Rest like a Cat, Train like a Lion!

7 Principles to Overcome a Dance Plateau

Ever felt your were stuck in a dance plateau?  As a serious dancer for over 2 decades I am well seasoned in dance highs and lows.  At this point I expect these ups and downs to come, like waiting for the seasons to change.  I have witnessed the ups and downs of my students and seen what works for those who have pushed through their lows and plateaus… and those who simply quit when there were more layers to shed.  Each time it comes, I feel just a little more prepared. 

Here is a list of accountability I set for myself to take me out of my dance lows:

1.) Your limit is your comfort zone.  If you want to excel as an artist, stop dwelling in the zone that you (think) you do well.  Try to inhabit and really live out those movements and compositions that challenge you.  Those moments you do avoiding eye contact with your teacher!   Look beyond your routine and face those fears to practice what makes you uncomfortable.  Go for those spins, drill a little longer than you usually do, sit a little lower, try a little faster, etc.  It is important to be able to identify dance that causes “pain” from an unhealthy movement, and what is “not comfortable” from pushing your limits.

2.) Never be too good to practice your basic techniques.  Art and excellence is a life-long journey towards evermore refinement.  Move Deeper.  Always find the humility to work with your fundamental movements and techniques.  Take a beginning technique class from time to time and re discover those basics.  Humility is always a sign of greatness.  All the masters I have ever met practice basic scales, basic, moves and basic conditioning on a daily basis.

3.) Really listen to constructive criticism.  What are you over looking, brushing to the side and not facing.  Try to cultivate a gentle sense of detachment from your self perception.  Imagine that the uncomfortable feedback is for your friend and not you.  How would you advise your friend to ‘take the advice’?  Try to see how feedback applies with out taking things personally.  Invite feedback from teachers and peers. What are you choosing not to hear?

4.) Keep your focus on the big picture.  When we train little details on a daily basis we often get too close to the subject.  Try to take a step back on a regular basis and assess your work with a larger view point.  This is why I love studying Aesthetic philosophy, going to an opera or museum, talking with a film maker – Learn about ‘artistic process’ from other perspective and art forms. Check in from time to time with your values, goals and dreams.

5.) Practice perfectly… and then make it mean something.  We dancers can fall into the habit of drilling out movements as purely a technical movement – not a tool to tell a story.  Try to breath fresh life into your dance and find a new story in a movement each time you do it.  Live creatively in your core vocabulary.

6.) You are the only one holding yourself back.  Admit it!  Never place the blame on another for lack of strong work ethic.  Each and everyone of us has been overcome with laziness and excuses.  It is your *choice to make time.  As a teacher I am constantly chuckling when students like to blame me for their lack of practice ad preparedness.  But then on the other side, as a student, every now and then I notice myself blaming someone else for holding me back.  I guess this is the rascal side of human nature.

7.) Rest like a cat, train like a lion!  Keep level headed with your approach to training and resting.  Sometimes we need to push so extremely hard as dancers.  I believe in pushing like a warrior and the fight for victory.  We are mighty lions and have an incredible potential of power to harness.  But when that period is over I find it is important to slow down so much that I inhabit boredom.  These are my most creative moments.  This life of extremes is not for everyone, but no one ever ever suggested the life of a dancer was going to be easy.  If you are looking for an easy path, I suggest staying home with the cats.