Filtering by Tag: Dance

Dance Diary: High Anxiety

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I worry therefore I am.

I am an anxious person.  I always have been. I make light of it, but the fact is, I do not know what life is like without chronic, on occasion, nearly debilitating anxiety. I cannot remember a time in my life where this wasn’t so. Whether this is nature or nurture I could not tell you. Certainly, circumstance has influenced it, but I suspect that mostly it’s part of the peculiar genetic map that is me. As I have gotten older my anxiety has intensified. It is a low thrum constantly humming in the background of my day. If it was a sound it would be the theme from Jaws.

I know that there are medications for this, but I am not inclined to go that route. I have taken Xanax in rare and (to me) extremely fraught situations - Flying (are you surprised I’m phobic?), and things medical related like tests, physicals, sitting in the waiting room... But a familial history of addiction is also part of that genetic map so I must be extremely cautious.

Which brings me to dance. One of the most unexpected side effects of dancing has been its effect on my anxiety level. I have consistently found that going to a lesson or class significantly reduces it. For some people this might be counterintuitive.  This was a surprise. The reason I took up dance is that it has always been my weakest point as a performer and a cause for angst. How could it possibly cure it?

The short answer is - I don’t have any idea. It might be that the effort to follow the steps, keep up and retain the information disrupts my brain enough to derail the worry loop that it gets stuck in. It could be that the rhythm and vibration of the music act as a natural Reuptake inhibitor, altering my serotonin and lifting my mood. (I have read quite a few scientific studies that bear this theory out.) Singing has a similar effect on me. It might simply be that the music drowns out the Jaws theme replacing it with a happier ear worm.

This week has been a particularly  difficult one in many ways, and last night I found myself wanting nothing more than to crawl under the covers and hide. So what if I had a 7:00 class, and I had promised the instructor I’d be there? It’s not like she’d notice. Did I really want get dressed, put on makeup and earrings and venture out into the freezing cold? “Are you nuts? Do you know what could happen out there?” The little red Demons Of Doubt were whispering in my ear. Nevertheless I put on the outfit, got in the car, drove to the studio and put on my shoes all the while thinking the demons were making some pretty good points. I danced anyway, and after I danced I felt better.

If this were the first or even fifth time this happened I could say this was a fluke, but I have felt this over and over again. Dancing and singing are not just what I do for a living or even merely how I view myself as an artist, they are my drugs of choice. They provide a bulwark against the chaos of the fear that threatens to topple me. The demons will most likely always be there, but now I know how to put them to sleep.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Imperfectly Perfect

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Every first draft is perfect because all the first draft has to do is exist. It’s perfect in its existence. The only way it could be imperfect would be to NOT exist. ─ Jane Smiley

A friend of mine likes to say, “First drafts are always yucky”. Of course, he uses a word other than yucky, but I’m trying to keep  my language a little more PG rated these days (or maybe just this hour...minute...whatever). His point though is that when starting a project it’s not so important what you write, only that you write it. I feel the same way about dancing.

I don’t often post videos of my dancing. I loathe watching myself. When I do the inner demons pull up their Barcaloungers and popcorn and whisper in my ear - “You’re too old”, “you look like a giant stork”, “You’re not a pro, you’ll never be, why bother, you just look foolish” , “look at you, your toes don’t point, your turnout’s bad, you’re just flailing about”.

I was not born dancing, I did not start when I was three, I started only about three years ago. I took a dance class here and there growing up, but I was never good at it so I put my energy into the places I was - singing and acting. When I look at where I was when I started and where I am now, there is vast improvement. I am still in my first draft dancewise. I’m not where I was, but I’m not where I’m going to be either.

So, if I distract the inner demons with something shiny to shut them up and watch this video again this is what I see... 

*A woman who is using decades of training in acting and music to add to what she’s learned about dance to give a performance that appears confident and assured. There is no stumbling around wondering what comes next, she is moving from moment to moment with certainty (except when she’s supposed to appear uncertain....again....acting chops)

*A woman who has worked hard to learn a new skill. Someone who has invested in herself and understands that to get to the good stuff sometimes you have to risk looking foolish. 

*A woman with determination, unwilling to let the opinions of other people stop her. 

*A woman who battles her demons and fears every time she walks into the dance studio, but stubbornly refuses to allow them to rule her. 

* A woman who keeps trying daily to perfect herself on her own terms. 

And so I post my dance video. This is my first draft. Better than some, not as good as others, but entirely mine. 

 

 

Dance Diary Sturm Und Samba

The first time I took a West Coast Swing class I went home and cried. The next day I went into the studio and my instructor said, “we’re going to do a West Coast Swing solo...” I worked really hard and did it, now it’s my favorite dance. This will not happen with Samba. If a praying mantis and a bunny had a baby that danced that’s my samba. It’s never made me cry, but more than a few Brazillilans have when they see me do it. Yesterday an instructor said to me, “I see something in your samba I have never seen before,” he did not explain what this meant. I love the music, I love watching other people dance it, I love the costumes, it is just not my dance. By now I have done enough samba to know my loathing will never turn to love. And yet...

I still do it. Yes, it’s part of my program I’m forced to do it no matter my feelings on the matter. But also, not liking something is no reason not to do it. Well, it is but in this case there are reasons to do it anyway. Samba has a very distinct rhythm and timing, and anything that gives a musician a different way of using those things is a very good thing. Samba is also one of the more energetic dances so I’m burning lots of calories thus justifying the occasional baked goods binge. 

Mostly though, I’m stubborn. I don’t like to be bad at anything, even something I hate. This might be my best/worst thing. Best because I think that getting through life requires tenacity and a refusal to accept circumstances which are not to my liking. Worst because it causes me to hold on to some things longer than I should. 

I’ll be holding on to samba a little longer. I suspect it still has some things to teach me. 

 

 

Dance Diary: Playing to Win

Dress Courtesy of  Encore Ballroom Couture   Hair & Make-up by Melanie Rivera

Dress Courtesy of Encore Ballroom Couture  Hair & Make-up by Melanie Rivera

I am not a competitive person. That’s a lie, I am an extremely competitive person, what I do not like is organized competition. If you want to get all psychoanalytical about it, you could say it comes from forever being the last one picked when it came to kickball, softball, or any sport requiring speed, dexterity and the ability to remain undistracted by the nearest shiny object. Or maybe it was the whistle wearing, clipboard wielding elementary school PE teacher who lined us up like military recruits and screamed that we would never be popular unless we were good at sports. Exactly what this pasty, brainy, introvert who carried a breifcase through fifth grade needed to hear to assure her that elementary school was not really for her. Whatever it was, it was enough for me to swear off organized sports for life.

Thus when my dance instructors started strongly encouraging me to go to the World-Dance-A-Rama in New York City it was sort of a good news/bad news situation. The good news: I’d get to put on sequins and fringe and lots and lots of makeup and perform. Also, New York, so it wasn’t like I had to expend a great deal of effort to get there. The bad news: Judges. Giving scores. Prizes that I will not win. I’m not saying this to gain your pity or to self deprecate, but because I’ve only been at this for two years, and I’ve always been in it to improve my performance skills not to win medals for my samba bounce.  Something I knew I would have to continually remind myself if I went through with this.

Dress Courtesy of  Classic Ballroom Elegance  Hair & Make-up by Melanie Rivera

Dress Courtesy of Classic Ballroom Elegance Hair & Make-up by Melanie Rivera

It did help that the judges, while definitely wielding clipboards, wore neither whistles, crew cuts or athletic socks. In fact, one was wearing  the most covetable pair of boots, and I was dying to ask her where she got them, but I digress.  I managed to do a West Coast Swing solo, and I danced tango, waltz, Viennese Waltz, Foxtrot, Samba,  Mambo, Argentine Tango, Cha Cha, Rumba, Swing, Bolero, and Hustle all without major flashbacks. There were even times I managed to forget that I was being judged. That I can willingly dance in front of any audience let alone one made up people who are passing judgement on me is still a surprise to me. And the immense amount of  Preparation for this event definitely made me a better dancer, and the better I become the more at home I feel in my body. This is something I’ve been able to translate into every aspect of my performing.

 My friend and mentor, the late Erv Raible, always asked me after every show, “Did you win?” He wasn’t talking about prizes, what he wanted to know was did I give the audience everything I had? Did I play it safe or did I take risks that made me a better performer? DId I show the audience who I was and make a connnection? 

 So did I win? If you’re talking in terms of actual trophies, bestowed by judges, no. I’d like to tell you I’m perfectly sanguine in this outcome, but there’s still enough of the nerdy fifth grader in me that I really would have liked a shiny medal to stash in my briefcase. But in the terms laid out by my friend Erv of giving it all to get better at what I love  and communicating it to an audience. Absolutely!