The Gilded Serpent

The Secret of Dance Style is Your Self-Image-the Essence of Style

Ma*Shuqa Mira Murjan

Dance style is hard to define but easy to spot. When you see someone with it, you want to keep looking, taking in the beautiful image. Everything about the dancer seems to suggest more than meets the eye as you fall under the spell of the dancer's style.

Style is more powerful than beauty, intelligence or artistic talent. Style is more than the sum of perfect dance technique and a beautiful costume. Best of all is learning that style is something you don't have to be born with, it can be developed.

How do you command style? Every dance teacher, just as every fashion designer would like you to think she has the answer to that question. Unfortunately for the fashion conscious; fashion, dance and true style are mutually exclusive. Fashion in dress and in dance is premised on the notion of "what's in and what's out"-what the dance or fashion world approves of. Style, on the other hand, is based solely on an internal value system based on answers to questions like: Who am I? What matters to me? What do I like? What makes me comfortable? What makes me happy? What do I wish to be known for?

Ironically, style is least likely to be evident in those who try hardest to impress others. Their all-too-apparent desire to win approval wins compliments to their face and scorn behind their backs. Many dance instructors limit their teaching and feedback to students because they fear creating dancers with talent and style who will surpass their own performance ability and gain recognition for their own style. By definition, a fashion-or trend-conscious person is imitative of and limited by the guidelines set by the fashion trend. As a result, reviewers of the fashion industry presentations, and even reviewers of dance performers and instructors, fall into the problem of seeing through the filter of the guidelines set by the current fashionable trends. Worse yet, a reviewer may be blinded by the confines of the standards of fashionable trends and unable to appreciate and "see" the merit of individual styles, particularly innovative style.

----Therefore, a dancer who is without guidance and feedback that helps to develop her potential; but has only been given guidance and feedback to develop a standard style will have no opportunity to develop a personal style. She can only imitate the dance fashion provided by the instructor according to that instructor's rules and guidelines. And, as a dancer imitates they concede their own lack of confidence in their own dance identity and style. Self-confidence starts with social approval, but is sustained by your own self-image.

A person with a powerful style, on the other hand, displays utter indifference to judgments of others. She's free from the need for social approval-a state to which, in our hearts, we all aspire. In fact, a person like that doesn't think about her style at all, but rather she thinks about the image that her name inspires as she dances. In this dance world we are fortunate to have the opportunity to select our own name, and in naming ourselves we create our own personae and style that is true to who we are. And in taking a performing name we are, we become and we share who we are and our art with our public.

The only way to achieve authenticity of self-image is by developing an internal value system strong enough to override the external one that judges us by a standard not our own. We can begin to possess style only after we've rejected the power of other people to pass judgment on how we perform within the confines of moral decency and artistic license for creativity within the cultural foundation from which our performances rooted.

When you think about it, it's silly to give others the power to judge us when all they know of us are the most superficial details that they can observe. You're the only one who'll ever know what you've overcome, the kinds of dancing you've done, the weaknesses you indulge, or the strengths you have perfected.
The proud winner and those who didn't win, again

One of life's big truths is not letting other's judge you by their limited rules and perceptions. Make it a part of your revisionist thinking and remind yourself of it at every weak moment that results from assessing ourselves only from others' limited perspectives. Gradually, the judgments of others will lose their power and you'll finally become yourself in your outward life as you've always been in your inner life. And, this difference will be displayed in your dance performance.

That's the essence of style-having the courage to be on the outside what you are on the inside-an original performer true to herself, her body and her heart. Style is nothing more than the outer-most skin of your personality, a fascinating glimpse of the person inside that is special because they have shared their inner-most being with us.

So, you may find yourself worrying, "What if I'm not a stylish person inside?" Or, some of you may be wondering, "Won't I just be exposing my innermost feelings and emotions to others for scrutiny?" Yes, without a doubt you will be, and it takes personal courage to be stylish in the face of criticism by our audience.

It takes real courage to free yourself from the prison of social approbation. Few people muster the discipline and courage to succeed. If you manage to do this and expose yourself, you must definitely believe that you won't come across as less than successful. What's more you won't be worrying about how you come across to other people as the process of self-development continues as an iterative cyclical process to enhance your self-esteem. Courage builds as you risk and receive the rewards of your continuously developing self-image. The beauty of your continuously developing process is that you become even more aware of the beauty of style that others share.

Having a style does not force you to become oblivious to the opinion of the world. Even people who emanate style know what others think of them. The difference is, they don't care. Of course, it's important to know how other people see you if you're engaged in a business, trade or profession. If you're acting from an internal value system, instead of hanging your self-image on how another person judges you, you'll see that person's judgment for what it is-an indication of her own state of mind and her needs to rely on filters. Filters based on prior experience watching other performers and instructors. Filters based on standards and guidelines that constrict one's individuality. And, filters that are based on a rubric of criteria that constrain performers to standardized presentation, all provide indicators of a person who has on blinders and cannot see and appreciate true stylistic, individual art forms because the performance or instruction does not fit a previously identified pattern, experience, standard. If you understand that the reviewer is relying on a template for judgment; then you understand the poor soul's limited base of experience, knowledge and lack of capacity to appreciate anything beyond what has been experienced before.

Acting from your own internal value system gives you a consistent viewpoint from which to judge your own performance. That's much better than having your self-imagine tied to the quirks and whims of many different observers in the course of each performance setting. Relying on accurate, consistent self-appraisals, you can make course corrections and improvements without the emotional upheaval of condemning yourself each time you fail to win another's approval or feeling of a false high when someone tosses you a meaningless compliment.

Without thinking about it, or looking like an imitation of another; once you have taken responsibility for your self-image, you'll emanate style very naturally and project self-confidence as you perform. When you dance you will more thoroughly enjoy the performing experience and you will come to know the essence of style is your own self-proscribed self-image and the secret of dance style will be yours.

Copyright 1995. All rights reserved. Ma*Shuqa Mira Murjan

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