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Community matters most

Stating the obvious here. We are deeply affected by moments we share and interactions we have with others. Reflecting on them years later can still inspire a smile, or make our stomachs churn.

Some dancers sharing the floor with us at conventions, competitions and festivals will become part of the same line, where every dancer must be 100% or the whole group suffers. They may become our employers or we may someday hire them. We might teach their kids. All of the above came to be for me.

This is why community matters most. Be accessible. Be approachable and open. Be outgoing even if the introvert inside of you wants to stand in the corner. I was not always the best example of this. It may be a letter to my younger self.

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I choose you

Crain’s “20 in their 20’s”, Dance Magazine’s “25 to Watch” and other lists are publicized each year to highlight people ‘at the top of their game’. Within chosen groups, there are smaller chosen groups. Some people make the list. Some people have their pictures on the wall. Others who sit at the same table do not.

I could never define the logic. I looked hard and thought about it a lot. It came down to, “These people are the ones that get chosen. These people are not.” Why? I couldn’t figure that out.

Conclusion? I’d rather not make the list. It generates a deep superstition. I am happy to hang out over here and do my work.

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It’s technical

Technique can last a lifetime. Routines last for a season. If we have proficient technique, we can reach great heights. And there’s no fast track. You get out what you put in, qualitatively.

Solid foundational technique will ensure a dancer’s physical longevity. It will get dancers into great dance programs or dance companies. If they become lawyers or engineers, they will have a valuable understanding of healthy body alignment and kinesiology.

It’s important to take a look at the time spent refining technique versus the time spent teaching and rehearsing routines. If dancers are spending 5 days a week at the studio, where is the time allocated?

Dance competitions can be valuable opportunities to learn to perform well and work as a team. When dancers start competing in 10, 11, 12, 13+ dances, it’s curious to know how the time is spent, and the reasoning behind money being spent on a dozen costumes and entry fees versus training.

When the season is over and the routines are retired, the costumes are done, the money is spent and the trophies are handed out, technique is the only thing we have left to take with us.

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The Confidence Game

It’s fascinating and eye-opening to read the names of leaders and luminaries that have been addled by self doubt and stage fright anxiety, people at the top of their fields with seemingly limitless talent. Here are just a few: Adele, Beyoncé, Mark Twain, Jennifer Lawrence, Laurence Olivier.

It’s easy to walk into a room or onto a stage in a diminished posture, determined you’re not going to do well before you even start. This is the very easy way to go. You set the bar low. People won’t expect greatness and then you won’t let them down.

How do we get out of this mindset? By pretending. How do you get confident? By pretending you’re confident until you’re actually confident.

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Rule number 1

Be cool. What others think of our talent and ability is completely out of our control. Not everyone will like what you do. If you are well-known, people will publicly not like what you do.

If we take chances and step out of what is safe and status quo, not everything will be a home run. I can list the things I’ve done that completely flopped, sometimes ending in ridicule or a bad review. Lesson learned. That didn’t work.

Back to the first rule. Be cool. That is what we can control. The person that can take and apply feedback, work as a team, help others when needed and come to the room without their ego will, with persistence, be more likely to sustain a career.

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Action, not goals

Goals constrict and constrain us. They close off possibilities.

If we enjoy our work and are compelled to keep training, we can be happy with where we are, in the moment. If we do the work without goals or expectations, the journey becomes much richer.

I didn’t want to be a Rockette. I trained for me. For reasons I can’t put into words, I took more classes. The process was highly addictive. I never stopped to assess whether I thought I was ‘good enough’, whether I was this kind of dancer or that kind of dancer. I wanted to learn everything, to constantly hone technique.

The treasure is in the process. Enjoy the work.

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This has potential

“Whatever you’re doing, that’s better.”

“I can work with that.”

“Not bad.”

These are examples of authentic feedback given to me. We all need to, on occasion, be told how amazing we are. But it’s the authentic feedback that feeds growth. The above was all earned. What I was doing was originally not good, so when it was “better”, this was a great day. Seek out mentors and coaches that will give it to you straight, without ego and condescension.

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Take the note

We are our habits. Everything counts. Even if you’re rehearsing in an empty studio, you do it full out. Your expression is full out. Because if you’re not full out, it’s futile.

We tell dancers this in classes and rehearsals for competitions and performances. We say, ‘this is how you need to work’. Yet teachers will often see no difference. Many corrections aren’t applied or even attempted. Simple things, like ‘move your arms’.

We are our habits. They follow us outside the studio, on stage, in life. Each moment in class and rehearsal counts. When corrected, you take the note. Even if you hate smiling or think you look ridiculous, you take the note.

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Who’s better at being you, than you

Change is hard. It’s even harder if you feel like you have to show up as someone that you think people will respect as legitimate.

I was a Rockette for years. I was really good at this job. Seriously. At one point ensemble members remarked how I never got notes. I was swung out of a dress rehearsal. This is HUGE. Then, everything changed.

I was hit by a bus, which fractured my skull in 7 places and put me in a coma for 6 days. Cut to recovery. I did another season as a Rockette, but the accident curtailed my dream career path. Who even was I anymore?

After years of showing up and standing in line doing as directed, I’m now no longer doing what I was adept at for so long. I thought I had to become something else if I’m now going to sit at this table with these people.

It turns out that it was much better to show up as myself.

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Fixing perception

Nobody is immune to hypocrisy. Cultural dancing that utilizes the hips offends a segment of the population. This is the same society that puts children in barely-there costumes and has them shake their behinds to the audience for 2 counts of 8 for a score.

It’s not my place to say what should and should not be taught. I teach what I believe and that is what I am responsible for. I can state the following as a fact though.

When I am behind the judges’ table and kids are on stage in revealing costumes doing movements beyond their maturity level to music beyond their maturity level, I am not impressed, I feel slightly awkward and occasionally sad.

Is it hypocritical that we will go on for days harshly criticizing adults dancing like adults for adults, and at the same time dress kids up just as provocatively and give them movement with a connotation that their maturity level doesn’t comprehend?