inward is facilitated by closing one’s eyes.

 

Of course, my eyes were already closed – I’ve discovered that if I want to be present to the “Now” or “in the moment” and my eyes are open, my brain doesn’t want to disengage.

 

So what’s the connection with dance?

 

Many of us who dance want use our own bodies to re-create what we see when we watch others dance exquisitely. The problem with trying to re-create what we think we see is that we often overdo or don’t understand the micro-movements that lead to such beautiful dancing.

 

And in ballroom dancing, that problem is compounded by the fact that we dance in partnership.   So now there are two people attempting to re-create – and they often haven’t even discussed what they thought they saw – let alone how to lead or follow.

 

Which brings me back to the eyes.   I have learned that my eyes are both useful and a hindrance to my dancing.   Yes, my eyes help me to learn the patterns of the steps and exercises to improve my technique.   My eyes also distract – I am less attuned to feeling a subtle lead in a new pattern when my eyes are open.   I’ve also learned that if I want to “feel” the emotions that music evokes in me so that I can express those emotions through movement, I need to close my eyes.

 

So, in many instances, the act of closing my eyes in dance enables me to “feel” and “see” more deeply – thus enhancing my ability to move my body in dance.   Weird, isn’t it?

 

 

 

 

Competition Ramblings

 

Wow – time flies when you are too busy to think.   A lot has happened since my last post.   More specifically to this blog, in addition to navigating Thanksgiving and some international travel, I participated in my annual regional ballroom competition.

 

This particular competition was a roller coaster of emotions – and trying to maintain focus. I did better than I expected in some dances and was disappointed in a couple of others. And for some dances – while I had hoped to do better than I did, I had realistically figured how I would place, given all the “new” aspects of this competition.   I had a new, fabulous partner for my American smooth dances, I had new patterns and figures in our routines and I competed at a higher level.   And I changed the number of entries per dance.

 

The best part of the competition for me – clarifying who I am as a dancer. I learned what worked and what I need to work on.   For example, my strategy for fewer heats per dance doesn’t work for me – next year it’s back to at least 3 heats per dance.

 

I watched other competitors – especially during the International Standard and the American Rhythm heats. I listened to the music and re-affirmed what music I feel in my body…and what leaves me a bit cold.   I watched with an eye to imagining myself dancing to the music of many different dances – much easier for some, couldn’t care less for others.

 

I left this competition with clear goals around which dances I want to continue to learn and expand, which new dances I want to learn.   I identified which dances to eliminate as well – ones I enjoy for fun as social parties, but not interested in learning the technique minutia required for effective competition.

 

Upon further reflection, I also identified other goals for enhancing my dancing beyond learning new technique.   As one very wise person put it, “sometimes you need to let the technique go and just perform.”   2017 will be the year that I actually spend some time focusing on performance and artistic expression.  I am also blessed with a fabulous instructor/coach who is not only collaborative but also understands how to best facilitate my personal dance journey.

 

All in all, this competition was a wonderful experience as I gave myself permission to honor what feeds my soul.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.