Friday, March 1, 2013

When You Can't Dance...

In my previous post, I wrote on injury and how demoralizing it can be for a dancer. Sitting out is a terrible feeling. Your soul is screaming to dance and it breaks your heart that your body isn't able to facilitate that kind of movement.

I've been there. I was extremely demoralized myself when I wrote that piece. I've been struggling with a rotated vertebrae and twisted ribs that made it hard to breathe, slouch, and turn my neck to drive, let alone dance from Halloween until late December of 2012 (although, I had some pretty fabulous posture for a few months). I spent nights crying in frustration, or trying not to because it hurt to gasp for air. I didn't know what to do.

I sat out of a lot of classes. At my university, dancers who sit out of class fill out observation forms. Basically, you watch for specific things and answer questions. You write about dance and learn to develop a critical eye. I've always been a harsh critic watching dance, but a few things happened while I was watching that had never happened to me before:
  1. I got to know the dancers around me. I mean really. I really watched them for the first time, without looking for things to make my dancing better or for things that they were doing wrong. I looked for dancing. Just pure movement. What came of it? I fell in love with literally every dancer around me at some point. And that made me so much more grateful for where I was and the opportunities I had.
  2. I improved. Now that I'm dancing again (although not without pain), I feel that something has changed. Watching classes made me a better dancer. I notice this particularly in my modern class (strangely, the class I did not have to fill out observation forms for). When I came back to dance in late January, after 3 months having not danced a full modern class, I suddenly was on. On my leg. On my center. On fire. I absorbed so many nuances of the style and technique that I just never saw when I had to dance it just by watching.
  3. My dynamic range is so much bigger. I have so many more choices now, simply because I took the time to watch. Watching other people make choices that I would never make prompts me to take risks and go where I would never go before, now that I know what's possible.
So I dare you to sit out and watch a class. Even if you're not injured. Heck, I think everybody should sit out and watch a class every once in a while. You start to see things you've never seen before, and it changes you. Since I took literally a 3 month break from classes, I've seen such a change in my dancing that I hardly recognize myself anymore. My muscles and skeleton move more efficiently, I'm more relaxed (I'm a pretty uptight, organized, anal retentive person, usually...if you can't tell already), and I'm in love with all of the dancers I know.

How did I see the change? I performed in our biggest show of the year in December, when my back was hurting so much I couldn't breathe sometimes and I depressed my navicular on opening night (leading to shin splints so bad I was limping for 2 weeks). However, I danced completely normally and characteristically of myself. In January, only a month later, I watched a video of myself dancing in a rehearsal video for a different piece. Sure, the styles were different and I wasn't in as much pain in the second video. But I looked different. I saw a different side of myself. I had never seen myself dance so freely, so relaxed. That's when I knew that taking the time off and changing my view on dance and on my injuries had made me a stronger person. Being a stronger person made me a stronger dancer, and it liberated me and made me capable of everything and anything I could think of. Sure, I'm still working on it, but I know that that break was crucial for me.

So if you're injured, please take this as an inspiration. Watch dance, but don't watch idly or critically. Watch actively, with what my sociology teacher calls "beginner's mind." Have no expectations and watch like you've never seen dance before. Like a sponge, absorb every nuance that you possibly can. You'll miss moving a lot, and I promise that it will be frustrating to sit out, all the same. But it could make all the difference, like it has for me.

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