By Jessica Doro
Dancing can be incredibly beneficial to a person’s health, both mentally and physically. To gain the greatest health benefits from dance, however, one must also maintain healthy dance habits. Having been a dancer for several years, I have had my fair share of pain and injury, but I hope to continue dancing for many years to come. Dance has given me strength and immense happiness, and has motivated me to live a healthy lifestyle so that I may keep dancing through life. Here are some things I have learned as a dancer that hopefully you can implement into your own life and dancing:
Leave it at the Door
Stress, worry, negative attitude—leave it all outside the studio, off the dance floor, and away from your practice and performance space. Be present. You are there to dance, so enjoy it. Sure, dance can be frustrating and challenging at times, but there is a difference between struggling to learn a complicated new dance step and struggling to dance with your partner because you are too distracted by your endless to-do list or the fact that you missed your bus that morning or how irritated you are with so-and-so. Forget all of that and let the dance floor be your space of solace.
Imagine that there is a forcefield at the studio door, or surrounding the dance floor, and as you step blissfully through it all that negativity drops off your shoulders. Don’t try to pick it up. Leave it be to sit outside and you may find that as you return, much of that negativity has dissipated and things may not seem so bad after all. If you allow yourself to dance with a mind clear of dark clouds, you will be amazed with how that positivity can compound itself and permeate into the rest of your life. Focus on the dancing, let it heal you and brighten your day, and enjoy the time you have to dance with your partner.
Before beginning a practice or performance, it is important to find your center, breathe, and find your strength (literally and figuratively). There are several techniques and exercises which can assist you in aligning your mind and body, and practices which you can implement into your regular warm up or dedicate more time to outside of the ballroom.
We will start with some seemingly simple exercises, which can have profoundly positive effects. I have come to hybridize breathing meditation and exercises outlined by the Egoscue Method, which then transition into yoga and Pilates-like movements. Start by laying on your back, knees bent or up at 90 degrees and resting on a chair, and arms at your sides rotated palms up. Breathe deeply into your belly and let your body melt into the floor. After a few cycles of breath, slowly move your arms along the floor in a jumping-jacks-like motion. Let your arms come to rest at your sides again, palms down, take a few more breaths, and then adjust so that your feet are on the floor and knees bent (if you weren’t already in that position). The best way to describe this next movement is like a slow-rolling hip thrust. Slowly, with your breath, lift your right hip and leave the left hip in contact with the floor. Then roll your hips up and through so that both hips are in the air like the basic bridge yoga pose. Continue to roll through so that your right hip makes first contact with the floor, and then come back to center with both hips resting on the floor. Repeat a few times and then start in the other direction, first lifting your left hip. After that I like to hold a child’s pose with my palms facing up, and finish the warm up with basic stretches and small arm circles: standing with arms to the side, straight out from the shoulders, rotated with a closed fist and thumbs pointing back.
When warming up, I like to engage in slower movements that focus on my breathing because it allows me to tune into my body and feel where there may be tightness or areas I should be careful of while dancing. This warm up also helps me to find a clearer head space which invites more positivity into my dance practice.
Listen and Communicate
In order to dance at your best, it is crucial that you take good care of your body and are able to effectively communicate with your dance partner. This requires you to take the time to calmly tune into your body and ascertain what you need to do to facilitate the best possible function and feeling. This is different for everyone, and you will know the needs of your own body best. After focusing on yourself, open up this awareness to your dance partner, whether the cues are verbal or nonverbal. The biggest advice I can give on effective communication with your partner is to remain open and to be clear when articulating your thoughts. We are always told that no negativity should cross the line of your partnership—this is so important! Rather than placing blame, if something is going wrong, take a step back and discuss how you may go forward together. Improve your dancing by way of improving your communication. Interacting positively with your partner will improve your dance performance and likely help you with other relationships in your life. As I said before, there are so many ways that dance can have profoundly positive effects on a person’s life—remain open to the possibilities and come into practice with a smile and a willingness to learn.