Authentic Dance: Experiments to Help You Get Out of Your Own Way

“Movement, to be experienced, has to be “found” in the body, not put on like a dress or a coat.

There is that in us which has moved from the very beginning. It is that which can liberate us.” – Mary Whitehouse, Founder of Authentic Movement

Would you be surprised to find out that there is no secret or “trick” to dancing authentically?  You already know deep down how you want to move, and why you want to express yourself. This truth resides in every cell of the body. It’s just waiting there, ready for you to call on it and use it for telling your story. You carry within you a deep well of creativity and uniqueness that needs to  to bubble up and fuel your dance.  It is as simple as reaching out for it yet  as complex as figuring out where to start.

Let’s talk about ways to get access to this resource that resides inside you. Although the things I’ll suggest sound like a list, it’s actually a Venn Diagram. It is a holistic system, with all parts supporting the whole. My personal view is that dance is a holistic practice that mirrors what shows up in daily life. The Journey to Authentic Dance is a not a Straight Line

Trust yourself

I’ve started off with a big, scary one. If you don’t develop the practice of trusting yourself, you aren’t going to have a fully realized experience. This is where the thing that sounds simple is also inordinately complicated. Start small with this one, even a small experiment is going to take all of your attention and awareness.

Your Experiment: Getting mindful or getting a mind full?

One useful way to begin, is to sit down, just for a minute (set a timer), and follow your breath. Let your breath occur naturally, let any thoughts drift by like they are floating on a river. The object of this is not to experience having 0 thoughts, that’s pretty much impossible. Our monkey mind, likes to fill in any available space it can with ALL THE THINGS! What we are doing here is allowing your mind to be however it is, without doing anything about it. You are trusting that you can sit down for a minute and let your mind go, without going along for the ride. Make notes (drawings, record yourself talking, etc.) of any observations that you had about this experience.

The follow-up to this is to set that timer for 1 minute, sit down, and try to follow your mind on the paths it wants to take you on. When your minute is up, record your observations.

You’ve now spent less than 5 minutes to compare awareness, relationship to breath, and trusting your mind. If you are the type of person who enjoys creating rituals for things you want to get done, set up a sustainable practice of this exercise. Try it 2-3 times a week. Don’t try to do it every day, you are likely to not be able to stick to that plan and you’ll lose that drive to engage with this practice. I come from the camp of “under-promising”, I plan for a few anchor points in my plan and avoid layering on too many things to where it gets overwhelming. I’ve found this rewarding and manageable.

Keep tracking the observations as well, write notes, create a video log, draw photos , or create a dance.

Let Go

As you start to get curious and trust yourself, what do you bump up against that makes you cautious about dancing the way you really want? One question I like to ask myself is, “do I have a belief that is holding me back before I try this out?” This bring us to the “but/and” experiment.

I would love to do_____, but…

You will complete this sentence. It might become a bunch of sentences. For example, “I would love to do daytime yoga but I work full-time”. Keep answering your “buts” until you feel like you have run out of them. Write these down, dance and talk it out at the same time, and/or have someone interview/record you talking. If it helps you to share your practice, use social media or your friends/dance colleagues.

Take time to check your list, track any themes ( i.e. values, time, money, self-worth, confidence, venue, training, body constraints)

The follow-up experiment is to take those sentences and turn them into “and” statements. For example “I would love to daytime yoga and I work full-time”, it becomes an active statement. Once it become active, and not passive, you may feel a spark to find a solution. You are on the path toward letting go of being directed by your “buts”.

Move your “buts”

Pick one “but” that you want to dance through. Let it be the theme of 1 song, you choose the length and style. If you regularly practice in front of a mirror, cover the mirror or turn away from it. Bring your attention inward and set the intention to use all of your body parts to explore how you feel being limited by this “but”. This is going to mean moving outside of your usual technique and taking this time to let go of how you think or want something to be different.

It’s up to you if you want to record yourself during this experiment. I find using video very supportive as I get the sense of their being a witness.

Letting go of the “buts” and finding places to get unstuck will allow you to connect deeply with your dance.

Get Curious

To create and embody authentic dance you must be willing to do some strange, weird, awkward movement to discover what works for you. Being on the edge of your comfort zone is where the breakthroughs happen.  This next experiment will encourage your curiosity to come out and play.

Once more, with feeling

Pick an emotive gesture (nod, shrug, hand gesture, etc.) and put on a song that you know well. Move this gesture around your body, making sure it has at least 4 counts of movement in every body part. You’ll be using elbows, top of head, knees, toes, fingers and everything else to explore how you can express that gesture. You may find places that it’s hard to make it work, or it feels really weird/awkward/stupid. This is exactly where you want to be. Allowing for the discomfort of moving strangely to guide your process. When you complete your dancing, record your observations.

Next, pick a song you are not familiar with, and repeat the experiment. Record these observations.

Most of the time with dance, we are performance focused and don’t make allowances for dancing ugly. This is your opportunity to give yourself full permission to dance from the heart, however it looks. It will never be exactly the same the next time you do any of these experiments.

Nancy’s Notes: If you aren’t already in the habit of journaling/recording your dance practice in some way, now is an excellent time to start. Memory is a fleeting thing and you won’t want to lose the gems that you discover on your journey of being an authentic dancer. As you repeat these experiments over time you may see patterns, themes, or even solutions to previous problems. I hope you find inspiration in trying out these experiments, please share them and use them in your classes and practice. The world needs more curious, weird dancers who are willing to find their authentic self.

I also invite you to join me for a monthly improvisational dance journey, held in Oakland, CA.  It's a come as you are, all bodies and skill level are welcome.