Katayoun's Raqs Mosaique

Northern Virginia Belly Dance Instruction, Performance & Inspiration!

The Biggest Mistake Experienced Dancers Make

…..and Tips to Avoid and Recover from it

IMG_0007Do you remember when you first fell in love with dance? Do you remember the feeling of excitement every time you mastered a new skill or “got” a move? Do you still experience those feelings after two years, five years? How about ten years after starting your dance journey?

If you are like me, that honeymoon phase when everything was new and fresh has long passed. That’s because in the beginning phases of learning a new skill, you will make the most progress.

There are several reasons for this. First, everything is new and exciting in the beginning, so it’s more fun. Because everything is new, you are paying attention more. You are more alert in class and you are more conscientious about doing it right. Second, you expect to receive correction and are more open to improving because your confidence and competence have not yet emerged. Finally, in the beginning of the learning journey, instruction is fundamental and the basic building blocks are constantly reinforced in class. At least we hope so.

What happens after the initial training years that causes some dancers to plateau in their progress? Based on my experience as a teacher in the classroom and the dance studio, I’ve observed my current and former students. I will share my thoughts on why some dancers stop making progress, even though they dance regularly and had previously made great progress.

In the beginning of the learning journey, as your basic skills improve, so does your confidence. After a few performances, you start to grow into your style, and perhaps you focus more on performance skills, such as musicality, costumes and staging. Choreography, improvisation, and complex skills and concepts such as layering and transitions are finally accessible and much more exciting and urgent to practice than foundational concepts.

The post-honeymoon phase of dance training, which can begin anywhere from 2-5 years approximately depending on your level of seriousness, is often the phase where many dancers could begin to plateau in their progress…unless they have consistently done this one simple thing, which many of us stop doing when we begin to focus on performance skills. It is the biggest mistake we make as experienced and professional dancers.

I’m talking about fundamentals. The basics of dance technique, alignment and dynamic muscle engagement. It’s the first thing we learn as baby dancers. But as we gain experience, accolades and confidence, we abandon the foundations, the very thing that empowered our spirit and strengthened our bodies.

One of the gifts of teaching that I discovered early in my career is to always lay down a strong foundation with the building blocks of dance movement and muscle engagement for all my students, no matter their age, experience or ability. Not only has it helped me in imparting complex concepts and choreography, but I have benefitted immensely from practicing the fundamentals with them as my body ages and changes.

Screen Shot 2017-09-01 at 10.46.54 PMEvery accomplished dancer knows the secret to advancing your craft is mastery of the fundamentals. From there, creativity and expression flow freely. Without that foundation, the body is stifled and expression is stymied. Dancers at all points in their dance journey need consistent and focused practice of the fundamentals. Strong foundational concepts and muscle engagement are necessary to maintain dance conditioning and to advance.

Our bodies are always in flux, making it essential to move and dance every day, especially as we age. Practicing the fundamentals of dance movement is key to maintaining and gaining strength, grace and improving your confidence. Some dancers stop practicing the fundamentals after a few years, thinking they are above the basics, or feel it’s boring. In fact, if the basics seem boring, you haven’t explored them deeply. Focused and structured practice that explores variations and dynamics of the basics is how dancers often make breakthroughs.

Whatever point you see yourself on the learning journey, think about what you can do now to empower your future dancing self.

Go back to your basics.

Go back to your basics.

Go back to your basics.

If you are dancer who regularly drills the basics, or if you are a teacher who brings this gift to all levels of your students, no matter how advanced or experienced, Bravo! You get it!

Here’s a secret: There are no advanced moves.

Everything is basic. So-called “advanced” moves are simply basic components combined in a specific sequence and energy. But those basic components must be mastered separately before combining them to create a dynamic movement.

Here’s another secret: The goal of practicing technique is not perfection. The goal of practice is to free the body so that the spirit can flow through it to express and release emotions and ideas.

As I tell my students, “I want you to dance forever. That’s my plan.” Let’s do it together, with just three simple tips:

  1. Go to your basics often, deeply and intentionally. You cannot advance your dance without the fundamentals of dance and movement. Not only do we have to practice them often, but deeply with variations and intentionally with awareness of the process. There is also a specific anatomical order that facilitates skill-building. Start with body awareness and conditioning from the very internal pelvic floor, expand to external muscle engagement, then build up from the feet toward dynamic movement in space.
  1. Learn about the music. When your body is conditioned to respond the music, your mind is now free to pursue essential knowledge that accompanies dance skills. Learn about the songs, rhythms, instruments and geographic or cultural background. Not all Middle Eastern music is appropriate for belly dance.
  1. Embrace your place and enjoy the journey. We need to keep moving and dancing, especially as we age. It’s not a competition, so don’t compare yourself with others. Everyone is on a different journey. If you are an experienced or advanced dancer, think about what direction you want to go next with your dance. When asking for coaching or advice from your teachers and mentors, start with expressing your goals so that they can better assess how to help you.

If you have ever felt in a rut or uninspired in your dance or teaching journey, consider refreshing your perspective with a healthy dose of fundamentals and some creative flair. Take a class below your “level” or explore on your own. You will be amazed how your brain and body improve when you dig deep, focus on the details, and allow yourself to embrace and enjoy the journey all over again.


Need help with fundamentals and getting a different perspective? Try my online courses at my Virtual Studio.

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