It’s Not About the Steps: Life Lessons from Dancing

If only I’d learned this sooner, say 40 years ago.

And it’s what I tell the earnest, jittery dancers coming to take my class for the first time. Trying so very hard, laudably but misguidedly, to do exactly what they think they see me do. Right, left, right….

Wouldn’t it be grand if it were that easy? Just get on the correct foot facing the right direction doing the right thing on exactly the right count. And you’re in!

It’s dancing, after all. How could it not be about the steps?

Well.

While precision does play a part, to me, the “art” part of dance, the magical part of dance, is not about getting the step RIGHT. No, what makes someone so compelling to watch and what makes dancing so infuriating and wondrous to do hour after sweaty hour, and year after gut-busting year, is actually much, much harder than that.

It’s about being you through the movement in that moment, and the next and the next. Showing us, thrillingly, the essence of who YOU are making this art.  Ditto for other art forms.

At least, that’s what I’ve come to believe after all these years of training and teaching and performing, and, yes, loving dancing. Despite the physical and mental challenges and complexities of dance, in a strange way, it would be easier if it were as simple as just getting it right.

I could drill more. I could check it off my list. If I didn’t get the role or the callback, I could justifiably feel wronged.

But it’s much larger and more slippery than mere correctness. Although exactly what creates the ineffable “it” may have many variations, countless dance artists agree on much of what makes the magic.

Photo credit: Arthur Fink

Photo credit: Arthur Fink

It’s what and how the dancer expresses through the movement. Some alchemical potion of the dancer’s uniqueness and the dance. So many of the dancers whom we want to watch and who we yearn to be are sorcerers. They cast a spell of themselves kinesthetically.

This reminds me that, once again, dance is a powerful metaphor for life. Because just as in life, in dance, the steps will get changed. The scene will shift and the lights will dim or blind me. The inevitable injuries or limitations will require shifting.

If all we do is mindlessly check off the To Do list and leave it at that, we’ll be empty-handed when the next list shows up, and the next. And in the end, neither our art nor our lives will reflect us.

Hard as it may be, I need to cultivate more mojo than just dancing, and living, by rote. Some personal puissance to weave it all together.

Funny thing: As challenging as it may be to dance and live generously with integrity, it can be incredibly freeing not to get endlessly entangled by inessential details. Yessirree, out there on that big old stage, you’ve just got to fill YOUR self up with your breath and your passion and your experience and….GO.

*Note: This older post has echoed repeatedly for me over the past few years, as I travel around teaching and taking countless dance classes….and performing in and witnessing many performances.  I figured I would unearth it for new, and old, friends.

I continue to find it enormously daunting and thrilling to explore how to make the movement MINE….and so inspiring to share the adventure of making art with so many talented artists creating in a variety of genres, including all the lovely writers here in WordPress Wonderland. GO MAKE YOUR ART.

Photo credit: Nikki Carrara

 

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22 Responses to It’s Not About the Steps: Life Lessons from Dancing

  1. This is a post that describes the essence of dancing as an expression of the “self” beautifully. I have always thought that our lives are poems, set to our individual rhythms and nuances and accents, sometimes powerful, sometimes seeking, sometimes lonely, but always searching for the next best way to express our true core.

  2. Wise words, my friend. Thank you for re-sharing this insightful post. I don’t recall reading it the first time around, so it was a real treat for me to see this morning. How true that it takes going beyond the basic steps. I like to think of the art, or the individual essence (are they the same???) coming from the interpretation of the steps…or maybe even in between the steps. Definitely something to ponder…Thank you again, ST! xoxo

    • SirenaTales says:

      “…art, or the individual essence (are they the same???)….” Love that, MBSS! I totally agree that much of the art part is what we create in between the steps or musical notes or words….Well, when I first ran this a few years ago, I think 5 people may have read it (including family members :)) and 1 person “liked” it, so I figured it was ok to run again. As always, you brighten my day with your wise and refreshing comments, my friend. HUGS and xx!

  3. Rachael Charmley says:

    From the heart, Chloe, and because of that, a truly beautiful and inspiring piece. To create is to be truly alive.

  4. Miranda Stone says:

    Thank you for sharing this again, Chloe! I love, love, love the lessons you share here. Your words bring to mind another favorite quote of mine, and one you might have heard before: “In life as in the dance, grace glides on blistered feet.” — Alice Abrams. I especially enjoy reading about the deeper meaning of dance for you, because I personally have never possessed that kind of poise and grace. I think what makes your movements so beautiful is that you truly own the dance. No one could ever think you’re simply going through the steps. I’m in awe of those like you who can give themselves over to the dance so freely. Beautiful and inspiring post, my dear friend.

    • SirenaTales says:

      Well, you put a big bounce in my step on the way to bed last night, my dear friend. Thank you so very much for all of this–especially for making such an effort to connect with my dancing and passion for it. And, no, I had not heard that wonderful quote before. So, thank you for another lovely gift for my bathroom wall! Your presence here means more to me than I could ever convey…thank you, thank you. love to you

  5. F.G.M. says:

    Thoughtful post Chloé! “the “art” part of dance, the magical part of dance, is not about getting the step RIGHT…It’s about being you through the movement in that moment, and the next and the next.”it is the definition of what a spiritual quest is! Et la dance aussi, comme “puissante métaphore” de la vie… c’est pour cela que tu as raison de dire “go make your art”, – une autre version du “know thyself” de Socrate… connais-toi toi même, et vis ta vie comme une grâce! Merci pour cette belle leçon de sagesse et de vérité! Have a nice week, xxoo

    • SirenaTales says:

      Oh my, Frederic! You are so wise and spot on here: “…it is the definition of what a spiritual quest is!” I will be stealing your words to explain to people my devotion to dancing. Your expression is so much clearer and more succinct than what I have been offering. Thank you again for your abundant support, and for understanding me. Ah! What splendid gifts! love to you….

  6. diahannreyes says:

    Loved this post, Chloe! The lesson that its the embodiment of the dance where the real magic of the dance and about how it is the soul who is dancing the body is what gives that inexplicable spark of life.

    I feel that is true w/ acting too- the craft is key to mastery but so is that extra oomph of putting yourself fully into a part – that thing that can’t be learned from learning how to do it right. I also have learned that often my movement reveals so much about me and what’s going on in my life. When I want change, I find new movement-whether it’s taking up a new body based practice or finding a new way to move differently in my life.

    • SirenaTales says:

      “…it is the soul who is dancing the body…[giving] that inexplicable spark of life….” Love your poetic take on this, Diahann. As well as your insight about the applicability to acting AND your sage perspective about the connection of our movement and our emotional/psychological/mental/spiritual states. I realize after reading your comment that one reason I so often take other people’s dance classes is to shake things up for myself–doing unfamiliar movement does that, as you note. I treasure your presence here, my wise and generous and talented friend. xoxo

  7. Reblogged this on By the Mighty Mumford and commented:
    DANCE, POETRY…CREATIVITY….ALL HAVE THIS IN COMMON.

  8. Lorien says:

    Thank you. I loved reading this. Really loved this. Yoga carries the same message of self-expression and energetic awareness. I try to encourage my students to get out of the head space of right and wrong and just allow themselves to feel free to move in their own bodies. So many beautiful ways to express one’s divine creativity!

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