It felt better than the video

My Quora answer to: Why I never understand what’s wrong with my dancing? I am sharp, feeling the music, not stiff, shows good emotion while dancing but when I record to have a look at it, it looks so awkward. is it due to less space, camera quality or outfit?”

Video is a flat, 2D image. It will always have less energy and visual appeal than a 3D in-person view will. More important than that, a recorded image will always have less energy than we felt when we were doing it. Our senses fool us, then when we compare our recorded efforts to the incredible performances we see everywhere, we feel disappointed.

Is there an answer, a way for our recorded performance to look more like what we feel it should?

Work in a mindful way on a single element at a time. Let’s consider two elements that are important to most dances: extension and sharpness. Work on them separately. For extension, it’s not enough to say, “Does my arm/leg feel straight?” Instead ask, “Can I feel the energy radiating out of my entire body, with my arm/leg reaching farther than it can!?” For sharpness we want any still frame from a video to look clean, interesting, full of energy. Instead of, “Am I making the shapes I’m supposed to,” we want, “I hit this pose, and I hit that pose.”

Then, once we have high energy and great extension available to us, we have to learn how to modulate it, how to control its external look. Not every song and not every moment in any song wants only high energy. Anything that is always done the same way, even with great energy, can look flat, boring, uninteresting. The human mind and spirit crave variety.

Everything is a spectrum of possibilities. We want to be able to express: hard/soft, sharp/smooth, fast/slow, big/small, high/low, happy/sad, and more. All of those, even the ones that seem low, slow, small energy actually require a great internal reservoir of energy that can be channeled to create the external expression we want in each moment.

P.S. Also, get feedback from teachers or others who you trust and whose dancing you admire. Can you find (or start!) a Facebook or other group where people can post photos/videos for others to give helpful comments?

Fear snares every well-intended step


Fear snares every well-intended step.

Sketch of a body showing fear-shrouded eyes and and places where swirls of fear live inside.
Fear feelings
  • Will I look foolish?
  • What does my partner want?
  • What does this mean?
  • Will I hurt myself?
  • Will I hurt my partner?
  • Shouldn’t I already know this?
  • What does my partner, what do others think of me?

Fear smothers our natural, exuberant joy of being alive. A joy that wants to burst forth and lift up everyone around us.

See the fear as a friend, one with issues. For fear is the built-in instinct that seeks to protect us from real dangers. The conflict comes when it keeps us from safely, carefully, then joyfully experiencing new things.

In your heart, or wherever you keep your fear, let it know that you know it wants to help you. Let it know that you trust your situation, even when you are unsure what or how to do something. Let it know that you want to test and expand your boundaries and abilities.

Two ideas to avoid failure from fear

Let your lungs relax!

Fear creates tension in body and mind. Fear often holds its breath, so people advise to take big breaths. We disagree. Instead, allow your breath to go where it will as your lungs peacefully relax. Allow your whole body to experience your relaxed, resting lungs. Don’t hold your breath out; don’t hold your breath in. Just allow your lungs when they want, to take in another breath, however deep or shallow they want. Don’t impose your will on your lungs. Allow them to make their gifts to you in their own time and way.

Allow yourself wondrous delight in every detail of what you see and experience.

Even your fear! Where is my fear inside me? How big is it? What does it think I need to know?
When we talk, what are the color and texture of my partner’s irises? What is the feel of my partner’s fabric under my hand? How am I experiencing the space about my partner?

Do you fear (!) that this advice will distract you from your journey? That’s right! The chattering mind that was obsessed with feeling the fear can now delight in feeling the body relax and noticing the wondrous curious sights, sounds, and feelings around it. Leaving our innate body wisdom and learning ability free to explore and grow.

Change your message

How do you feel about this?

In my freewheeling exploration of ideas to help me learn and teach better, I enjoy the columns at The Bulletproof Musician by Noa Kageyama, PhD. He has useful tips on learning, teaching, coaching, practicing, performing, and more, based on his exploration of psychological research studies.

In the latest column “What’s the Most (and Least) Helpful Thing to text a Friend Before Their Audition?” he explores the best way to show support — in a text message — to a person about to do something stressful. The conclusions were that mundane, boring texts work better than those showing positive support, concluding that, “… the boring texts managed to a) subtly distract the participant from the pressure, and b) remind the participant that they have a support network around them, while c) providing an implicit “hey, no matter what happens, life will go on, and we can grab a chalupa after this is over” type of reassurance, without actually saying those words.”

I can attest to my own counterintuitive negative response to messages of support. Me, “I’m driving to Timbuktu next week.” Them, “Wow! Well have a safe trip.” That seems nice, right? So why might some have the subconscious reaction, “Well of course I’ll have a safe trip. Why wouldn’t I? Do you know something I don’t?” Personally, I would rather have a boring, mundane response like, “Give them my regards!” That’s just me.

But what really struck me in this article was a method the psychological researchers used to create stress in their subjects by demanding that they, “count backwards from 2372 by 13 as fast as possible.” The absurdity of that task as something that truly mattered in life amused me, and it brought to mind the way that we can bind themselves up with needless, counterproductive stress in our dance.

“If I don’t intuit what is in my partner’s mind and anticipate where and exactly how they want me to go, at the instant of their slightest movement, then I will lose their respect and the respect of everyone watching.” “I must keep this person entertained and excited like they never have been before, otherwise they and everyone watching will get bored and never want to dance with me again.” Do those seem like absurd and unreal demands on ourselves? How far removed are they from our actual mental dialogs?

Suppose we take a meta-step, where our observing self offers our acting self positive support? “You’ve got this!” “You’ll do fine.” “This is your chance to shine!” I kind of feel that it will be like the supportive texts in the study, applying an unintended pressure to perform.

As a more productive alternative, consider making mundane observations. “The floor is crowded tonight.” “If I were writing a story, what would this music inspire?” “What is my partner’s level of energy? Does it feel like good energy or nervous, tense energy?” “What might be a fun move or theme to play with during this dance?”

Counterintuitively, positive messages of support might actually create unwanted pressure or misdirected intentions. Explore how casual, mundane, even “so what?” types of observations might serve yourself or others better.