"Bad habits are easier to abandon today than tomorrow." ~Yiddish ProverbIt’s so hard to break a habit when it is something that feels like second nature to you. When an action becomes unconscious and you are not aware that you are doing it, how do you gain awareness so that you can change it? This applies to dance training when you get a correction in technique class and you must apply the correction in order to improve. It is impossible to fix an aspect of your technique if there is a bad habit holding you back. The first step is breaking the habit completely, then you can improve and make those improvements your new "second nature".
In order to get rid of a habit, you must be aware that you have it. It sounds really easy, but it doesn’t stop there. You must do something about it in order for it to change. What if you’re aware of your habit, but it keeps coming back because it feels so natural to you? I find that using a code word or phrase in my mind helps me remember that I am defaulting back to my old ways and I need to work on fixing it. An example of this would be my biggest correction in dance class right now: my core. What I mean is I have not become accustomed to holding my abdominals strong while dancing and I forget about that core support most of the time. Without this support, your body is not connected and your placement is not correct. This is a problem that has been difficult to fix since it is the foundation of dance training and your body’s alignment. My secret phrase to remind myself is something that my ballet teacher once told me. "Don’t suck in, lift up."
I started using this phrase to help myself make a permanent change. I think it took me so long to improve because I wasn’t constantly thinking about my correction. My teacher would come up to me and tell me to lift up and find my core, then she would walk away and I would default back to my normal placement. I had trouble holding onto that correction because I wasn’t practicing it enough. When you want to make a change that large, you’re going to have to do some work. It may be uncomfortable and that may be all you focus on for a long time, but that hard work pays off and it will eventually become natural to you. That’s how anyone can improve in any aspect of his or her life.
My breakthrough actually just happened last Monday in ballet class. Talk about taking a while to get it right! I’ve been getting comments on my core and my placement ever since I began college almost two years ago. Not only was I not accessing my abdominals, I was very tense in my upper body. This was my first week back at class after spring break, so I had plenty of time to think about what my next step was going to be in order to make a change. The thing that finally gave me success was something that my ballet teacher makes us practice often. You think about whatever it is that you normally do that you want to change, and do the complete opposite. Exaggerate it, make it feel wrong, be uncomfortable. When you try this, the correct way will feel right compared to the exaggerated way. I tend to stick my ribs out, tilt my pelvis, and lift my chest. So, I tried relaxing my ribs in, tilting my pelvis the opposite way, and dropping my chest. Basically, my whole body felt more relaxed, and that was the key. I thought that in order to have tremendous technique you had to force everything and make every movement strong when really, your body should be relaxed and easeful. When I tried this, everything just fell into place. It’s amazing how simple a solution can seem once you’ve finally figured it out.