Work smart, not hard - how to work as an intelligent dancer
It is undeniable that dancers put in tireless amounts of blood, sweat, and tears; unlike some other skills, or sports, it isn’t as equally, nor quickly, measured. This lack of easily measured success makes dance increasingly difficult to witness progress. Sadly, this often makes dancers question their projection within their art form and if they are in fact improving. It is only human to want to see and be able to measure personal improvement and results; dancers are acutely dedicated to their discipline and work themselves to the bone to get to where they wish to be.
I want you to think the next time you are presented with a new challenge or goal in your next class or performance, ask yourself these questions: ‘Do I want to work brutally hard and push for wildly unrealistic daily goals?’, or ‘Do I want to put in my best to achieve small daily results?’. I for one want the small daily results, while I’m more than willing to work hard for them, I want it to be a kind of hard work that also applies my intelligence.
As a retired professional dancer, I can now look back and fully understand that working intelligently as a dancer and performer has many different, dependent and adaptable components. However to have survived 18 professional years (and many, many more amateur years), I think it best that I viewed my journey of dance as a marathon and not a sprint.
In this post I would like to point out the 3 most relevant focal topics to becoming a dancer who works smarter and not necessarily harder, these are: focus, creativity and purpose.
FOCUS: Focus is one of the most important parts of dance. We can probably all admit to having days when we are in the studio attempting to pick up choreography and it just doesn’t sink in, or are trying to perfect a certain step by practicing over and over and over again. In these moments we get the feeling that we aren’t improving at the rate we would like and become increasingly frustrated. In instances such as these, instead of focusing on the negative, we should focus on what is positive. You have taken the time and energy to practice and commit yourself to either the rehearsal, choreography or challenging step, which is more than what you had achieved before you started. Whether or not you would like to admit it, this IS an improvement and an action of focus that should not go unrecognised. Acknowledge that focus and dedication is a powerful step forward in the right direction for your daily development.
If you sense you lack focus, or have been told this by teachers or choreographers, use these simple ideas to improve:
Firstly, don't worry about managing the overwhelming amount of information, worry about managing your attention. The ability to pay attention for long periods of time is a form of endurance athleticism. Like performing a piece that runs for 20 minutes straight, honing your attention requires practice and training to get the most out of it. If you want the ability to focus on things for a long period of time, you need to develop your own ‘attention fitness’.
Secondly, know that your ability to focus comes from your brain, which, just like any other physical part of your body, needs to be taken care of correctly. Your body responds very well to two things — your diet and physical exertion (the latter, thankfully, we have covered by dance). What you put into your body is your fuel; if you’re low on fuel, your brain will not let you focus on anything else. So be an intelligent dancer by fuelling up on foods which are rich in nutrients and essential vitamins. From wholegrain-packed breakfast choices, oily fish and avocado for lunch and finishing with a choice of sensible carbohydrates for muscle recovery. Take a look at the superfoods that nourish your brain, stimulate concentration and sharpen your mind.
CREATIVITY: Although wildly debatable, I believe creativity is something that I believe every person can cultivate. For creative artists, especially dancers, a simple way to boost creativity is to set aside time for creative thinking, taking and moving. Before you start, using the same example of learning choreography or mastering a particular step, take a certain portion of time to think about how you might do it efficiently. You may also wish to explore different ways of performing a certain step or try another approach to absorbing the choreography. Once you have ventured into new territory, compare the methods to see which one has had the best result for you. Be sure to remember that that every approach for every person is different, so feel free to experiment, feel a little silly and most of all have the ability to be wrong, try again and push forward.
I find that I am creatively stimulated when I surround myself with like-minded, creative, innovative people who aren’t afraid to be wrong or be challenged. Try to expand beyond the walls of mingling with just other dancers and stretch yourself to see if you can stumble across any other wildly creative people. This may include visual artists, musicians, painters, photographers, singers….the list goes on and on. Be open and receptive to discuss/share ideas, concepts and challenges with a new, fresh perspective, this will, in turn, help heighten your own sense of creativity.
Another huge source of creativity, and often a wonderful outlet for dancers, is music. Dancers are innately drawn to music as it pulses through our veins and flows through our limbs. Music allows a dancer’s mind to delve into areas of previously unexplored levels, depths, creative concepts, vivid imagination and movement like no other artistic medium.
PURPOSE: I strongly believe that a dancer’s purpose is intertwined with both their creativity and their focus. In the world of dance, our purpose, or our goal, is generally set out for us or technically specified either by our teachers, choreographers, mentors, or even ourselves. However, the means of achieving these goals are essentially infinite.
Without considering the purpose of why we are attempting tasks, such as your new choreography, exam work or mastering your technique, we can lose our strong personal sense creativity, or as I like to call it our ‘personal artistic licence’. This makes it somewhat harder to focus because of personal frustration with not completing or succeeding at the task set out.
The purpose of retaining and perfecting your new choreography or mastering technical steps is to show that you have the dedication, focus and determination required to be a professional dancer. This will not only demonstrate your level of commitment, but also a level of intelligence as a developing dancer, artist and human. When you start thinking about your own purpose within dance, you set off a chain reaction of creativity and focus, this allows you to not only strive to complete your task, but to do so in an intelligent manner, with minimised brute efforts yet maximised overall achievement.
Aim to work as an intelligent dancer who applies these three key elements of focus, creativity and purpose into your dance practice, performance, rehearsals and overall learning. From this, you will begin to skilfully develop your ability to work as an intelligent, more employable, artist.
It is good to remember that success is often a result of hard work, however so too is failure. As dancers we must distinguish the difference between working hard and working smart. Be intelligent enough to know when to push, and just as smart to know when to rest and recharge. There is a difference - and it lies with you.
Always take time to acknowledge, accept and be proud of the daily, weekly and yearly strides you have taken to achieve your goals.
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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