Start today. Don’t start tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after that. Start now but start small.
Be a student. Always be a student. Those of us who educate dancers do our best work when we take class too. The classes we take will inform the classes we teach, what will move and motivate our students. Work on your tendus. Work on your shuffles. I still am.
And when I get a compliment from my teacher, it still feels really good.
Sometimes, you should listen to those who have expertise and experience in your field, people who are practiced in it and educated in it, when you have choices to make.
Sometimes you shouldn’t listen to advice.
There’s no easy way to go about it.
There are dancers that I believe would have achieved certain goals of theirs had they heeded my advice and guidance.
There’s the teacher who didn’t seem to think much of me, who thought that I should have taken the first job I was offered because it was the only job I’d likely ever get.
Now, I didn’t turn it down because I thought I was above it. I turned it down because I wasn’t mature enough to leave home and tour for a year. As it happened, I was offered one of the top jobs any dancer could get less than a year later.
I digress. As artists and as humans, we do need mentors and colleagues to dispense feedback and wisdom, but we need to choose who we let in judiciously.
Not listening to anyone is bad. Listening to everyone will get you nowhere.
Every year there are a few months when competition complaints and criticism of judges are abundant. It’s consistent from year to year, even in this most unique of seasons.
The judges don’t know tap.
They only want to see tricks.
The scoring is all over the place.
Do judges take off points for…
What’s interesting is that the kids aren’t the ones who are upset. Honestly the parents (of my students, at least) are never upset either. They are excited to see their kids on stage and to see the growth in ability from one season to the next.
Dancers are there to perform, to understand the rewards of working toward something and to work through the nerves of performing on a stage, in a costume, under lights and in front of an audience and/or complete strangers who will assess them in 2 minutes.
Winning is fun in the moment, but if we don’t win, are we going to hinge our validity, progress, artistry and joy on a snap judgement numerical score given by a stranger that can’t possibly know what it took to get that dancer or group of dancers on stage?
Trust the artistic process and enjoy the ride. Nobody remembers what the score was.
Humans love to complain. We publicly post a dance rant and have 500 of our closest friends chime in on how they hate that too and then list 5 other things that that they can’t stand.
Who doesn’t love instant gratification? There’s that feeling of ultimate satisfaction for about 5 minutes, and then what? All of the sudden dancers start wearing tights and two shoes, age appropriate costumes, they stop filling the music with all tricks and all of the competition judges become perfect? Probably not.
If we put out work we believe in, work that reflects what we want to see on stage and what inspires us, we can find a longer lasting satisfaction than the knee jerk say-what-you-feel-right-now impulses that propel us to take our grumbles to social media for all to commiserate with.
What we say matters far less than how we say it. Expressing what we love to see is equivalent to expressing what we loathe to see, except more will listen if we frame it with a positive spin.
The reason trends exist is because somebody started them and our culture pushes us to conform.
Not every effort will be a home run, but if we bunt and get a base hit, it’s a promising start.
Everyone can now know what we think about everything, should we choose to share it. There are no longer gatekeepers between us and our audience.
When something happens in our industry that we don’t like, the first instinct is often to take to social media.
“Everyone must know what I think about this.”
What’s the goal, really? What will change if everyone knows how much I dislike something or how against it I am? Will everyone all of the sudden start to do things differently? Will 500 people I don’t know give me life changing advice when they can’t really see it from the inside?
These exchanges very often turn into arguments that nobody ever wins, or mountains of advice and opinions from people who really don’t know us.
If we want to make change, truly meaningful change, we make culture by starting with the people right around us. This is our group, and our group does it like this.
When the impact starts small, it ends up much greater.
Getting yourself to step into that first class or lesson isn’t quite as easy. Fear can start to kick in, combined with inhibition and vulnerability with a side of nervousness. But still, let’s say getting to the first class isn’t so difficult.
You get to the first class and what you imagined yourself doing might not be what comes out of you. Well, you say to yourself, this is much harder than it looks.
There’s the rub. What do you do?
Fun fact: it’s ok to not be good at something. You might be terrible at it. Let’s think ahead though.
What happens if you keep going back? You become less terrible. And the next time even less terrible. One day, low and behold, you will be good at it! The rewards are much greater than the frustration and stumbles along the way.
Many have bailed before they got a chance to see what they are able to accomplish. If that inner voice is saying it’s too hard, find that stronger voice that tells you to enjoy the journey. Enjoy being terrible. I’m not here typing this because I’m great. I’m here because I was terrible and I kept going.
We see it often. A colleague opens a new space and it’s immediately packed with people (these days, in a limited capacity). What?! How are they open for a week and packed like that?
What if you’re not one of those immediately popular businesses, artists or entities? You start with one client or supporter, then two, a few more… Some stick with you, some disappear.
The ones who stay come for you. They like what you’re about, what your process is, how you designed your program or your work. Little by little, more of those people walk in your door. You’re not afraid to try things because they are there for you and your realness. It’s ok to say, “Hmm that didn’t work. Let’s try this.” And your true fans are there for it.
You might not get that rush of 100 people at your door on the day you open in your shiny newness. The ones that are meant for you will find you, one by one.
Anyone who is a leader of any kind, whether they teach classes, conduct seminars or coordinate a team, has the responsibility of preparing and showing up ready to connect and extend themselves, fostering an environment of progress and positive, focused energy.
Those attending classes as students have the same level of responsibility to show up and be open and receptive to the energy, to make the corrections given and accept critiques with a “thank you”, “got it” or nod.
Sometimes the universe hands us a bad day (or recently, year). What we do have control over is how we choose to improve our mood, whether it’s by reading or listening to something positive, or just reaching out to a friend with with an “ugh” and and eye roll emoji to get it off our chest.
Being a student is a skill. Giving back energy to those we take class from and with is a high priority skill. The mood we bring into the room is a skill. If we practice at it, we become great at being present no matter what the universe has handed us that day.
Any change will make someone in your audience unhappy. Not changing at all makes you “stuck in your ways”, and maybe they seek out something new and shiny.
There’s an integrity to holding on to tradition. There’s a reason it is done this way and it works.
There are also things that can make us reluctant to moving forward and making changes: reluctance, stubbornness, fear, laziness, feeling overwhelmed.
We need to find ourselves in that middle place, where we don’t listen to every piece of advice thrown out there, but we don’t want to throw walls up the instant somebody is offering new options and directions to move in. It takes more time and critical thinking to find a path that feels right.
A tendu will always be a tendu and a shuffle is a shuffle. It’s right or it’s not. The possible platforms and modes of delivery, though, are constantly changing, and the question of whether to move with them or not does not have a binary, yes/no answer.