On Dancing ‘Across the Floor’ (and Making Mistakes)
You are in a ballet class for the first time–maybe your first ballet class in a long time–and suddenly the teacher says words you dread: “from the corner”. You realize you will be traveling from one corner of the dance studio across the center of the room in front of all the other dancers in a small group with only two two or three other dancers (to hide behind). Some of the dancers in your group may know the combination–in which case you can follow them; others may not–in which case if you follow them, it will be certain death. It can be completely terrifying. I’ve been there. I understand. No one wants to be judged or to publicly make a mistake! The thing is, dancing through the center of the room with the space to really take off and move can be a totally exhilarating experience and some of the best dancing of your life! Here are a few tips to help you get out of your head and dance.
1. Know when to start. Usually (not always) the teacher will play the music so you can hear it before you start dancing. Listen for the downbeat in the song. If it’s four beats to a measure, the teacher may count you in with a “5, 6, 7, 8!” Sometimes you may feel when to start. Trust that excellent instinct!
2. Find someone to dance with who you can follow. Maybe you have a friend in class who is slightly better at remembering steps than you are. Place yourself upstage of her so you can copy her AND still spot the corner. Find people you like and dance with them-it makes dancing much more fun. If you don’t know anyone, smile at someone. Congratulations, you just made a new friend!
3. Be extra confident about the first step. Even if you know the combination, if you have trouble getting into it, you can trip yourself up at the start. Ask the teacher questions, or ask a fellow dancer. If you aren’t sure, it is really ok to ask. It’s far, far better to ask in the beginning when things are still being explained than when everyone else is dancing and you are standing at the brink feeling terrified. Also, if you know the first step, even if you mess stuff up in the middle, you know how to start, and that’s great.
4. Everyone has different ways of learning. A lot of us are visual learners. Watching can be an amazing tool to learn how to do a particular move, or see how steps fit together. When you are not dancing, pay attention to the dancers who are, you can learn a lot whether they do the step correctly or not.
5. ‘Marking it’ is doing the steps but not fully. When the teacher is going over the steps, do it with your body, even if you are only half doing it or just doing it in place–you can even do the steps with your hands! Doing it physically in some way will get the movement into your body and actually make remembering the steps easier. As you are watching and waiting to dance, mark the movement with your feet or hands in your own little space.
6. It’s scary to get out there, I know! But don’t wait to be last, that puts added pressure on yourself. Sometimes you have to force yourself to go–like forcing yourself into cold water at the beach–but once you are in, you may find it exhilarating!
7. Attitude is everything. Even if you aren’t able to do the first step of the combination, and you aren’t at all sure of any of it, go for it anyway! (Unless you feel you may hurt yourself!) Like anything else, mindset is key. Keep a positive attitude about the situation–yes, you may mess up, and that is okay, that is why we go to ballet class–to learn and get better! Think of it this way, when a baby is learning to walk and she tries to stand and then plops down, you don’t say “Well that was horrible, obviously you’ll never be able to walk at that rate!” No! Of course not! You applaud her and say “Good job, that was awesome, do it again!” And you will try and next time your dancing across the floor will be better and pretty soon you’ll be the dancer everyone wants to follow–so stay positive!
I think the biggest fear in going across the floor is the fear of making a mistake. The truth about mistakes is, everyone makes them. Every. Single. Human. Even that ridiculously amazing dancer who looks like she was born doing triple pirouettes.
I asked a violinist friend about making mistakes. She said “Don’t let it get to you. Acknowledge the mistake and then put it away and move on.” Regarding making mistakes in life, an acting friend observed: “Mistakes are some of the best parts of my life! If I cut out all the mistakes, the rest would be pretty boring.” And about making mistakes in art, a writer friend gave me this quote by writer Neil Gaiman: “Go and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here.” I mean, that almost makes me want to screw it up! The fact is, you will make mistakes, there is no avoiding them. You cannot improve without them. Therefore, there is no point to beating yourself up over them! So what is stopping you? Nothing. Get out there and Dance!
Join me for open level ballet classes at Liberated Movement Tuesdays 7-8pm and Saturdays 12-1:30pm at 380 Broadway, buzzer #5. Everyone is welcome. We’re learning Snow from Nutcracker this month. See you in class!