3 Tips to Improve Your Dance
by Alay’nya (Alianna J. Maren, Ph.D.)
posted June 11, 2012
All of us want our dance to be beautiful and captivating. Yet often, especially when we are new, we see a great distance between our own movements and the expressive power of our teachers or the favorites whom we watch on YouTube clips and DVDs. Is there a way to accelerate the process of becoming better? If so, what are the secrets?
We typically impose limiting expectations on ourselves. We may think that we’re at a disadvantage, compared to those whom we admire, because frequently, we have begun dance training as mature adults, and often hold full-time day jobs and other commitments. The truth is, though, that Oriental dance is a perfect realm in which we can experience “breakthroughs”. Indeed, we can develop that mesmerizing quality that inspired us to take up the study of dance!
As adults, even as beginners in our art, we can become powerful and alluring. The secrets? They are threefold:
- Shifting state – from our daytime mode to the expressive, playful, sensual goddess,
- Modeling – taking on the qualities that we see in our teachers, and
- Pursuing a principles-based training.
The first challenge for us, as dancers, is closely similar to the challenge facing top athletes in any arena. We must learn how to shift our state of being. Probably, we have already mastered this skill in other areas of our lives. Now, we need to apply this to our dance, too.
Shifting state* is the process of going from “here” to “there” – almost immediately! We are familiar and comfortable in this kind of state-shifting when we transition from our roles as wives and mothers to being corporate heroines. Entirely different brain-states may be involved. These may show up in our attitude, our voice and facial expressions, and our posture. Sometimes we use certain stimuli to trigger our shifting state. Putting on our corporate dress, preparing or buying that cup of coffee “to-go”, or even looking at our daily planner can trigger us into a corporate "amazon" mode. However, by the same token, our child’s voice can instantly bring out our mothering aspects.
These two modes, Amazon and Mother (or Isis, after the great Egyptian goddess of fertility and nurturance), are well known to most of us. In order to develop the sensuality, the playfulness, and the passion that we desire in dance, we need two more modes:
- Hathor(after the Egyptian goddess of sensuality, sexuality, and pleasure in all its forms) and
- High Priestess (contemplative and calm).
It is because we know instinctively that we need to trigger our Hathor and High Priestess modes, or archetypes, that we deliberately “dress up” for dance practice: we put on special clothes, jewelry, and may even select a different perfume. Our High Priestess shows up when we consecrate a place for our practice. This can be as simple as arranging a shelf in our dance area with a veil, a candle, and some flowers. These simple acts let us know that we are making our dance time sacred unto ourselves. These actions send powerful cues to our brain.
Modeling After an Example:
Once we’ve cued our brain to respond differently, we still need two more things in order to rapidly accelerate our growth. One of the most important steps is to model ourselves on our teacher(s). An important part of this process is getting our attitudes out of our way. As author W. Timothy Gallwey, in his book “The Inner Game of Stress” **, describes it, we have two selves that he designates Self 1 and Self 2.
- Self 1 is the invented self, filled with mind-chatter. This chatter is often harsh and judging; filled with criticisms – of both ourselves and others.
- Self 2, on the other hand, is present in the moment.
Modeling is something that we do when we simply map ourselves onto the person, or behavior, that we desire to be or to do. When we model, it is important that we let our Self 2 take over, and quiet our busy and critical Self 1. As we model, we simply allow ourselves to become our teacher, or the great dancer that we watch on the DVD. Metaphorically, we allow our body to melt into hers. Our goal is not so much to copy the technique, as it is to feel the way that she feels when she is dancing. Naturally, we often need to watch the DVD or YouTube clip many times to learn the physical movements, so that we’re not distracted and the process of “melting into the other dancer” can happen!
The Principles-based Approach:
Finally, we need to take on a principles-based approach to dance. While there are many great teachers, we need to seek out and pay special attention to teachers who guide us in learning to move from within. Someone who teaches us the importance of the principle of expansion/contraction, for example, is giving us a valuable dance idea; one which we can use to create beautiful movement. Someone, who teaches us how to align our bodies with gravity, stretching out and lengthening our sacral and lumbar areas, helps us to generate dance moves with instinctive ease and grace. There is a range of useful dance principles; some are static (how we organize our body when standing or doing an in-place movement), some are dynamic (how we connect inside ourselves and generate movements), and some are energetic (emphasizing the role of energy flow and breathing).
In martial arts, the “brother” to our feminine art of dance, principles-based teaching is well-known. For example, Peter Ralston, founder of the Cheng Hsin System, has cultivated and taught body alignment and movement principles as the foundation of his martial arts practice. His various books, among them “Cheng Hsin: Principles of Effortless Power” ***, are valuable for everyone who cultivates a body art, whether this be a martial art, sport, or dance.
Thus, by switching our state of mind and accessing our inner Hathor (and our high priestess as well, for quieting our minds), modeling ourselves on the most appropriate teachers we can find, and incorporating concepts into our dance practice, we can evolve rapidly. I’ve witnessed women with only a year or two of training look better than many of their dance peers, simply by bringing these three qualities into their dance practice and their lives. These three skills – switching state, modeling, and using dance principles – can give each of us the mesmerizing power that we desire, within an amazingly short time.
* Described more fully in my book- Unveiling: The Inner Journey (McLean, VA: Mourning Dove Press), Chapter 14.
** W. Timothy Gallwey, E. Hanzelik, & J. Horton, The Inner Game of Stress: Outsmart Life’s Challenges and Fulfill Your Potential (New York: Random House, 2009), p. 15.
*** Peter Ralston, Cheng Hsin: Principles of Effortless Power (Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 1999).
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