Once upon a time there was a shy, timid, and petite little girl. Her loving home and surroundings were filled with music and song. The music would overwhelm her heart into movement. Her movement became her sign language. Dance became her bold and expressive voice. Confidence grew as the little girl grew. When the child matured into a young women her dance took her to near and far places. She danced on stages, at schools, and in churches. Most importantly the young woman danced when she was happy, confused, sad, or even content. The young woman discovered she did not need an audience to dance. She danced for herself and from the heart.
No matter where life takes you always dance and be young at heart.
One place I love watching people improv or “dance” is at weddings. The reason I love watching people dance at weddings is because it’s care-free. It’s genuine. When people go out on the dance floor at weddings, they don’t care if they look like a fool or if they’re the best out on the dance floor. What they do care about is having fun, and just moving to the music.
So why is it when we step into a dance class and the teacher says to improv, 99% of us (myself included) get nervous? And I’ve noticed it’s after we’ve reached a certain age. When I teach my nuggets, and I tell them to freestyle or dance, they do whatever comes to mind when the music plays. Why can’t that be us when we’re older? Why are we scared or nervous all of a sudden? Or where does this fear come from?
I believe that when we improv or freestyle, we actually become dancers. Once we let the music take over, our bodies just naturally move. Have you ever listened to a song and just started jamming out with your friends? That’s IMPROV! It’s the same concept for when you’re in the studio.
Here’s a few tips to help you feel more comfortable with improvisation or freestyling:
- Listen to your music. When we listen to music, we already have a natural reaction to the beat. Whether it be a head bop, a snap of your fingers, tapping your foot, etc. Let your body naturally adjust to the music. How’s the song make you feel? Sad? Happy? Emotional? Excited?
- GROOVE! Let your body move around. It could be as simple as a step-touch. When you let your body move around, you’re letting the music take over.
- Experiment. It’s okay to try new things when you improv. This is how we start to grow. If you always catch yourself waving your right arm, or doing the same turn; try a different variation of the move. By experimenting you’re just adding to that bank of moves your body knows.
- Have fun! The biggest takeaway is to have fun. At the end of the day, you got to ask yourself…”why do you dance?”. I dance because it’s my outlet. It’s a way for me to escape from everything else for that little minute of time. I don’t have anything to worry about in that moment.
Think of it like this. You have a blank wall in front of you - the dancers floor; with a buckets of paint - the music. Dancers are the paintbrush. We have a gift as dancers. We get to bring the music to life.
Why Do You Dance?.... The way you answer is what makes you, YOU.
Have you ever stopped to ask yourself “Why Do I Dance?” If you’re a dancer, I am sure that you’ve been asked this before – but maybe not so seriously. You may have been asked by your dance instructor when goofing off in class, your friends when you say “I can’t, I have dance”, your parents when you complain “Im tired, I don’t want to go to dance today”, or when you meet new people and your instinct is to say “My name is.. And I am a dancer” without hesitation. Most importantly though, this question should be asked internally. Of yourself.
Something about Felicie’s answer [the movie LEAP] moves me when she is asked, “Why do you dance?” :
“Because it’s always been a part of my life. It was there with my mom when I was a baby, and it’s here now thanks to Odette. It allows me to live, to be myself.”
…It allows me to live, to be myself.
Nothing more true has ever crossed my ears when it comes to this answer before hearing this. I have asked this of myself, in many different stages in my life, in many different circumstances, always giving myself some generic answer or what I thought I wanted to hear. But when I broke down all those thoughts and reasons and why’s – the answer was the same: I loved it. It’s a part of me. It makes me feel as though I am completely alive.
I feel like I can communicate better through dance. Like my expression and voice is better understood, related, and received more clearly with movement & dancing. My emotion is stronger than when I am speaking. My dance speaks for me. Because it is a true passion that has always been a part of my life, it sometimes has also clouded my understanding of why others dance. It’s been hard for me to at times throughout my life to understand how I can be so dedicated to something, while others are not. I could literally want to dance for a solid 12hrs one day, get up and do it all over again, while others are ok with just the 1 hour of recreational dance a week & rather hang out with friends. Over the years (& as I have gotten older) I have come to see that dance is for Everyone. And therefore, there can be more than one answer to the question above.
It is important to understand that while you dance for one reason, someone standing next to you may be dancing for a completely different one… and that is 100% completely OK! Some dance for the glory. Some dance because they are naturally gifted. Some dance to escape. Some dance to make friends. Some dance for the community. Some dance out of duty. Some dance for the trophies. Some dance because it is inspiring to them. Some dance for the scholarship or the Varsity Letter. Some dance to pursue dreams. Some dance because its good exercise. Some dance because they just love to move to music. Some dance because they cannot communicate with the spoken word. Some dance because they cannot imagine life without dance. Some dance to simply bring joy to others. While others dance to simply bring joy to themselves.
Every Answer Is Valid.
Keep in mind as we enter the end of the spring – and approach Recital season – that we all love dance. We all love it for possibly different reasons. But we all love it. It’s a part of your life right now, if only for a season, or for forever. And when someone asks you, “Why do you dance?” I hope you say – “It makes me Happy”.
For me – “it’s always been a part of my life. … it allows me to live, to be myself.”
When performing on a stage, you share your passion with others, and it is one of the best feelings. I started performing before I can even remember. My mother used to tell me a story of how when I was maybe three years old, she and my dad lost me at the park. They eventually found me doing what I loved most, performing! The fact that it was on top of a picnic table for a couple of older men doesn’t mean anything... Let’s move on. I performed whenever I could, usually upstairs in front of a big mirror, music playing from my parents’ records, while they watched TV downstairs.
When my older siblings brought dates home, I saw it as an opportunity to perform! I had a new audience! It was just the three of us, the teenage couple on the couch, and me dancing it up, just a few feet in front of them. I am sure it was awkward for my siblings, but they probably deserved it! My mother finally caught on to the subtle hints I was giving and signed me up for dance lessons.
I loved dance classes, but it was performing that I looked forward to the most. Dancers can at times, stress a lot about the performance. And I would, (and still do!) get nervous right before going on stage. (That’s actually a good thing). But once the lights hit, it’s magic! On occasion, it’s you out there just hoping you don’t mess up. That’s how it is at times. It can be paralyzing! But then you just have to let that go, and love what you are doing. Love the dance more than you fear failure. Once I learned to do that, I never looked back.
Did I still mess up at times? Yep! Did I forget a step or two? Uh huh. Over the years I have had shoes break, wigs fly off my head, fake fingernails break off, costume malfunctions, mustaches not stay put, and music start at the wrong part. Once, I was supposed to shoot my “cowboy” dance partner with my gun but couldn’t find it, so I shot her with my finger, only to figure out a few counts later the gun was in my other hand!
I learned from each of those mishaps I had on stage, too. Sometimes through tears. More often with laughter. But always with fond memories and gratitude that I took the opportunity to dance.
As a young girl I was in love with ballet. I wanted to grow up and be a ballerina. The first time I ever saw a ballet live was in Salt Lake City, Utah. Ballet West was doing their annual performance of The Nutcracker. I was so excited to see the beautiful ballerinas dancing around the stage. As the lights went down, the Capitol Theatre was filled with the amazing sound of Tchaikovsky’s score. I was completely mesmerized. The scenery was complete with a tree that grew. My brother kept exclaiming “look at the tree mom, its growing”. The dancing was the prettiest thing I had ever laid my eyes on.
Now as an adult I look back at the experience and realize that The Nutcracker will always remain my favorite ballet. It is not due to the amazing choreography, talented dancers, wonderful music or terrific scenery. It is because the first time I saw it live I realized the magic of live performance on a stage. Every single person involved with putting together a show is invested in giving the audience a new experience. The dancers, actors and musicians have a passion that they are willing to share. It is not for the sound of applause or the money. It is a love for their art that they wish to share even for just a short amount of time.
As we come back from our holiday break and start working toward the year end recital on June 2nd I hope that you take a moment to realize how much your dancer enjoys their art. Some may only dance for one season. Some will dance for a lifetime. But no matter what, they want to share it with you.
I started dancing at the age of ten. I was not coordinated, and a lot of my family members did not believe dance was going to be for me. My grandpa asked my mom jokingly one time if I was just dancing for fun. Meaning, did I know I didn’t have any talent? It was true though, I was not graceful, and I did not seem to show any promise. I had balance issues from losing my hearing as a child and I started dancing at a relatively late age. Can you imagine though, what if I thought, “Mm, it is too late for me?” Where would I be now? I would not have graduated from college with a degree in dance and I would not be happily teaching dance today! I seriously would have missed out on so much.
I think it is a big misconception when people think dance is not for them, they aren’t coordinated enough, or it’s too late. Martha Graham was an important innovator in the style of modern dance, and speaks to this in two of my favorite quotes: “Great dancers are not great because of their technique; they are great because of their passion,“ and, “You are unique, and if that is not fulfilled, then something has been lost.”
It is never too late, and one is never to uncoordinated to dance! Dance is for everyone. Dance opens a messaging system to the soul that shows who we really are. It isn’t important if one can’t do a perfect triple pirouette, but with practice and consistency, one has already taken the first step on their own journey through dance.
One of my favorite things about ballet is watching the corps de ballet. The Kingdom of the Shades from La Bayadere is one of the most beautiful examples of how 20+ dancers can move and breathe and live as one. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J1p3bng9V64 It is mesmerizing. And it’s not easy. Ballet is an individual art and sport, but it is also a team effort. It takes discipline and time to train your body and your mind. There are many methods used to help reinforce a one-ness, and the first is through dress.
I have been teaching for 14 years, and I still hear many of the same questions: Do I have to have my hair in a bun? Do I have to wear a leotard/tights/ballet shoes? Do I have to take off my jewelry? Can I please wear my sweats/shorts/tee-shirt over my leotard? And my favorite: Why?
Ballet is an intricate and precise style of dance, and requires bodies to be trained in a specific manner. In most pre-professional ballet schools, dancers start out in a uniform of socks, ballet slippers, and a leotard, or briefs and tank for boys. No tights are worn for the first few levels so the instructor can really see the body at work and ensure proper muscular development. This also helps catch any bad habits before they start, and prevents injury. The uniform of pink tights and a leotard, black or color coded to your level, helps your instructor ensure that you are training properly. How? The thin materials and tight fit let me observe which muscles are being activated, and which ones are being ignored. I can see if your spine is aligned, if you are standing properly on your feet, and if your joints are stacked. When thick or baggy extra layers are worn, it obscures the body. I can still see major ‘oopses’, but the more subtle mistakes, such as a tipped pelvis, are impossible to see. These smaller mistakes are usually the ones responsible for chronic and acute injuries.
Ballet shoes are designed specifically for ballet. There are small variations in design, (leather vs canvas, split sole vs full length) but they are basically the same. Ballet shoes allow you to fully feel the floor and move in ways other shoes do not. Jazz shoes use much thicker leather and have a heel. It might not seem like a big difference, but the heel does not allow you press your entire foot into the floor and glide in the way ballet requires. The heel also gets in the way of the intricate beats more advanced dancers perform. Dancing barefoot, or in lyrical shoes also prohibits the proper articulation of your feet on the floor, and inhibits turning.
A bun is a key part of ballet. Proper ballet buns need to be secured at the crown of the head with tight hair elastics, bobby pins, hairspray or gel, and maybe a bun form. When a dancer is constantly distracted by loose, floppy hair, and/or lots of fly-aways, they are unable to focus on what they are doing. Brushing bangs out of the face or shaking hair out of the way becomes a habit, which then becomes muscle memory, just like chewing your nails. You find yourself doing it without realizing it. Like I always tell the kids, what you do in the classroom, you will do onstage! Buns are also important for balancing and for spotting; it helps contribute to the feeling of lifting up. It can sometimes seem as though ballet is too strict and boring and there is no room for self-expression. A fun way to show your personality is with your bun. Flowers, scrunchies, jewels, braided buns are all ways to take the required bun and make it your own. It becomes part of the pageantry.
Having a uniform for class and rehearsal helps the dancers, instructors, and choreographers to see the dancers as one unit. It helps highlight inconsistencies in line and execution, which then allows for correction. There is a time and place for soloists, but there is also a time to blend. Think of ballet like a choir: each person is responsible for hitting the right notes and putting work and passion into achieving a pleasing sound. At the same time, they are also responsible for blending with the group. My teachers, both in dance and in choir, taught us that we had to be part of the corps before we could ever be a soloist. Team work and unity is what truly allows you to grow, and it’s what supports you when you get that featured moment. The principal ballerina wouldn’t be as interesting or dynamic without her corps to back her up. Yes, sometimes wearing a basic ballet uniform can seem boring. Choose instead to think of it as making you part of a whole, and recognize that it is there to help you grow and become your best. I want to see you all succeed and enjoy this beautiful art form!
When I was eight years old I became fast friends with a curly, strawberry blond haired, spunky girl named Melissa. She lived down the street and we were inseparable. She took dance lessons: ballet, jazz, tap and baton, so I wanted to take lessons, too. My parents agreed to sign me up and I loved it! I can still remember the smell of my first pink leather ballet shoes and what it was like in the basement studio in the little town of Algona, Iowa.
My family moved back to Boise the next year and I continued taking dance lessons all through my school years. In my eighth grade year of school, my English teacher asked us to write an essay on where we saw ourselves in twenty years. I wrote about being a dance teacher and owning my own dance studio, never thinking that would be what I would really do. I couldn’t think of anything else to write about. I enjoyed dancing, was on a studio performing team and didn’t have any “real” career aspirations, so, why not?
It is surreal to think that I have now been dancing for 30 years and I have owned a studio for over 16 years! As I am starting another season of dance, I am joyed to look back at all the wonderful memories I have growing up through dance and how I am now blessed to pass on the love of dance to so many young people! Whether you dance for a while, or for a lifetime, it is a special gift that stays in your heart. Do you have someone you can introduce the joy of dance to?
P.S. Each month a different staff member will be sharing a blog post. It may be a story or helpful tips, so be watching for fun posts from the DAA staff!
Dotty and Melissa performing a baton routine in a community parade.
There are a lot of details that go into recital day! Here is a suggested packing list so you know what to remember on the big day! Dancers who received their costumes in white bags should use the bag to carry their belongings on recital day.
Dance recitals are a BIG DEAL! It is exciting for all performers, as well as their parents and families to see them perform on the big stage! In order for all audience members to have the most enjoyable experience, here are some tips on how the audience should conduct themselves: