December 17, 2013 by Nicole
As dancers, I think we all share some degree of perfectionism. To some extent, that’s what dance training is – taking a specific muscle movement and perfecting it. Perfectionism has its positives: it’s motivating, it helps us focus and it’s probably what separates us from non-dancers – the desire to “do it right.”
But I’m starting to see there is also value in not doing it perfectly sometimes. Think about combinations in class. Our goal, whether we’re going across the floor with a turn exercise or completing a sequence of quick intricate jumps and footwork, is to get everything right. I always want to hit every turn and complete every step….not mush through footwork or fall out of a turn. That should always be the goal.
But in reality, as my teacher recently reminded us in class, there are very few times in your dance life where everything goes perfectly: you do exactly the number of turns you wanted, every toe & fingertip was in the right place and you’re giving the emotional performance of your life. Those times are a little on the rare side. So what about every other time you’re on stage?
That’s what I’m getting at today….it’s very easy to be in class and be frustrated that you’re having a bad day, then allowing that frustration to interfere with what you’re doing. This can show up in a variety of ways: giving up on the combination, trying to force the turns or making additional mistakes because you’re not giving thought to anything but the step that’s troubling you. All of these reactions are understandable. And I’m right there with you – I hate it when I’m not getting something!
But what you do in class shows up on stage. That’s why we rehearse and why goal #1 is to aim for perfection. The challenge I’ve been posed with and am sharing with you here is to make goal #2 to try and “save it” when it’s not going well instead of allowing your emotional reaction to rule your combination.
For example…back to those turns. Say the combination calls for a double, but that’s not happening for you. Figure out what you can do – instead of scurrying out of your teacher’s sight. Maybe it’s a clean single. Maybe it’s putting special and deliberate focus on using your abs to keep your core engaged. Maybe it’s simply thinking “up, up” instead of “omg, now I’m going to have to turn twice……hope it happens!” (We’ve all had those mental conversations.) The difference is that you’re keeping your mind and body invested in what you’re doing. This also helps you learn your body and what you can do with it. It helps you find patterns. You’ll start to put together “when my body feels like this, I need to do that to fix it.”
And that’s the difference in learning to correct yourself versus needing a teacher to tell you….and you won’t have that help in an audition or in performance. I’m not saying that it doesn’t matter that it’s not right – you should always strive to push yourself in your dancing, physically and emotionally. And trust me, your choreographers will notice and care if you’re not performing the steps they’ve given you. What I am saying is that learning how to get back on track is going to be a necessary skill……and one that most people have to practice to get any good at it. And what better time to do that than in class? In class, you’re going to have both “off days” and multiple opportunities to try again in that space. Every single part of class (even the not so obvious parts) are training, either for your body, mind or both. It’s just up to you to use it.
What have you learned about using class time? How important is it to you to do everything perfectly? Tell me about your experiences in the comments section!