Of all the things I need to do when I dance, connection is by far the hardest for me.
When all other things are put aside, there are two main over-arching goals in dance for me–the first is to improve and maintain fitness, and the second is to connect with others and express myself.
The first is easy, the second….like a giant hurdle.
There are very few people in my life with whom I can say I have a strong connection. Like everyone, I have various versions of me I present to the world–the work me, the dancer me, the social me, the me my family knows, even me the cancer patient–and then there is the private me. Even though I have a lot of close friends, there isn’t anyone who knows and sees the whole picture–I am very good at keeping each area of my life fairly separate from the other.
It main seem strange, but I am very comfortable with things this way. Would I say I am happy with it? Not sure, really, but I know I am not unhappy with it, if that makes sense.
So what does this have to do with dance?
As I mentioned, one of the challenges I gave myself when I started dancing was to work to connect with others and express myself. When I was younger, I always had an emotional outlet of one type or another through an aesthetic art. I started playing piano when I was 8 years old and learned several other instruments during my life and have a degree in music education with flute as my main instrument. I sang, I acted, I did musical theatre and competed in public speaking (which was also an art form for me). I even did a little bit of different types of dance growing up–Highland, Line, Hip Hop, and Belly–but never any one for a prolonged period of time.
I was always fascinated with Ballroom and Latin though.
For me–dance is the blend and perfect combination of musical expression (that satisfies the musical me), and acting (that other side of me), with physical fitness. It give me a chance to express myself and share that with others.
And that is what I find hardest to do. As a musician, I was a terrible soloist because I had horrible stage fright. I would perform, but I was never close to being expressive performing as I was when I was practicing on my own. I always played for me, but I was never able to convince myself to let go and share that with an audience.
So I am hoping to get past that in dance, and it helps that I am not alone on the floor.
But first, I have to be willing to connect with my partner.
And finally I reach my point for today. It’s been a while since I have performed for dance and not just competed. Since I got sick, I have started looking at things in my life differently and looked to see what am I working on, and what perhaps do I want to challenge myself with more. In dance, for the most part, I have been working on technique and steps, but not really expression or connection. I have been hoping we would be able to find some time to work on it, but there hasn’t been the opportunity between switching styles and studios and competing.
Until recently. It is one of the things we are starting to focus on in the open cha cha routine, and I am struggling a lot. I find it extremely intense and overwhelming, and hard to do for very long.
And it’s basically focused eye contact. THAT is what I am finding difficult.
As I mentioned, dance is like a form of meditation for me. I let myself slip into my own little world and lose myself in my inner dialogue and the music and everything else around me just disappears. That’s great for self-practice. Not so much for dancing–especially latin. Over the years, I have discovered that I have actually developed a habit of looking past my partner–usually over his shoulder–and even then I rarely focus on anything specific, or my gaze is directed down (even though my head is up) when I am creating my own little world and ‘scenario’ almost while I am dancing.
When I dance, I get to be who I want to be….but not necessarily with my partner. This is where I have to make some changes. I have to be willing to share at least a piece of my own little dance world with my partner and those who are watching. And for me, that is through the eyes. I can do whatever I want with my body, but if my eyes aren’t connected with anything specific, then it is all unfocused.
So that is the biggest challenge for me right now. Because my instinct is to naturally stay closed and hide it is a constant struggle and like receiving a whole bunch of information at once. It is also something where if I am given even an inch of latitude I will fall back into old patterns.
So that is the second struggle. My instructor is also not the most naturally open person either. So I can challenge myself to make eye contact whenever I face him in latin, but if he isn’t looking at me, then it’s too easy for me to run away and hide. That is why it is something that needs consistent work–at least for me. It’s trying to develop a new habit (and a difficult one!) and not letting myself get away with the old ones.
My instructor even suggested I try focusing on his forehead instead of his eyes, but that doesn’t work for me. I have a hard time focusing on a forehead because, well, it is boring. I almost immediately find myself shifting my gaze right or left over his shoulder where there might be something more interesting–or somewhere I can gaze into the distance. So, eye contact seems to be the key–whether with my partner or someone in the audience if I am looking out.
My instructor and I had a brief conversation about this yesterday during my lesson and I could tell he was getting a little frustrated with me after I failed to focus my gaze for about the hundrenth time in one particular move where I need to look out.
I had mentioned once a while ago that I find all of this hard to do because I feel like I might accidentally reveal too much. I have pretty expressive eyes (and I know this), and they are dead give aways for what I am feeling and thinking. I am also a terrible liar because of that, so I don’t even bother trying. My instructor was trying to make the point yesterday that the point is not to send something out to the audience, but what I am trying to do is to invite them to come in.
I know that, and that is the problem. Sending something out is easy–I can control the message. But inviting others in….I am not sure how far I want to extend that invitation, and even more daunting–I am not sure I can control how far in they come. And if they do decide to come in–will they find my house is messy, or notice things hidden in the corners?
It comes down to vulnerability. I have to decide how vulnerable I am willing to be when I dance. I think what scares me is that I am realizing, especially since I got sick, that I am a lot more willing than I originally thought. And that after several years (ok, most of my life) of constantly hiding myself away, I am surprised to find I am at a point where I actually WANT to share myself with other people.
THAT is scary. But it’s also a start.