With the exception of my stint in the Swing Choir in high school, where we sang to choreographed dance steps, and then my brief foray into African Dance in college – I didn’t have any formal training until I decided to take ballet a few years ago. I know it seems ludicrous, at an age where most women are busy with their homes, family and work. I was feeling restless and discontent so when the opportunity presented itself to take ballet, I jumped all over it. I can’t tell you how many of my friends told me they wished they could do something like that – even under my encouragement to do so, most of them didn’t join me.
I discovered a love of dance with my ballet beginning. In just the past few years I have tried tap, belly dancing, and now jazz. Last night, during my jazz class I had a realization that I wanted to share with you.
In a studio full of mirrors, it is often difficult to look at yourself objectively. I am vain enough that I have tendency to check myself out in the mirror, although there was a time I studiously avoided all eye contact. I knew I looked goofy, and I didn’t want the visual to go along with how I was feeling physically. As I gained confidence in my ballet skills, I started using the mirrors more and more as a tool. It is truly my audience. I use the mirror to practice my acting skills, see the errors in my dance technique, and adjust my body to give it the most flattering view. What I realized last night, however, is that I have a tendency to look down, or avoid looking at myself in the mirror when I am learning a new skill. It boils down to confidence.
In my martial art days, I was always taught that eye contact was key. Often just the simple act of meeting someone else’s eyes can change the entire scenario. There is also “tells” when you are watching the eyes. No matter how much you play poker, your eyes can give you away – which is why professional poker players wear sunglasses. I have always had a tendency to look down or look away when I am not feeling confident. I had to force myself to overcome that. My Sensei worked long and hard with me on this, much to my chagrin. In the end though, it change my entire perspective on life.. and people in general.
So what does this have to do with dance, you may wonder? Well last night we were working a new move in jazz. I honestly believe that there will come a time I will be able to do it and actually look good in the process. However, last night I definitely looked awkward and uncoordinated. We had to start in the corner, doing the dance one at a time across the floor. You know you will have your teachers undivided attention as you attempt this new move across the floor and it can be daunting. There was a time where I felt I had to do it perfectly, and I knew I couldn’t – so I would awkwardly move across the floor, head down, embarrassed, wishing it were over. But then, my training in martial arts comes back to me and I begin to look at dance not as something the teachers make me do so they can snicker later – but as an opportunity to learn, to grow, to become an honest to goodness dancer.
Long story short, the first time I went across the floor I kept my head down, and darn near did a face plant because my projections were down instead of up and across. My teacher reminded me of what I was doing, and then not so gently suggested that she would laugh if I actually did face plant because I knew better. That was enough… I knew I wasn’t perfect. I know I’m not a dancer you would pay money for to see on stage. But I am me.
I am a woman who loves to dance, who wants to keep striving to be better. I want to enjoy not just the art of the dance, but the pure physicality behind it. I love the feeling I get from dancing and the joy I experience when I accomplish a difficult skill. This is me. This is who I am.
I squared my shoulders, took a deep breath, lifted up my eyes and met them in the mirror. I can do this. I will do this. I prepared my body and I began to dance.