What I learnt through becoming a dancer. Part I

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Anyone who’s shared a class with me at Contemporary Jazz will vouch for the fact that I am not a dancer. I give away a certain grace, however my choreography level is still at « freestyle », I can’t follow shit.

I have however always loved to dance, and during that prophetic announcement where I declared I was a singer-dancer (I was 5) I made it very clear that the two were interconnected. I absolutely consider myself a dancer at heart, and I do my best to proceed with the official arrangements.

These arrangements that assist me in my mission of being the best vessel for performance that I can be, include pursuing a dance lifestyle.

I have dropped out of dance classes many times, but just like cooking, dance finally clicked this year. I feel like you don’t really “learn” skills- you “remember” them. At least I do. Suddenly, I just remember what it’s like to do it and from that point onwards I can easily learn it. I care, it makes sense. I finally see the art in it, and not just the technique, and that has opened a world of possibilities.

Once I got over the fact that technique is just that, that it’s a skill that you have to learn and repeat a thousand times, that it’s practice, I realised that dance is an art and that dancers are artists. Like me!

I rarely get to meet other artists because solo pop female performers don’t hang out with each other, they hang out with musicians and cinematographers and corporate investors who deal with logistics. Everything I do, which is creative on the most part (being in front of cameras, directing, writing) are all artistic jobs, but the people that I negotiate with don’t share the performer’s mindset.

Dancers are performers and when I go into the studio, I feel everything I feel when I’m with fellow performers, which is unique: I tap into that energy, humility, that immeasurable drive and hunger, tolerance, acceptance, kindness.

Here are some things I learnt:

  1. Dancers stretch ALL of the time and being on the floor is normal

    I didn’t realise this was a thing, but I stretch all the time too, and I am always on the floor, it’s my default. I haven’t come across many people who do this, but I feel very unnatural in chairs. I often travel to the floor and sit in strange positions.

    Well, that is fine in dance studios. Taking your shoes off, and sitting in lotus position, is normal. It feels natural to not be in forced static positions all the time.

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2. Dancers are kind

All of the people I have come across have been immediately helpful, down to earth, kind and friendly. There isn’t an inch of snottiness. People talk to one another. People don’t steal each other’s shit. There is a tangible lack of that…. resentment that I encounter almost everywhere else.

3. Fitness classes in dance studios are on a different dimension

And I say different because they are not « harder » as I expected them to be. They are not particularly « advanced ». The best way I can describe them is that they are creative. They are intense, but they are kinder to the body too: they are not aimed at breaking you. 

I feel like most fitness classes in gyms or even pilates studios are clueless, and either painfully soft or full of invitations to injury: Impact, excessive repetitions, barely releasing the muscles in between exercises. They are not aimed at making your body healthier or stronger or more flexible, but at making you « feel » like the service they provide is worth the money that you gave. Treating the whole class like a service is a mistake. It shouldn’t be a service, it should be a teaching.

Dance studios know that our bodies are our work tool, and injuring them is a death sentence. So for the most part you stretch and work on using the right muscles to do things properly, working structurally, and then you do a little bit of strength. And that is natural, and it’s how it should be. It feels strange at first, like it’s too low-level compared to those atrocious gym studio circuits, but once your joints « slot » into the right places, the energy beams through you, your muscles contract harder than ever, and even the smallest exercise is intense and effective.

4. Your body shape changes

As I got used to the kind of moves that we were doing, of the balance you have to keep in pirouettes, of the long sessions of stretching, my body started to « rest » differently. The core was the first thing to go: I’ve never had a flat stomach but I do now, because it’s now my center of gravity and it feels different. My neck used to be stiff but it’s lose now. I am a true hourglass shape now, because my shoulders have broadened from keeping my arms up all the time. My waist seems bigger face-on, but is smaller from the side. I thought these things were « body type » but I have learnt they are postural. Nothing hurts, and the past injuries I had have not flared up, no matter how intense the routines. This was a revelation.

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5. Dancers dress fun

People are in makeup. People are in pretty outfits. We have fun. Nobody judges you for putting on lipstick before a class. Pretty much the opposite as in « regular » exercise classes where you are rated by how serious you look. It’s a completely different perspective, an artistic way of understanding exercise that welcomes it into your daily life as a form of expression instead of making it into a form of torture or even “fitness”. Looking « plain » doesn’t mean you are taking it more seriously or working harder. Dance doesn’t require you to put on the facade of a suffering martyr in order to be taken seriously.

6. It’s a lifestyle

It’s a good thing that you are free to look like you want, and to wear what any kind of clothes to dance, because you are probably going to be wearing them in lieu of your normal clothes, 90% of the time. You spend several days a week going to the studio and back, and taking a change of clothes is cumbersome and impractical. Everything will now revolve around dance classes, washing up between dance classes, and physio visits to release the muscles that are all stiff from the dance classes. It’s not really something you can just dip your toes into, if you want to feel the benefits.

I invite you to follow my experience of movement, healthy bites and dress up through my vlogs, in these busy weeks!

Diana

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