Dance – and the Trouble with Getting it Right

I watch dancers train and in their process a lot. I work with them, I teach them and I am one. When I first started taking advanced or pro level classes as a dancer I was always fascinated and in awe of the working dancers, usually the ones who drew the eyes of the room. They often shone with some kind of light I didn’t really understand and managed to nail the choreography in a way that was so much more than just ‘getting it right’.

There are, of course, loads of factors that affect and influence that transition from first pro class to being a working dancer.  It’s essential to do the training and gain the experience but it’s also helpful to undo or at least notice the things that get in the way. Understanding the difference between ‘Getting it right’ VERSUS ‘Getting it’ is one of those things.

They almost sound like the same thing right? They’re not. So here’s what I’ve come to learn about the difference between the two and the impact it has on the way you dance.

dance isn’t just one thing that we can get ‘right’

Getting it ‘right’ – is mostly about the fear of getting it wrong. It looks like painstakingly putting everything exactly in its place according to instructions. Moving the way you think you’re supposed to. Repeating what you’re being asked to do word for word, step for step but not really dancing. Actually sometimes it’s possible to be so focused on ‘getting it right’ in your head that you forget to really dance at all.

VERSUS

Getting it – is taking it all in… the instructions, choreography, details, corrections and then dancing it all out.  Where ‘getting it right’ is about mentally checking yourself, ‘getting it’ is about getting out of your head and into your body – focusing in this way on what you’re saying and sharing as a dancer…  because if it feels like fear and micro-managing then it probably looks like it too.

dance is just like a conversation, our movements are our words

On some level we learn when we’re younger that ‘getting it right’ meets with praise and approval. I suspect that we carry this with us straight out of childhood into many moments as dancers. There are times when this is useful, like when taking and making corrections BUT there are plenty of dance times when it just plain gets in the way because dance isn’t just one thing that we can get ‘right’.

I’ve been in class as a dancer before I recognized this difference and, as a perfectionist, been so incredibly focused on doing it right and getting it right that there was virtually no room for artistry, for getting into the music – for so much of the sharing stuff that feels good as a dancer and reads to anyone watching. What I didn’t get then was that dance is just like a conversation, our movements are our words. Throwing words, even the right words, out there was never going to have an impact I didn’t have any tone in my voice or any life in my movement.

I often use the example, when I’m teaching, of scripts and actors. When three different actors read the same part in a script, the words off the page are exactly the same. If they invest no personality, emotion or imagination and focus only on speaking the words correctly then yes, they will probably get the words right. The problem with this is that no one wants to watch a movie and simply applaud the actors for reciting the correct lines.  There’s a huge gap between repeating the words correctly and bringing them to life.

Dance is just like this. And working dancers know it. They get it.

Sidenote: ‘Getting it’ doesn’t always mean you’ll book the job or get the part. Nor am I saying that you should set out to forget the choreography and deliberately make choices that are totally different from what’s being asked for. But dropping that pesky word ‘right’ does mean that you’ll give yourself permission to bring it to life, to be you and be seen, to take the choreography and speak it in your own voice. It feels good and that reads.

So how do you let go of ‘getting it RIGHT’ and dive into ‘getting it’? You start by noticing when you’re reducing the experience to whether you’re getting it right or not. You follow by remembering to let it feel good. REPEAT.

About the author

Often heard saying 'Stand like you mean it' and 'You don't get this moment twice', Jo is an enthusiast. ​A teacher with experience from across the globe, a choreographer and dancer spanning film, TV and live performance. A writer and former children's talent agent. 

Currently LA-based, Jo makes regular appearances at EDGE PAC (Hollywood) and is represented by Go 2 Talent Agency. She is also one half of the creative partnership As1creative and co-creator of in-studio workshop OneDanceEpic.