Updated: Apr 15, 2021
By Teagan Lowe.
Something that is so special about the art of dance, and various other art forms, is your ability to always improve upon yourself, both as a technician and artist. Dancers are always striving for more; whether that be more range of movement, greater flexibility, higher extensions, stronger balance, perfecting posture, improved overall strength, greater agility, to be more resilient, to develop greater artistry….whatever the long term goal, if you wish to gain greater momentum as a dancer and artist, you must always improve upon yourself.
I personally believe that no matter the stream of dance or theatre that you reside in, your daily ballet, or “warm-up”, class is the perfect place to improve development, skills and technique. Daily class is a great way to also draw inspiration from others around you - this may come through your colleagues or even your teacher/boss. You’ll be surprised at how much you pick up just by watching and learning from your surrounds. Your environment, and those within it, can serve as a great source of inspiration. Teachers, coaches and colleagues may have already mastered some goals you aspire to - watch them, ask questions regularly and be open to adapt your style, learning qualities and broaden your scope to attain the most out of your dance skills.
There are several things you can do to hone your own technique, artistry and developmental skills by focusing one day, one class, one combination and one correction at a time.
First, it is important to remember to not set yourself unrealistic goals; set smaller, more measurable, manageable and, most importantly, attainable milestones. This will allow you to be more realistic about achieving these goals and you’ll be less likely to be discouraged if you are not able to accomplish the goal in your original time frame.
For example, if you have a hard time keeping your foot correctly aligned, focus on just that for several classes, or as long as it takes you personally (don’t compare your own progress of improvement to anyone else). It may mean lowering your legs a little in extensions, but understand that personal physical growth takes time and will greatly appreciated by teachers and mentors. Do not forget to mention (especially if it means you will not be taking extensions as high as asked for, or lessening your amount of turns) to your teachers and coaches what your goals are and be sure that they understand the purpose for why you are doing so.
A good way to be sure that you aren’t getting lost in your own progress is to track it via a notebook. Be sure to record the goals and timelines that you wish to work for and to notate the progress you have made that class, rehearsal, day or week. Notating your own progress is also a good way to remember several corrections and to maintain newly formed choreography.
BE A GOOD LISTENER:
Always listen in class, rehearsal, stage calls, notation sessions and meetings. Apart from the corrections that are given to you directly, it will also greatly benefit you to listen to and take on board corrections that are given to anyone in your surrounds. Just because a teacher or director may not have singled you out, it doesn’t mean that what they’re telling someone else couldn’t be thought over and applied to your own self-improvement.
Once again the art of notating, and referring to your notes often, comes into play when you’re truly listening and applying corrections. The more you are able to concentrate on applying corrections the faster you will improve. This also means taking the time outside of your studio, rehearsal space or practice hours to apply these tools.
Practice the skill of being able to mimic and copy movement and corrections in a productive manner. When the teacher, choreographer or director is showing a combination for the first time, it will help you to remember if you mark, or do the movements “full out”, along with them and in real time.
The same holds true when you are in the centre for ballet class, or at the theatre, watching others perform. Watch, copy and mimic. When you do mimic, make sure it is done musically and with clarity so that you are able to correctly solidify the steps and repeat them without fault. Notation and repetition will also be a big help in this domain.
ATTENTION TO DETAIL:
Pay attention to the details. Sounds blatantly simple, however this is how some of the greats have got to where they are. The most gifted of dancers are the ones who pick up on everything, there isn’t a detail that slips by them.
To be fair, there is a lot to learn while a teacher, choreographer or director is showing a combination or correction. You have to learn the counts, any special rhythms, changes in dynamics, what the feet are doing, where the arms are going, placement of the head, weight changes….all whilst portraying a character, theme, feeling or emotion. If you think about this as a whole it can seem overwhelming, but really it is all about simplifying, digesting and breaking it down for yourself.
It almost breaches on the saying of “know the rules before you can break them”. As an up and coming dancer, you want to be able to demonstrate that you’re there to learn, listen, apply and take it upon yourself to improve. What a teacher or director also like to see is that the small details haven’t been missed and those rules have been applied correctly - especially important when a dancer is training - then as a professional you know all the rules and how/when you can break them to develop into a fully formed artist.
FOCUS AND CONCENTRATION:
Dancing is a lot of physical, but also mental work, this whole body exertion requires extreme focus and concentration. If you feel like you are struggling to pick up a combination, it might help you to first watch (whilst following the movement - marking) a combination as it is being shown to get an overall understanding of it. Then focus on the pattern the feet are making (along with the counts), and finally focus on the the arms and head (again with the counts).
As mentioned in my previous blog post, being an efficient, intelligent dancer is a huge part of personal growth and improvement. Thereby each person’s journey to how they improve is going to be very personal Be intelligent with how you learn, adapt, ask questions and participate in each class or rehearsal. Teach yourself when to use a lot of power and when to hold back and rest for recovery. Not every movement or moment requires the same kind of physical or mental exertion. This will add nuance to your dancing and really allow you to find your true artistic style.
DON’T BE AFRAID:
The studio and the rehearsal spaces are your safe havens; no one is there to personally attack you with judgment, they’re only present to see the best for you in every way. So don’t be afraid to take risks, push yourself a little harder and see what both your mind and your body a physically capable of. As long as the teacher doesn’t specify that it should be a single pirouette, then push for doubles, triples, four turns….why not? The worst that can happen is you fall (and as long as you don’t hurt yourself) and have a good laugh….big deal! If you never try to push beyond your comfort zone, you’ll never move ahead.
It is important to always remember that you are not competing with anyone but yourself in the effort to improve your own dancing and artistic ability. Think of observing others as a pure source of inspiration for yourself to grow, rather than a way of feeling defeated because you aren’t quite there yet. Small steps, day by day, class by class, combination by combination, will lead to you always improve not only who you are as a dancer and artist but as a more well rounded, dedicated, focused, humbled human being.
Please feel free to comment and to ask questions, query things, pose topics for future blogs and connect through the comment section. I would love to interact and engage with readers to be able to deliver articles, interviews, general posts and knowledge on topics that you are truly interested in. General comments and awesome chat is also very much encouraged!
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