How to Enjoy Dance Practice Part I

beignet+coffee
Beignet and chicory coffee at Cafe du Monde, NOLA. Photo by Tamalyn Dallal

Remember fun? Doing things just for the sake of enjoyment? Laughing with friends, riding a carousel, exploring a new road—even window shopping, or having coffee and a treat with a friend. Where the heck did that go? It seems like we do every thing because we have to. Even going to dance class or to an event has somehow gotten mixed up with hard work.

Sarah, a dance friend, recently shared this observation.

I have noticed a distinct feeling that improvising somehow doesn’t count as practice, not only for me, but among other dancers I have talked to. Drills count, refining technique counts, even fitting combos into a song counts. But improv is “just” fooling around or not a productive use of time. Or they have to be “working” the improv so hard that they really aren’t improvising in a pure sense, because they are thinking so hard about being good or getting stuff right. 

Dance has become hard work. Practice is something we have to do to get better—yet we never work hard enough. We are never good enough. And it never stops. Ever.

But dance is supposed to be fun. It’s play. Of course, if you are a professional dancer, there is an element of “work.” After all, this is your day job. But even so, the ethos of this dance is one of relaxation, musical connection, and joy. These qualities are not going to come from grimly drilling yet another combo. And, like a genuine smile, they are hard to fake. So we have to practice them, like any other skill. Wait, how do you practice the skill of enjoying yourself? Good question! Here are three ways to have fun with dance.

Make time to play, opt for the most pleasurable, and practice sharing.

Make time to play. None of us has buckets of extra time floating around—and even if we do, we probably have a lot of entrenched Resistance preventing us from using it for fun. Maybe we are busy procrastinating—that takes a lot of time. Or maybe we are angry about something—obviously we cannot let go of that to have fun. But that is exactly what we must do. For any creative enterprise, one of the hardest tasks is carving out the time and defending it with our lives. Yet it is also one of the most rewarding things we can do. So how do we do that?

Designate the time and space. Don’t leave it to chance. Maybe it means getting up earlier (I know, it hurts, so much!). Maybe we find a private corner, get earphones, utilize small moments of downtime—even include our children. Just hoping it will happen means it probably won’t. We have to make the time, and then smooth the way towards using it. Schedule it in your planner, put it on your calendar. Use and app or an alarm. Do whatever it takes. There are myriad methods for for helping us remember to use the time we have carved (I favor TinyHabits.com). But the most important element is the decision to do it—followed by the determination to protect it.

Defend the time and space with your life. Everybody and every thing will do its best to get in between you and your Creative Time (one of the many benefits of getting up even earlier is that no one else is awake to derail you). Become like a tiger protecting her cubs—fearless, ferocious, and determined. The phone will ring, someone will need a ride, your boss/mother/kids will get sick—there is no end to the trickery of Resistance. Just Say No. This is a skill. At first, it will seem like a horrible transgression. After a while, it will become normal. You can even do it pleasantly.

It is in everyone’s best interests to make the time we need to do our creative work. We will be better, happier, and more generous people when we care for our creative selves. And creativity is play, plain and simple. Which brings us to our next strategy,

Opt for the most pleasurable.

Part II is here

Love,

Alia

PS Want more time and space for art? Alia offers Creativity Coaching. Develop the time and space to bring joy to your dance–and life. For details, see here.

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