Sunday, October 23, 2011

Breaking Boundaries in a Profound Way

This past week I had the pleasure of taking a master class with the amazing Sheila Barker. The class was called "Breaking Boundaries", and none of us really knew what that was supposed to mean. We knew we were going to be dancing, but we didn't really know anything else. We warmed up and we did a combination, but the class was not focused on dance technique. The focus was on focus.

You're probably wondering what on earth that has to do with dancing, because all we are taught in dance class is how to master the technique. We don't normally talk about how to be present and fully committed to dancing because it seems like that should be obvious if you love to dance. But, staying 100% focused, and truly focused, during an entire class is much more difficult than it seems and it takes a lot of practice. Sheila started the class by having us stand in our space facing the mirror, and we had to simply stare at ourselves. After the first couple seconds, most of the eyes in the room started to look away and dart back and forth because we are so used to being distracted by all the other people in the room. We are not focused on ourselves and we are anticipating what is going to happen next. It is ok to be selfish in dance class. You are there to improve your own dancing and if you take class to impress other people, you are doing it for the wrong reason. So, Sheila got right in our faces and told us to keep looking at ourselves. She wanted us to really see ourselves for what we are. We were told to notice everything about our bodies and to love every part of it. This was a great practice in presence and control, and now I do this at the start of every class.


When you are entirely present, you are giving all of your enegery to the class and to the teacher; that is our purpose. The student-teacher relationship is meant to be give and take. It's not the teacher or choreographer's job to just throw steps at us. They feed off of their students' positive energy and enthusiasm, and then they give it back to us. We learn from them and they learn from us too. Also, as a teacher, Sheila told us that you should never plan a class completely. Always leave some space to be open ended because you can never predict how everyone will be feeling, and that determines how the class will pan out. This can be seen as a life lesson as well. If you don't have expectations and you are fully present now, your life will flow smoothly from moment to moment and everything will happen like it's supposed to.


I wanted to share the specific notes that I took after this class because they are very important lessons for dancers of any age or level.

  • Be present as soon as you walk into class. The teacher and students have to feed off of each other’s energy. That is our purpose.
Every movement has a purpose. Think of what that purose is, and every warm up, class, and combination will be more meaningful.
  • Look at yourself in the mirror and love every single part of yourself. Your imperfections are your perfections.
"I love myself just the way I am." Repeat this phrase everyday until you believe it. Believing it will make your dancing and your life more joyous.
  • Feel the energy from the entire class without letting anyone else distract you. Focus completely on yourself while still being aware.
This is challenging because it's like your mind has to be doing two things at once. Practice this everyday and you WILL get better at it. Think of dance class as training physically and mentally.
  • Notice what you like about other people’s dancing and use it as inspiration to improve your own dancing. But, be careful not to imitate that person. Make everything your own and be true to yourself.
It's like borrowing. Copying someone else is not creative at all. Using their strong points to inspire growth in yourself is productive.
  • Use your eyes to learn choreography and pick it up as soon as possible. This skill is essential when auditioning. Don’t wait to be "spoon fed" by the teacher.
I was surprised at how hard this was. If it's hard for you, then you know that you haven't been fully present in class. We think that we can be lazy sometimes and wait for the teacher to break down the combination a dozen times. They don't do that at auditions, so you better practice now!
  • Do everything full out to make the most of your time. When you really know the steps, you will be able to do multiple things at once.
Sheila made us talk while dancing the combination that she taught. Literally talk outloud. Then, we had to have a conversation with another person while doing it. She said that she could tell who was marking it while learning because when we had to talk, some of us completely forgot the steps.
  • Know that what you have to give is good enough.
If you don't love yourself and your dancing, how do you expect anyone else to?

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