Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Burn Baby Burn: When You're Just Tired of Dancing

Harry Furniss, State Library of New South Wales
Sometimes, it can get to be too much.

Whether it's the drama, the back-to-back shows, the in-fighting, or just your life outside of dancing, you feel like you can't even find it in you for a good shimmy.

And that's okay.

It doesn't always mean you're not a dancer anymore, or you're ready to quit. Sometimes you just need a break. Sometimes, you need to take care of life. Sometimes, you just need to find a new troupe. But if you find yourself approaching burnout, you need to take a step back and figure out what's bothering you before you just want to throw up your zills and quit.

The last thing you want to do is walk away from dancing and regret the decision later in your life. So how do you keep that from happening?

First, recognize the signs
If you're supposed to be going to class and instead you're trying to think of anything to make you late or keep you from going, you're definitely trying to avoid class. Or if you do get to class but don't give it your all, there may be a problem. Are you just tired that day? Something in your personal life affecting it? Is this another night this month that you just don't feel like dancing? Are there dancers you're trying to avoid? Sit down and figure out why you don't want to go to class. This is an excellent time to freewrite in your dance journal. Just get out your journal and pretend you're five again: "I don't wanna go to class. I don't wanna dance. I don't wanna stretch out. I don't wanna do our choreography again. I don't wanna listen to Miss Perfect getting praised again. I don't wanna listen to them complain about everything." Keep your pen moving, and you'll start writing down the real reasons you don't want to go.

Okay, I know why I'm avoiding class. Now what?
Once you've figured out where the problem is, you have to figure out what you're going to do with it. Is your class preparing for a performance that you don't want to do? Are you tired of having to relearn the same things over again? Are you learning something new that you're having too much trouble with while everyone else seems to get it? These require a talk with your teacher. Ask if you can sit out the performance (and don't ever be afraid to sit out a performance!), or take privates with her to improve other areas and give yourself a challenge. Or ask if you can move to another class--maybe you feel like you're ready for the next level, or there's another class that's not going to perform. It never hurts to just ask.

If your problem is with the drama of your fellow dancers or teacher, then it might be time to find a new class. You definitely don't want other dancers impacting your enjoyment of bellydance, but it can happen. Ask other dancers for recommendations, or check out your local bellydance hub. It's hard to start over again, but burning out because of other dancers' drama is even harder.

If it's your personal life that's making you avoid dance class, talk to your teacher about taking a break. Work, family, kids, spouse--sometimes life just gets in the way.  Remember that the most important thing is for you to take care of you first. If it means taking a break from dancing, there is nothing wrong with that! If you're worried that you won't return to class after a break, discuss a potential restart date with your teacher, and mark it on your calender, then set a reminder a week before. When that reminder goes off, discuss with your teacher and/or family your return to dancing, and see if you need a longer break or if you're ready to get back into the swing of things.

Before the burnout
Again, the most important thing you can do is take care of you. If you really love dancing, you don't want to burnout early. Take a break, change your classes, but most of all, don't be afraid to speak up. The worst thing you can do is do nothing and then bellydance is no longer enjoyable to you no matter what you do.  And there's also your fellow dancers to talk to--tell them what you're going through, and I'm sure they'll be able to tell you of the time they almost quit, and how glad they didn't, and what they did to get through it!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

All I learned about bellydance I learned from dancing at Renaissance Faire

Ruth St. Denis, New York Public Library
I just finished a 6-weekend stint of dancing at the Southern California Renaissance Faire. While I definitely didn't learn everything I need to know about bellydance from dancing at the Ren Faire, I definitely learned a couple of things about performing.

Be ready for anything
When I signed up to dance at the Ren Faire, it was with the understanding that I would be dancing ATS with a group. However, it quickly became apparent that there was plenty of opportunity for solos, and not just any kind of solos, but solos with props. As a primarily ATS dancer, I'm not used to dancing with props, but I had to learn how to handle a veil pretty quickly. By my last day, I was using veil in all but one of my solos, and now I enjoy veilwork. It's something I'm definitely going to explore as a solo dancer.

How to dance to live music
My main troupe dances to live music for most of our performances, but there's a world of difference between dancing group improv to live music and improving a solo to live music. With group improv, or even just ATS, you still have a set vocabulary to stick to. With an improvisational solo,  anything goes. Suddenly your mind goes blank, you have no idea what to do next, and the music feels like it just sped up and you're standing on stage staring at the audience. What works with ATS, though, also works for solo improv. Start with something simple and mindless while you're thinking about what to do next. Add a turn, start to travel with it a little, and remember to breathe. By my last show, I felt like I had eons of time to think about what to do, and I was able to get a little bit creative while I was dancing.

How to dance to fast music
I love the slow, slinkiness of dancers like Rachel Brice. It's actually really easy to dance slow once you've mastered control of your own body. It's a lot harder to dance fast. So when I was faced with dancing to fast, live songs, or even dancing ATS to music faster than I'm used to, I had a hard time keeping up. I mentioned this to my teacher, who came out and danced with us one day, and she said something that made perfect sense to me: halftime it. If the music is too fast for me, I don't have to keep up with the beat. I can halftime it, and still look like I'm with the music.

Co-existing with other dancers
When you've got a dozen or so dancers all in each others' space weekend after weekend, drama is bound to happen. Tempers will flare, egos will get stepped on, and bellydancers will be pitted against bellydancers. Luckily, most of the drama did not directly involve me, so I just stayed out of it. I did nearly found myself in the middle of it a few times, and was ashamed to say I didn't immediately follow my instinct and do what I felt was right at the time. In future, I will do what I feel is right and fair. I also realized that my opinions of other dancers were formed based on the opinion of a dancer I'm friendly with. After spending some time with those other dancers, I realized that I should form my own opinions for myself.

I am a dancer!
After 6 weeks of dancing to live music, I learned that I can actually dance. I also feel less intimidated by dancing solos, since I've now been dancing them almost every weekend for the last six weeks. It also helped that I had several audience members and even my teacher compliment me on my dancing. Surprising at first, but the compliments felt good. And now I'm a lot more assured of my ability to get on a stage and move my body to music.

All in all, my experience dancing at Ren Faire was a good one. I think I might go back again next year if I'm asked back. It's a fun way to spend the spring, and I know that next year, I'll be better prepared!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

You Have to Want It

Martin Rubenstein and Kathleen Gorham; State Library of New South Wales
What's the difference between a pre-professional dancer and a wannabe-professional dancer?

They both want to be a professional dancer one day. Both want to have their own studio, or travel around the world teaching and performing. They both want to write off makeup and hair product on their taxes and both want closets full of costumes. So what's the difference?

The difference is that the pre-professional wants it. She dreams it, breathes it, eats it. She wants it so bad that she gives up other things that aren't as important to her in favor of dance class, practicing on her own, cross-training, workshops, and anything else that will help further her dance career.

She wants it so bad that she knows she is never done learning how to dance, that each teacher, each workshop instructor, each fellow dancer, can and will have something new to teach her. She wants it so bad that she knows even the beginner dancers, the ones who have been dancing for six weeks, or a year, or even a day less than she has, will still have something new and exciting to share with her.

He wants it so bad that he keeps his mind open to every possibility. He tries a different style of dance class for cross-training or to see if he can learn something new to add to his movement vocabulary. He studies with teachers outside his style, and dances with dancers of different styles to see what else there is. He refuses to dismiss dancers or performances because they're not 'real' bellydance.

She wants it so bad that she knows the work is never over. No one is going to hand her the perfect gig, or the perfect costume, or the perfect stage lighting. She has to work with the best she's got, no matter what, and make it look like she didn't have to get ready in a broom closet with a broken light and six other dancers. She knows that if she wants a slot in the show she has to be nice to people, and help them out when they need it, or even help them out when she doesn't need anything from them. She knows that she has to act like a professional, even if she isn't yet, because she's always training for the job she wants.

A pre-professional dancer will become a professional dancer. One day, after a lot of hard work, money, classes, and Tiger Balm, she'll get her first paying gig, or she'll receive the keys to her new studio. She will smile to herself, maybe share a toast with her dance sisters or lover or family, then get back to work.

The wannabe-professional dancer will keep fantasizing about that day, and wonder why no one's given it to her yet.