Learning Fearlessness: 4 Tips that Will Help You Take Risks on the Dance Floor
The dancers who take our breath away are the risk-takers, the ones who appear completely fearless onstage. "When you see somebody trying to travel more, go farther, push the limits of their physical abilities, that's always going to be inspiring," says Ballet BC dancer Alexis Fletcher.
But dance training can feel like it's in conflict with that idea. We spend thousands of hours in the studio trying to do steps perfectly, and that pursuit of perfection can make us anxious about taking risks. What if we fail? What if we fall?
Luckily, fearlessness is a mental skill that you can work on, just as you work on your technique. Here's how you can learn to push yourself past your limits.
Move to the Front
As the consulting psychologist to Pacific Northwest Ballet School since 1981, Toby Diamond, PhD, has worked with many dancers who worry they're missing the moxie that would make them truly great, and teachers who worry an advanced student is holding back. "These dancers are afraid of making mistakes, looking like a fool or like they don't know what they're doing," she says.
To break that mental pattern, Diamond suggests making small changes first. Risk-avoidant dancers frequently hide in the back during class, and won't do combinations in the first group across-the-floor, nervous about messing up. But standing front and center is a low-consequence risk—a good place for anxious dancers to start. "Push yourself to move up, to try a combination even when you aren't completely confident in it," she says. Realizing that that's not so scary will help you feel more comfortable taking bigger risks down the road.
See It, Then Do It
At Plumb Performing Arts Center in Scottsdale, AZ, instructor Brooke Anderson prepares her students to perform audience-
thrilling combinations with visualization exercises, which several scientific studies have shown can increase confidence. Imagining yourself performing a difficult lift or tumbling passage perfectly can actually improve your ability to execute it—and make you less scared about the risks it entails. "We have the dancers envision the lift, the risk and the feeling of achieving it safely," Anderson says. "Then we ask them to open their eyes and their minds and go for it."
Make risk-taking a part of your everyday work in the studio. (Thinkstock)
Improvising is one of the riskiest things you can do as a dancer—you never know quite how it's going to go. Becoming an experienced improviser will help your brain learn to trust your body, giving you the confidence to do riskier things onstage and off. Fletcher recommends experimenting with structured improvisation, as she frequently does at Ballet BC—improvising with a specific image in mind, or with a particular task to fulfill—so you won't feel lost in the vastness of the possibilities.
At Plumb, Anderson frequently has dancers improvise to the music for a particular routine before they do it in competition. That way, a missed step or a fall is less likely to result in a scramble to catch the next step, because your body and mind will be primed to keep moving. You'll feel better taking risks, knowing that you have a kind of built-in safety net.
Plan to Be Spontaneous
A big misconception is that fearless dancers' risks are unplanned, that they just happen onstage. But risk-taking should be a part
of your everyday work in the studio. "Daily risk-taking creates consistent success under the pressure of performance," Anderson says. Once you get used to pushing your limits, you'll find that those limits are further than you imagined—a thrilling feeling. "Risk-taking doesn't mean being reckless," Fletcher says. "It isn't about abandoning yourself. And there's an incredible amount of hope and joy in it."
A version of this story appeared in the September 2017 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "Learning Fearlessness."
Get in, losers. We're going to Broadway.
OK, not losers, actually—more like the bajillion die-hard fans of Tina Fey's 2004 cult hit Mean Girls, who've been wearing pink every Wednesday since a musical adaptation of the film was first teased back in 2013.
Now their world is like a cake filled with rainbows and smiles, because Mean Girls the musical, which had a trial run in Washington, DC, last fall, is set to open at Broadway's August Wilson Theatre April 8. And in a very grool twist, it turns out the show—with direction and choreography by Casey Nicholaw and a book by Fey herself—is delightfully dancey.
Today in Ballet Dancers Are Actual Superheroes news:
You've no doubt heard that the fabulous Alicia Vikander is playing Lara Croft in the newest iteration of Tomb Raider, which hits movie theaters this Friday. But while her training for the high-octane action role was crazy tough, she says, studying at the Royal Swedish Ballet School was far tougher.
Everyone loves a good viral video, especially when there's dancing involved. And though many viral videos are contrived and created for the soul purpose of instafame, the story behind the latest video catching the eyes of millions—including Rihanna, super model Naomi Campbell, and Diddy—is even more unique because it features children who don't even know who those celebrities are.
A dance troupe in Nigeria has become the next internet sensation, thanks to their exuberant dancing and passion with which they perform. Their enthusiasm for dance is evident in every step and it's hard not to smile as you see these children (who range from ages 6 to 15) express pure joy in something as simple as dance. These nine kids are part of The Dream Catchers, an organization started by 26-year-old Seyi Oluyole, that gives impoverished children a place to live while teaching them how to dance.
For 16-year-old Amanda*, dance is everything: her passion, her escape from the daily grind, and her career goal. Her parents see things differently. "I have siblings who are active in sports," Amanda says, "and my parents would rather I play soccer or basketball. They don't see dance as something I can earn a stable living from in the future. They often tell me I should just quit."
Some parents aren't able to, don't know how to, or choose not to give you the kind of support you need to thrive in the studio. And when your parents are adding stress to your life, rather than alleviating it, there's a lot at stake. "Dancers who don't have the support of their parents might struggle with self-doubt," says Dr. Linda Hamilton, a former dancer with New York City Ballet and a clinical psychologist specializing in the performing arts, "while those whose parents are too involved can crack under the pressure." Whether your parents aren't there when you need them or they're always there, practically smothering you, try these tips to improve your situation.
On Friday night, the iconic RuPaul made history as the first drag queen ever to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. And it didn't take long for the world's most fabulous RuPaul fan/one of our favorite human beings, Mark Kanemura, to commemorate his idol's accomplishment with—naturally—a WALK to end all walks.
What do you get when a hoard of dancers collaborate to the catchy tune of "Love Somebody," by the band Frenship? The most epic dance party ever, of course! Said dance party was directed by the talented Michael Riccio, who's choreography has appeared in "La La Land" and "Dancing with the Stars."
They say there's no "I" in "team"—and nowhere is that truer than the world of college dance teams, where precision reigns, uniformity is key, and a single misstep from any given "I" can cost a group a championship trophy. So it's unsurprising that securing a spot on one of the best dance teams in the country is no easy feat.
Members of these highly athletic teams rehearse for hours every week—on top of academic classes and commitments—and perform at football and basketball games, annual concerts, and nationally televised competitions (hi, ESPN). And "no I" rule notwithstanding, each of these top teams is made up of highly trained, highly technical, highly hard-core individuals, who come together to create a ready-for-victory pack.
These six teams aren't one-off success stories—they're consistently strong, and earn the top spots at major competitions like UDA and NDA nearly every year. Up for the challenge? Here's what to know before you go to auditions.