The way forward…?
It took until 10 years into my competitive dancing career that I was given the opportunity to begin training in front of a mirror. We can all dance in front of a mirror however it isn’t until we really begin to talk to ourselves that we start to open up our dancing to a whole other world of perfection.
Most of us in Irish Dance are experts, or so we like to think. I know that, because I am the first to admit about how much I know about something. We, the experts, are always ready to correct others. To knock down our competitors, and highlight their faults. How many of us like hearing about our own faux pas? I most certainly do not. And what is worse, is having to watch myself. There’s nothing I dread more than watching a “parade of the champions”, video someone decides to flick up on YouTube. Not because I am a bad dancers, but because I am so willing to judge other people’s faults, that when I look at my own, I can see everything which I have pretended was not there, or avoided for the last few years. Its that fear of correcting myself, because when I do, I no longer have an excuse for not being perfect. Everything can be changed!
Being a dancer, of any sort, including an Irish one, is asking for judgement in its highest esteem, and if we so choose to go down the path of competition which will possibly lead us to the opportunity for success then we must accept judgment and criticism. The utmost way in which we become better dancers is going to be not only though the criticism of our teachers and mentors but it is also going to be through the scrutiny of ones self. Mental scrutiny is going to be one of the toughest areas for a dancer to overcome, the stronger I am mentally, the better the performance and usually the better the result.
Physical strength + Mental strength = Improvement!
Dance class is all about not “jump 2 – 3” etc. As dancers develop and enter their Championship class, it all becomes about the mental strengthening for the Oireachtas. Remember although at this point we must begin to criticize ourselves, we must not take any form of correction as a complete judgement on your dancing as a whole.As Judith Peterson MD states, “It is called a dance class because it is the time for your mind and body to coordinate and learn the programs and movements prior to your time on stage.” I know that as a dancer, I can be a fair bit too harsh on myself if I don’t dance great in a dance class. When I was in the UK before the World Championships in 2011, if I made one mistake or didn’t get through one dance as I wanted, I was in a foul mood for a week. I now know that I need to begin taking these things with a grain of salt.
Have you ever got up the morning of a feis and had an argument with your parent, partner or sibling? Most of the ones I witness are about wigs, however most of my own are just caused so that I can blame someone if I don’t win or something. How did you end up on the day? What was your result like? Most cases I see of people with a bad mindset end up being those “could have beens” as I like to call them. They are the dancers that you wish had the balls to win!! I know a person like that at the moment. This person just constantly thinks they are perfect and when you tell them otherwise they blame other people and other circumstances which are apparently out of their control. They could be a champion, but you know unless they strengthen their mind, they will never be.
Mental strength has a stronger relationship to physical strength than most dancers realize. Your brain -the mental department- has to communicate with your nerves -the action transport department- in order to get your muscles -the physical department- to do the dance. “If you become overwhelmed by the classroom or the teacher, your brain will make your muscles become tense – and a tense dancer is not a dancer performing to his or her best abilities.”
Self criticism can be broken down into a few steps. But this can only be done by a dancer with self awareness. Everyday I am opening up new doors of self awareness. We only become aware of these things when they are brought to our attention, and this is most commonly done by watching ourselves. Steps to Irish dance self awareness commonly go somewhat like this:
- Being told what you are doing incorrectly
- Seeing & understanding what you are doing incorrectly
- Working out how to correct your highlighted fault and improve
To take that next step in improving through self correction, we must give it a go! By watching ourselves on video or in a mirror we will begin to pick all of our own faults. This may prove very hard at first, but by watching ourselves over and over again, we will begin to not only fix our improvements but we will also begin to strengthen our mind to allow us to take on not only our own criticism but also that of our harshest teacher on a bad day. Armed with a strong mind, we as dancers are then able to face any variable on the big day!