1. Understand the Duality Between the Music’s Timing & Your Own
Any song/music that you are dancing to has different patterns of rhythm. Your body consciously and subconsciously picks up on these patterns. You can move to these patterns or you can move to different timing that is not set by any obvious rhythm in the music. In this way, you are creating your own rhythm. Explore dancing to the rhythm your body naturally follows. When it’s honest, it is complementary to the music, the way a melody is harmonious with the melody of another instrument.
It can feel like a big paradigm shift when you discover that there is freedom in music to create your own rhythm and timing. For me, it came as a sort of shock, as if I had finally discovered what time actually felt like in the flesh. This sounds pretty exaggerated but it is true and the shock lasted about 6 months, and it was a very fun period of exploration.
2. PRACTICE & Explore
Watch other dancers in class OBJECTIVELY (Without that voice in your head that wants to point out the flaws and put down the successes, or that which makes you want to bow down to them...get rid of it all. Just watch, breathe, and feel the emotions down to your stomach). Analyze what they are doing that calls your attention and emulate it with the objective to find a different path of movement for yourself.
The body has a muscle memory that remembers more than what your conscious mind remembers. If you truly digest this truth, then you understand that in order for your body to learn something new and to expand its spectrum of movement you just have to send the command to your body. PRACTICE, until your body (not your mind) learns it.
This is my favorite process of dance...going from “How the heck do you do that, that’s physically impossible” to “I can do that 3 times fast and upside down.” In my case, in between these two phases, there’s 5-20 hours of practice (depending on what your are trying to do) but the learning is permanent and cumulative, like riding a bike; your body doesn’t forget. So PRACTICE,PRACTICE,PRACTICE. Going to class is not the same as practicing something on your own. Class usually follows a certain progression but when you practice on your own you have the time to go through the movement slowly. This helps to match that muscle memory with your conscious mind. It’s not about quantity (going super hard and causing injury to yourself) it’s about quality AND quantity! Put in the hours, go slowly, and pay attention to the articulation of your body in each movement .
3. Videotape Yourself Improvising or Your Own Choreography
(and Become Mildly Obsessed with Your Own Dancing)
I have millions of videos of improvisations and choreography that never saw the light of a stage or the wall of a social media feed, but watching them and analyzing them does two things: it shows you areas of improvement (the cold hard truth) and it brainwashes you with your own style. This will get you thinking of new ideas that are produced 100% by yourself. It’s okay to be inspired by an artist, but it’s not okay to have them in your mind when you dance. This will always translate in the body and stop you from dancing like yourself.
4. Realize That Your Body & Your Mind are Tied
Analyze, Question, Probe, Research
Change the way you think, and it will change the way you dance. If you open up your mind, your body will relax and do the same. If you close your mind, you will start creating negative feelings because your expectations of life become limited due to a lack of education and narrow mindset. You will constantly be disappointed when reality and expectations don’t match. This causes you to suffer from anxiety/depression/sadness/insecurity etc. These negative feelings then get trapped in the body and cause tension in different areas such as the shoulders, hips, or neck. Later, the body becomes prone to injuries due to this tension. You can also stop breathing which is the most important factor in movement since it gives life to the body, and lubricates the joints. If you are limber, relaxed, and free of tension, the body becomes more flexible, has more energy, and is less prone to injury.
5. Take Different Types of Classes
If you are a true lover of movement, you will find joy in any movement-based class, no matter how out of your element. I learned Tango, intensively for about 7 months. It was amazing. Contemporary will always be my one, true love but Tango helped me learn how to release my legs in contemporary (because… boleos) and how to shift my weight evenly. I also learned how to lead (the man’s part) and this taught me how to translate assertiveness into my body language.
I was in a Bollywood team at school one year, good old Shakti, and it was amazing. I have so many dances that became Bollywood inspired and had a lot fun. In my opinion, Bollywood is really the happiest dance style out there. I learned how to relax, and how to perform with expressions. Attempting to learn the classical style also taught me a lot of humility because it is so, so hard.
I have taken Capoeira and that really helped me get more grounded and helped me learn how to pay attention to the person I am moving with (because you could get hit in the face otherwise) even though I only took a couple of classes, it’s something my body will never forget.
And of course hip-hop, ballet, tap, house, break dance, old school Jazz and lyrical. They can all help reach that goal you have in mind.
These classes also open you up to different communities that are unadulterated and free of the dreads of the ego-ridden dance world. It’s beautiful to see people dancing for the love of dance, and also to see dance bringing people together.