Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Why I'm thankful

When people go to workshops, be they dance or otherwise, we have a certain conception of what to expect, and what we want to get out of the experience. We tend to want to "get out money's worth" or get the most bang for out buck. For dance anyway, we've become stuck in this paradigm that we need to learn lots of new combinations and dance moves, master a new choreography, and/or feel the burn by having a crazy intense workout with everything from yoga, warm-ups, drills, isolations, ab work, leg work, arm work, chest work... the list goes on and out need to achieve never ends. This weekend that paradigm shifted when I attended a two-day Rachel Brice workshop hosted by Sahara Dance Studio right here in DC.

Like 99.9% of the tribal dance community, Rachel is something of my dance hero (read: total girl crush). After seeing tribal for the first time ever in Canada, my second exposure to the style was through her Tribal Fusion: Yoga Isolation & Drills DVD. Her performances blew my mind (and still do). The liquidity and strength of her movements made my jaw drop, and I knew I wanted to dance just like her. She displays beauty, grace, strength, femininity, confidence, attitude... everything I ever strove to be and display as a dancer.
For a little over two years now, when I dance, I've been putting my heart and soul into tribal. To me, dancing is an extremely personal activity. When I dance, I feel as though I'm putting myself out there for all to see in a way nothing else can even begin to compare. When I speak I can lie, but when I dance, I don't feel like I can. In moving, in expressing myself with my body, I'm showing people who I am at my core. I feel bare. There is no hiding... not to me anyway.
(sidenote: It's funny that I noticed that the only other instance in which I've ever said that is about food and cooking. I can't remember who said that you can't lie when you cook. When you present a dish to someone, it's the honest truth of what you made and you can't hide that no matter what you try do. I guess that's why I love dancing and cooking so much... something about the honesty behind it?)
Anyway, because of my search for honesty through dance, because I'm a girl and therefore tend to do my share of over-analyzing and over-thinking, because I consider myself to be more on the shy/introverted side, dancing is an extremely introspective process for me. Dancing is my version of meditation. Showing ANYONE how I dance has always made me extremely self-conscious (surprising that I mostly perform/dance in very public spaces then...). My inner monologue usually goes something like this: "Am I doing this right? Does this look good? What will people think? Do I look fat? Everyone's going to hate me and think I'm [insert one of a hundred negative words here]." From something wonderful and beautiful, a part of my mind choses to see things in such a self-destructive way and magnify it so I can obsess about before, during, and after I dance unless I tell it to shut up (I have gotten way better at this). This comes to me as a huge surprise considering I consider myself a fairly mentally and emotionally stable and self-loving person, but that's me.

Now almost 3 or 4 years later of dancing tribal, of loving every minute of it, of finally finding myself through a dance form I feel is 'so me', I still struggle with not letting my inner demons make me hate or be super self-conscious of how I move. What better timing for a dance workshop with the one and only Rachel Brice? So here I am at Rachel's workshop (if you'd told me I'd be standing here when I started tribal, I would have never believed you). One of the first things she confesses to us is that you can't get rid of those inner voices, those crazy monkeys, or whatever you want to call them. Instead you just have to learn how to work with them. You have to learn to love, live with, and ultimately express those inner demons until you can release them.
I won't go into detail, but Saturday was the first time Rachel taught an improv class that was more about what's in our heads when we dance than about actual 'practice' and drilling. She shared a number of her own personal philosophies with us, told us about some of the people who inspire her and how, made us share some of our own impressions with each other about how we feel when we dance, and made us face our mental processes by playing a lot of very entertaining improv games. After a mere three hours, I feel as though I reached a whole new level of consciousness. There didn't need to be any fancy teachings or crazy dance moves, just Rachel Brice being honest, and making us deal and accept ourselves for who we are.

Going back to what I said earlier and given what Rachel had to teach, I really had to face my own reality. I'm too self-critical. I'm too self-defeating. I have to accept that there is no point in getting bogged down by 'I have to's, expectations, self-criticism, or a constant need to progress/outshine/outdo other dancers or myself. I'm simply here to dance and appreciate the level that I'm at right now. I need to live in the knowledge that I'm getting better but also be happy at the stage I am now because it's part of my journey. I want to love what I do and have fun with it rather than make up some awesome technical performance... besides, a dancer always looks more beautiful when you can tell they love what they do than when they ace a choreography.

Above all though, the most important thing I learned this weekend actually came from another workshop attendee, Kestral. During one exercise, we had to dance with our eyes closed and observe what we were thinking while dancing. During those few minutes, Kestral noticed a guy standing outside our studio. He was just watching us with this strange look of absolute delight on his face (I noticed him too because it WAS a very funny facial expression). When she noticed the guy, this woman could have chosen to become self-conscious about him watching us, wondering why he was there/what his intention was, was he making fun of us in his head, was he a creep, etc. but I absolutely love that she didn't think any of those things for a second. Instead, she just saw how happy he looked, and told us: "I want to instill the sense of enchantment I see on people faces when we dance IN MYSELF."

That hit me like a bullet.

As dancers, we're so focused on the outside/our audience 99.9% of the time that we forget about ourselves. After an awesome weekend, I want to thank Rachel and thank Kestral for their insight and everything they taught me with so few words but such open hearts. I came away from these two days with a renewed sense of purpose for why I dance, and heck, why I am. This was by far my most rewarding workshop. I didn't have to experience some hardcore workout. I didn't have to learn a billion moves, but I was guided by one of my dance hero's who taught me to look into myself and appreciate, love, and honour what's there.