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You might be terrible

Wanting to learn something new is easy.

Signing up to start learning it is fairly easy.

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.

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Just stand there

I will not remember how many pirouettes you did, how high your leap was or how long you held your leg.

I will remember how that dancer stood downstage right evoking her true joy. I remember the dancer who picked up the petals she dropped and released them with such emotional depth, I was trying to imagine what could have brought her to do that. I remember, from 14 years ago, that ballet duet about a relationship falling apart where at the very end, she gently brushed him as they passed each other to exit opposite sides of the stage.

It’s that magical feeling you get when you know something is reaching you, and when you think about it again even years later, you can still visualize it and feel the emotion of those moments.

That is the gold. I have no idea what else happened in those pieces. I don’t remember any of the compulsory elements, good or not-so-good. When you take the stage, make sure your audience sees you.

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Barre none

It is the job of dance educators to equip students with a technical foundation that will serve them and enable them to grow artistically in the direction they choose. Equally as important, dancers who train well are less likely to suffer injuries.

Are we doing right by our students by sending them onto a competition stage attempting technical elements that are far from ready to be performed? Why is this dancer hopping around twice with a sloppy preparation instead of balancing a single rotation with a clean and correct preparation? Bent knees on low relevés trying to do à la seconde turns, zero percent effort to spot, and so on.

Let’s put dancers on the competition stage performing pieces they can ace every time. No matter what.

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Now hear this

Guest post by Jenefer Miller

Recently, I dragged myself out of my house early in the morning to see a student perform her tap solo that I choreographed at a competition. I was excited to see her perform for the first time. Everyone was. This little 10 year old rocks (truly). I got there just in time. She walks onto stage and performs her routine flawlessly. Adorable. She dances as strong as many 16 year olds. Her smile is infectious. Her sounds? Well, we couldn’t hear them at all. I quickly look around. Sound guy? Check. He’s there. Mic’s? Check. They are there. Power to the mics? None.

I get that it was 8am on a Sunday and there were no other tap soloists, but this tap dancer paid her $140 to be there just the same as any other dancer. What if the contemporary soloist who went on after her had the lights go out on her? What would happen then? Would that soloist get to perform one more time with light? Or would we say- “that’s too bad”?

I’ve seen countless posts about competitions and tap. Flooring. Mics. No mics. Judges who don’t get tap. Judges who do. What tap shoes to buy. The list goes on and on. I did politely ask the staff to make sure those mics were on for the rest of the day so any other student who took the stage could be heard. But fancy me this. If the competition companies are going to offer tap as a category, shouldn’t they also supply the right equipment to make it happen? I propose that comps put all of the tap routines at either the beginning or end of the weekend and allow tap dancers to perform on the floor before the marley is laid out. Allow the tap dancers the opportunity to perform on a stage that truly “lights up” the audiences’ ear. If the comps are going to light the dancers, they need to supply sound for the tap dancers.

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Flat on your face

The most fun stories to tell are the bloopers, blunders and mishaps. It’s fun to talk about the sheep that dragged me off stage during the Living Nativity scene or the time my pants split on opening night in front of a sold out audience.

Or how about the time I was hired for a job in Dubai with one-year contract, only to be fired after the second day of training and be told I’m completely untrainable. Could they have decided that at some point during the 5-step comprehensive interview process?

If you are successful all the time, how fun is that? My stories will be way better than yours.

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Paradigm shift

There needs to be an overarching connection between what we teach aspiring dancers and what would theoretically be expected of them in the industry. The same goes for any pursuit. A tennis enthusiast is likely not going to parallel Roger Federer, but he or she would like to learn how to properly serve a tennis ball.

Kids, and anyone who seeks to learn, need to learn classic forms first. Are we cultivating the next generation of dancers when 7-year-olds are put on stage dancing to “My Humps”, or a 6-year-old girl is dancing to these lyrics:

“Because I’m blonde I don’t have to think
I talk like a baby and I never pay for drinks
Don’t have to worry about getting a man
If I keep this blonde, and I keep these tan”

Let’s empower those we educate and give them the right tools to succeed with integrity.

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It’s all good

Are you good? Do you spend time worrying if you’re good? I grew up never really thinking about it. It never mattered. I was having fun.

I trained passionately without stopping to assess how good I was or caring if others thought I wasn’t. I never felt I had to prove anything. Go go go, and before I knew it I was on stage in front of 5000 people.

After that, things start mattering. Newspapers interviewed me, tv stations interviewed me. Come meet these people. Re-audition to get your job back. Nope, that’s not good enough. I try something new and get ridiculed. Tons of rejection, a couple bright moments in the middle.

Remember those days when it didn’t matter?

It’s been a messy journey full of mishaps, terrible performances and realizations. Which brings me back to where I was 25 years ago.

Am I good? It doesn’t matter. I’m having fun.

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You’re on the right track

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

“I can work with that.”

“Not bad.”

These are examples of authentic feedback, actually spoken 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 feedback 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 tell you the truth, a truth that is free of ego and condescension.

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Mentors and baskets

Mentors can be a tricky thing. It can make us feel so reassured that somebody wants to take us under their wing.

Who, me? You want to mentor me?

Then we get to boast that so-and-so is our mentor. He/she chose ME. The tricky part is that it can be easy to become emotionally dependent on what they think of you and your work. Mentors, after all, are human. Just as we get validation from training under them, they can get validation in knowing that we feed on their approval and encouragement.

In the end, mentors are people with expertise that teach us a craft/skill/art that we want to learn and someday master. And we should have a multitude of them. It’s best not to put all our eggs in one mentor basket. Those we learn from and those we lean on are not the same people.

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Dig deeper

Some of my friends are the most virtuosic musicians you’ve never heard of. My friend Bobby was playing the most technically demanding guitar solos in his basement when he was 15.

There are countless great artists doing profound work that aren’t garnering 1000 likes on social media every time they post something. Some of the most artfully composed music can’t be heard on mainstream radio or streaming apps.

If we spend our time and energy only fawning over what and who is popular, we are hugely missing out.