We had a great team rehearsal yesterday. I’m very grateful for the people I have in my company at this time. While looking around the room, I realized that I’m surrounded by dancers from all walks of life. On one hand I have a couple of people I personally had a hand in training while the others came in with dance skills from prior experience. This is especially noticeable in the variety of ways a section of choreography is executed by different people. Depending on the particular background, I can start to see the ways in which my company members express themselves. Being that we are all lookign to create a unified movement, it’s a process to get us all looking the same. Enjoyable to be sure, but a process nonetheless.
Being that we are all different, it dawned on me how beneficial it has been to my own dancing to have taken classes in other disciplines. I’ve learned a great deal about myself and my passion for dance in the process and I’ve decided to share 6 reasons why you should consider cross taring in other dance styles for yourself.
1. More exposure to dance
This one is easy yet surprising to many. Latin dancers are notorious for having a strong sense of self-worth while not putting in the time to earnestly achieve that honor. Truthfully, you can NEVER know enough but I’ve known SO MANY dancers in my travels who feel they got this whole game figured out. Reality strikes when they are exposed to another style of movement and they realize the shortcoming of the ability. This was most apparent to me when I noticed how many straight up Salsa dancers with no outside training performed on So You Think You Can Dance.
If we take the time to learn from other established disciplines of dance, we’ll come to find that we either just like Latin dancing or, even better, we actually like to dance, period! This happened to me when I first took a jazz class and was so inspired by the movement and differences in what I learned. Was I terrible? Absolutely! It didn’t matter to me as I realized I’m simply of fan of dancing and have since taken classes in Ballroom, Ballet, Jazz and African since that fateful class. You might be pleasantly surprised how some other form of dance can pull a different set of feelings and emotions out of you.
2. Learn from Different teachers
One of my personal favorite things to do is take a dance class. I absolutely love being a student. I’m so often in the process of giving a class that I relish the opportunity to work on myself. One of the sincere benefits of having taken so many classes was the opportunity to meet and learn from different teachers. For example, I’ve periodically taken some adult Ballet classes at a studio in Lincoln Square and the teacher there is amazing! She’s a smart ass and crass and a wealth of knowledge and I love her. She has a way of sharing humor to communicate complex thoughts and remind us not to take things SO seriously. She is always on my case about moving my hips to much in Ballet. Sorry Natalie! (Check out her adult Ballet classes )
Another favorite teacher in a little fireball of jazzy goodness named Pia. She used to have a studio in the South Loop and has since moved by Chinatown. She always had an amazing warm-up which I copied with great delight and has the coolest floor combinations. Sadly/Happily she’s in New York and on Broadway living her dream so I don’t get a chance to work with her anymore. That said, I;’m sure there are equally amazing Jazz teachers like her all over Chicago, find one! All this and I haven’t even mentioned my Ballroom coaches of which there were many. Some serious, some professional, some laid back but all awesome. I’ve so very grateful they gave me their time and shared their wisdom to make me a better partner dancer.
As you can imagine, all of the exposure to different teaching styles has had a big hand in my own style of instructing. I’ve not only met and learned from my teachers, I’ve also become a better teacher as a result.
3. Different ways to express yourself
When I first went to a ballroom competition, I left with mixed emotions. On one hand, there was the sweeping drama of the dancing and the thrill of the competition. Conversely, there was a bit of insincerity in the dancing that also struck me as odd. As I invested myself more into competitive Ballroom (American Rhythm) dancing, I began to notice the cream of the crop and how they swept me away with their passion and performance. I’ve since set out to perform a piece of dance that can elicit those emotions in other people. While it hasn’t happened yet, I know it will, I’ll make it happen.
As I speak of expression, I recall feeling all warm and fuzzy dancing a style called ‘Bolero.’ In American Rhythm, it’s a slow and sweeping dance with a strong lyrical quality. When done well, it’s truly beautiful. I was especially touched by the way dancing Bolero made me feel. Having come from a street dancing background, we don’t ‘do’ pretty, we do RAH RAH RAH!!!! This new found style of dance opened up the doors for me to find different ways of expressing myself through movement. I’ve never looked at dancing the same since.
4. More understanding of your body
As you go through the process of working on your dance abilities, you’ll find yourself getting comfortable. You get to a point where you can do the things being asked of you and the only way to change it up is to do another type of choreography or try another style of dance. If you reach outside of your comfort zone, you’ll start to see how we, as Salsa/Bacahata/Club dancers don’t fully use our body to it’s fullest potential. Part of this is due to the lack of proper training and understanding of dance technique. The other is the attitude of the student to seek this information that is readily available, albeit, form different sources than your typical local Salsa studio. If you try other styles of dance, you’ll soon become VASTLY aware that you don’t know how to use your main dancing tool, your body!
Ballet can help your posture and poise and help you understand body coordination. Jazz can help your speed, body lines and dynamic movement. African can develop and earthy quality to your movement and get you to use and power off the floor and Ballroom can help you become a great lead or follow. All of these different dances are like different spices on the spice rack of you dance skills. There more you add to your own mix, the better and more flavorful you will become!
I know, I know. Some of you have been hearing about a book I’ve been writing for a while now. You know what? I
DID write it but it got butchered and sent back in a ball of snot and red ink. No not really, but it’s a work in progress and number 67 on my list of things to get done. That being said, I’m going to quote a piece of the book which talked about this exact thing, enjoy:”My process for learning dance has been no different. I used to have a lot of dancers that would influence me and that I admired. In my head, I would imagine my movements would look like theirs, and it helped me have more confidence in my actions. The interesting thing is that if two people are influenced by the same three people, for example, they might move similarly, but still look very different. Like I stated before, the difference is obviously their interpretation and to what degree they borrowed certain movements from their inspirations. I hope this doesn’t come off crazy or complicated but if one person in this example took 33% from each person they admired, it would be a very even distribution of the styles. Conversely, if the other person were influenced by the same three people but had a heavier influence from one of his inspirations, the result would automatically cause a different look. You could see how we can go on with this, but my point is you are influenced by others to a degree in the way that ultimately only makes sense to you. Somewhere in your subconscious mind, you receive and digest the information in a way that is inherently personal.”6. Exposure to different people
A nice added benefit of this global dance community is the opportunity to meet and interact with a variety of different people. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing how others have danced and expressed themselves which gave me inspiration and courage to try when I was scared to run home. I’ve met all types during my time exploring different dance styles and have come away with he idea that we all have a particular song in our hearts. As long as we can appreciate the music, it doesn’t matter what we dance. The interaction with different dancers has allowed me to form friendships and lasting bonds with people I admire and who inspire me to do the best I can.
Dancing outside of my box, or ‘cross training’ has been the best thing I ever did with my dancing. While I wear many hats these days as a studio owner, choreographer, teacher and dancer, I STILL embrace the time I get to work on me. Even better, familiarizing myself with other dance styles to keep me hungry. I’ve befitted greatly from dancing other styles and I’m sure that if you give it a shot, you will too!
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Until next time, to your dancing!