Last May, I wrote an article for DancePlug: 10 Supplemental Skills You Learn From Dancing at Home. I remember feeling optimistic, as evident in the final sentence, "Your inner artist, and your future audience, may end up appreciating this time as one of exploring, learning, and nurturing new skills that you may not have placed the time or attention on developing before." Over this last year, through many lessons learned, new perspectives have emerged. So, I'm revisiting this article to reflect on my time dancing, teaching, and training at home.
My time at home has enabled me to see the value in rest.
First, I'll tell you a little about my year. As a professor at a California university, I haven't taught or danced in a studio since mid-March last year. I recall going from sharing studio space with many sweaty dancers at the American College Dance Association Conference at CSU Long Beach on Saturday (with some extra hand sanitizer bottles and bleach wipes present) to being told to go home from campus and prepare for a virtual spring quarter a week later. What now feels like years ago is remarkably only a little over a year removed, and I'm still teaching virtually. I'm also preparing to teach for two virtual summer dance intensives. This time of training at home isn't over; in fact, some lessons learned might need to stick around for a while. As an addendum to my original article, here are five more things I've learned while dancing at home.
1. I no longer have to go to the studio to move, train, and feel that release one experiences in dance class
I like to dance big–like really big. Traveling through space is my jam, and dancing in a small area used to be a top-three challenge for this body. Not anymore. Though dancing big will always be my preference whether I'm in a studio or at a club, I have found joy in minimal and gestural movement. Shifting my focus to the intent, flow, weight, time, and initiation specificity has opened a new door in my movement invention vault. Regarding training, I utilized some basic kinesiology knowledge involving planes of movement to hyper-focus on joint stability and passed this along to my students. After first expressing displeasure due to immense muscular soreness, most of my students have admitted to appreciating and even liking (!!!) these new exercises. One example of a stability increasing exercise of the hip joint is this:
- Stand on one leg in parallel with a slight bend in the knee
- Focus on the standing leg - the leg off the ground can be in a coupé or just held casually off the floor
- Use the external and internal rotators to move from parallel to “turned out” or external rotation eight to ten times. (transverse/horizontal plane motion)
- After returning to parallel, using the gluteus medius, lift the hip of the leg that is off the floor then return to neutral (frontal plane motion)
- Lastly, flex at the hip joint and return to neutral (sagittal plane motion)
- Repeat on the other side!
2. Cross-training my way to a clean house
I am a big fan of functional training in addition to dancing. As one who has dealt with several injuries (see number 4 below) and has spent a lot of time in physical therapy, I see value in varying stressors in addition to the repetition dance requires. During this time at home, I searched for supplemental movement modalities and found some pretty fun ways to combine housework with training. For instance, climbing my stairs on repeat while carrying a full laundry basket is a great way to strengthen my legs, increase my heart rate, and isometrically challenge my arms. And, my laundry gets done! While cleaning my shower, I scrub ten circles inward, followed by ten outward. Vacuuming becomes an exercise in speed and precision while blasting some tunes through my noise-canceling earbuds. Voila, a clean house and a cross-trained body!
3. Rest is best
Rest doesn't come easy to me. Even though I'm a proponent of listening to one's body and modifying when necessary in class, I often disregard my advice and keep pushing through. A good friend of mine likes to tell the story of that one time in ballet class when I left the studio during the break between barre and center to remove a portion of an ingrown toenail. Upon returning, my sweaty, pale face prompted him to inquire what I had done, and he's never shy to tell the tale. While many dancers may have viewed the immediate time after minor self-surgery as an appropriate time to rest, I plowed through the rest of class as if nothing happened. There's more - in college, I broke my arm on stage about seven minutes into a 20-minute piece. I finished the dance, went to the emergency room in full stage makeup, then came back and performed (with my arm in a cast) in the evening show. The professor still tells that story to students. These are just two of the many, many other examples I'm sure more than a few of you relate to. Getting back to the point, my time at home has enabled me to see the value in rest. With the space under my roof now being deemed my office, studio, gym, and home, I had to separate these portions of the day to avoid a constant work state. Like many of you, I found my time puzzling, reading, and even some paint-by-number kits to be restful for my body and mind and now prioritize "me-time" on most days. Some days this me-time is only a few minutes. Still, I've found that even this minimal time decreases my feelings of anxiety and stress and allows for better use of my body the next time I complete planned activities like dancing or exercising.
4. Choosing when I want to dance
Since I was three years old, like many of you, I've followed a schedule. At the community center, then studio, then school, then university, then work, then teaching, there's always been a set time when I teach, go to dance class, or rehearse. When given a choice to instruct synchronously or asynchronously during this past year-plus, I chose to let my students decide when they wanted to dance by teaching through video recordings and written prompts. This asynchronous method of instruction also meant that I got to choose when I wanted to teach and dance. For the first time, my set schedule was no longer. At first, this felt odd, but now I quite enjoy teaching when I want to teach! Once in-person instruction resumes, this agency will fade, and my scheduled life will return. However, what will remain is my ability to pick and choose when I want to take class and when I want to dance. Now that I have experienced taking classes at home, I can continue listening to my internal motivation instead of abiding by those voices in my head that tell me that I "should" or "need" to be in class.
Shifting my focus to the intent, flow, weight, time, and initiation specificity has opened a new door in my movement invention vault.
5. A renewed relationship with dance improvisation
I find myself moving more within my house. Ballet barre exercises using my kitchen counter are the perfect companion to a slow cooking pasta sauce. These are not choreographed; they are improvised moments of movement in response to the ideal height of my kitchen counter barre. My hallways provide long, narrow spaces for sagittal locomotion. My shower becomes an investigation in gestural speed while I shampoo and condition my hair. The pairing of my kitchen floor and favorite socks turn the time waiting for water to boil into an opportunity to move without picking up my feet. Not one to ever shy away from a chance to improv, this style had yet to invade my home fully. Now, I can't stop.
This time of reflection has renewed my optimistic views and new perspective toward the benefits of dancing at home. With much happening in our world at a speed that can feel overwhelming, I encourage you to also take some time to reflect on how your relationship with dance has shifted, changed, or altered over this past year.