How to Enjoy Dance Practice Part II

Part 1 is here

In this series, we look at how dance has turned from a pleasurable fun activity to one of perfectionism and hard work. The series began with the observations of a dance friend, Sarah, who noticed that practicing improvisation was seen as less valuable than drilling or fitting combos into other songs.

Our first strategy was making (and defending) time for creative work. You can read Part I here.

We concluded that whatever it takes, it is in our best interests to make the time we need for our creative work. And creativity is play, plain and simple. Which brings us to our next strategy,

Opt for the most pleasurable.

Painting by Donna Marie Buchanan
Painting by Donna Marie Buchanan

How often we deny ourselves! Day after day we choke down the dreary, overcooked vegetables of life. Even in our dance practice, we feel obliged to work hard at every moment, to glare at ourselves with pointed eyes and find endless faults. Everything is an exercise in perfection. Everything is a reminder of how we fail to measure up. We cannot even celebrate success—there is always so much more to do.

Sarah explained,

 I’m fairly certain that this is at least partly just a symptom of the larger issue within our culture that devalues any sort of self-care or downtime. Hell, we have even made relaxing “self-care” so that it sounds enough like a job that we can give ourselves permission to do it. 

We feel that if we aren’t working or being productive (even if we are productively relaxing), it is somehow self-indulgent and, therefore, bad. But there is also that perfectionist tendency there, too, and the idea that there is a right way to do each thing or respond to a piece of music. 

Where is our hot fudge sundae? We have so bought into the shame and blame of our society that it even creeps into this luscious, earthy dance. Let’s kick it out.

This dance is a miracle of pleasure. The moves feel delicious in the body. People may think that improv doesn’t develop dance skills—but they are wrong. Take the time to explore a movement. Let it evolve, let your body enjoy it and find the most yummy, rich, elegant expression if it—that is not easy. It is a skill that we learn. This means it will be hard at first, and the change from rote movement may be challenging. But it is so pleasurable, after a while, it doesn’t feel like work.

It’s like the “work” of eating the most delicious meal ever. It’s nourishing and good for you, sure. Yet so thrilling is the pleasure of the meal that it eclipses all those mundane elements. Even a simple meal can have this quality. Everything is better when the ingredients are fresh and made with love.

Celebrate enjoyment. We’ve all heard that the feeling is the most important thing. This pleasure in movement is one of the feelings we want to cultivate in dance. We usually think of feeling as an emotional thing—but dance is also physical (surprise!). The body feels the movement. It feels its connection to the music. The body is wise and beautiful. It will give us our movement with the greatest of pleasure when it allow it to connect. Yet we control every moment of our dance with stylized shapes, combos and choreographies.

We pre-create our dances so we don’t have to risk anything. But these canned combos and dances are like automated telephone help lines. We get so desperate for a live person, soon we start banging the phone on the table, screaming AGENT!

Yet agency is one of the hallmarks of our dance—the alive dancer, reveling in her feeling, who responds in the moment to the music. It is this al fresco creation, presented with love, that nourishes both dancer and guests. It is more of a risk than ordering out or heating up a frozen dinner—but the rewards are far, far greater than the risks.

So how do you bring confident spontaneity into a performance?
Part 3 is here.



PS Want to have more fun with dance? 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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