When I first came to New York and was a student at the Merce Cunningham Studio, I asked Robert Swinston, Merce’s then rehearsal director, what I could do to improve myself, because I desperately wanted to get into the Cunningham Repertory Understudy Group (RUG). He suggested I take a ballet workshop taught by one of his former mentors- Madame Darvash.
So I of course signed up and took the workshop, held at the Alvin Ailey studios. One day after class I asked Madame about a correction she had given me about shifting my weight in tendu side, but I didn’t understand. Just then, one of the Ailey dancers came up behind me and lifted my rib cage forward and up over my standing leg. “This is what Madame is talking about,” he said.
In that instant, I had a revelation. He was lifting me so strongly that I had to reach down through my leg to prevent being lifted off the floor. Through that effort of reaching down- for the first time ever- I knew what it felt like to be “up on my leg” and to “lengthen my standing side.” Teachers had told me this before- but I never got it in this physical way. It was incredible- completely transformative. Not only was tendu now easier, but passé as well. And développé. And relevé. And everything that involved being on one leg. This one single realization changed my dancing profoundly. I remember thinking to myself, “Why didn’t someone tell me this years ago!?”
When I went back to Cunningham classes, Robert saw me and commented, “Everything is different now!” He told me I should start taking Merce’s class. In three months I became a RUG, and in two more years I was in the Merce Cunningham Dance Company.
Changes like this aren’t always quite so dramatic. Most of the time, change happens slowly over time as the result of hard work every day. A new idea gives you direction in class or rehearsal, and you refine your understanding of it gradually which leads to a result. Sometimes you get lucky like I did, but often things take much longer to fully integrate.
What was also special about my experience is that it involved a fundamental- standing on one leg. Since dance is cumulative, improving a fundamental leads to lots of things getting better. When you think about it, there’s a lot in dance that requires standing on one leg, so by improving this skill, I’m also improving many other parts of my dancing as well. Other fundamentals like plié, tendu or relevé would work the same way.
This experience and a few others over time greatly affected how I view the task of improving oneself in dance. In my teaching and in my own dancing, I’m a strong believer in giving attention to the details of fundamentals because of how dramatically they can make a difference. Maybe change will happen quickly, or maybe it will be over time, but it really seems worth it.
Thanks to Daniel Roberts for the photo! From Daniel’s Facebook page:
“I found this while clearing out some things in my apartment. I remember photo copying it on December 8, 1998, on my first day working with Merce. It was posted in the hallway of the studio. Still inspiring to me almost 14 years later. Enjoy!”
These are questions from dance seniors at Adelphi University about dancing in New York. Great questions- thanks! I thought I’d share my answers with everyone.
If you’re a dancer living in New York reading this and have another perspective/something to add to any of the questions, please contact me at email@example.com.
1) Is it better to focus on one particular style of dance and take class mainly in that style and audition for companies of that style? Or is it better to try to be versatile and take classes in various styles and audition for a variety of companies?
It depends what your goal is and what you would be happy doing. A certain amount of versatility is always a good thing, and a lot of people commonly work with several choreographers at once. To make a living as a dancer, this is basically a necessity since there are so few single dance jobs out there that can support you.
If you do find a certain company or choreographer that really resonates and that you want to work with though, I think it’s good strategy to concentrate your effort. So if this company offers a master class or workshop, make sure you take it. If there’s daily class, show up as much as you can. Apply corrections diligently and try to adapt to the style of the choreographer – show that you’re trainable. Show you have solid work ethic and are easy to work with. Also, introduce yourself to the choreographer and talk to him or her. Talk to dancers from the company. Show the people from this company how interested you are. You can tell them this directly, or just by being around all the time.
2) How much money should I have saved up in preparation for moving to the city? Did you have to rely on savings a lot? How much?
The more savings you can come with, the better. You want to make dance your priority in the city. Mold your work schedule and money-making around your dance activities, not the other way around. Savings can be a hedge for those months when you don’t make ends meet. If you come up a little short one particular month, you don’t have to stress because your savings can cover it. This allows your energy to stay centered on your dance life and hopefully finding dance jobs that will pay the bills. Dipping into savings in this way then is sort of an investment in yourself and in creating a future for yourself. This was the approach I took, and I found it a huge advantage. If possible, I’d say come with $5,000. Depending on how your family works, you could live with your parents fairly cheaply over the summer and work like crazy to build up the fund. Maybe your family can help you out a bit as well.
3) What is it like trying to get any kind of job in the city? What are some good days jobs I may not have thought of?
The best jobs are those that have high flexibility and high hourly wages. This is why waiting tables is so common. Also, catering companies are pretty good for this. Bartending can be lucrative, but dealing with the late hours can be tough.
Teaching yoga, pilates, gyrotonics or personal training would be jobs with great pay and flexibility, but those jobs require an initial time and money investment of training and building clientele. However, having your own business as a freelance teacher in one of those areas sets you up pretty well for the long-term, and the bonus is it’s relevant to your dancing.
4) Do you definitely recommend living in NYC after graduating, even if we don’t have a job there yet?
I wouldn’t worry about not having a job yet. If you’re definitely trying to be a dancer in the world, then New York is a good place to be. Though there are other cities with dance scenes, New York has the greatest number of opportunities. You can see more shows, take more classes from more people and generally just have more options. Since there’s more work available, there’s a greater chance of finding something you’ll like. And I do think finding a choreographer you like is one of the hardest and most important steps in the process.
It’s also important that you like the lifestyle of New York though- living far away from things, having a small apartment, taking 45 minutes to get places on the subway, polluted air, dealing with crowds, etc. If you personally just don’t prefer living that way, go to another city that has dance opportunities. Where you live is a significant factor in your happiness.
5) Do you have any tips on finding an apartment in New York? How much is rent?
The closer you live to “the city,” the more expensive it is. Living in Manhattan (not very far uptown) probably won’t be feasible at first unless you’re super lucky and find a rare, cheap place through someone you know. It is possible, but it would take quite a bit of digging.
For first coming to New York, I would recommend Brooklyn, Queens or Harlem/Washington Heights. I definitely don’t recommend Staten Island because it involves a half hour ferry ride, and probably not New Jersey. I lived in Weehawken, NJ for a time. It was spacious for the cost compared to New York, but there was also the additional transportation cost of a monthly NJ Transit bus pass (or PATH train pass in other NJ cities). These transportation systems are generally far less frequent at night, and friends rarely come visit you because it’s a hassle for them to deal with these unfamiliar systems. There are good, cheap places in Brooklyn, Queens and Harlem/Washington Heights. These different boroughs and neighborhoods within the boroughs give you a range of options, and I recommend looking there first.
Rent is extremely important. Find a place for $700 or $750 max I’d say. There are some for $650 or even less if you look hard. If you take a place with rent at $850 for example, you’re just forcing yourself to take on that much more crappy part-time work to pay for that $200 difference each month. You could use that time or money instead on dance or fun or just not dipping into savings. Don’t take on unnecessary liabilities if you can avoid them- or at least not at first.
There are a lot of other factors to consider in finding an apartment too:
Who are your roommates? The best scenario is living with people you already know and can trust- classmates from school possibly.
How big is your bedroom?
Is there a living room?
How long is the commute?
How close is the subway stop to your apartment? Are you ok with a 15 minute walk to the subway every morning, knowing there may be another 5 or 10 minute walk to your destination once you get off the subway?
What’s the location of your apartment in relation to where you take class/work?
How many train transfers are involved with the commute?
What’s the neighborhood like? Are there shops, parks, grocery stores, coffee shops, social spots, laundry nearby?
Is the neighborhood loud all the time, or will you have some peace and quiet?
Does the apartment have good natural light? Do you care which direction your window faces?
Is the apartment on a high floor, and does the building have an elevator? How many flights of stairs would you be willing to walk up and down every day?
If it’s a first floor apartment, are there bars on the windows for security (there should be)? Is this something you will care about, aesthetically?
Is there a security door for the building, or is it just your front door?
How do you feel in the neighborhood? Safe? Like you fit in?
How is the neighborhood different during the day and at night?
Are pets allowed?
Is it possible to put an air conditioner in the window?
Obviously no apartment is perfect. You’ll have to make trade-offs. These are just things to notice and keep in mind. Prioritize and weigh pros and cons. It’s good to know what your deal-breakers are too so you can eliminate places on paper without having to waste your time going to see them in person.
For your first apartment, you might not want to have the strictest standards. Find a place that’s safe, with roommates you trust and that’s relatively cheap and then take time to settle into the city and figure it all out. But eventually, the little things make a big difference. Investing a lot of time into finding a great place is worth it in the long run.
One other tidbit of advice is that using a broker with a fee can actually be a good way to go, and it’s how I found my current apartment where I’ve been for four years. You have to be able to pay the fee upfront (which is generally one month’s rent), and though this is initially hard to swallow, if the broker finds you a cheaper place than you otherwise could have found on your own, then the fee pays for itself over time.
So let’s say the broker fee is $700 per roommate, and she finds you a place that’s $50 cheaper per month than the best place you’ve found on your own. If you take the broker fee apartment and stay there for two years, you’ll have saved $50 x 24 months = $1,200. Minus the $700 fee, you’re $500 ahead. Every month you live in the apartment after the break-even point is money you’re saving. Using a broker then just expands your options. And even if you don’t stay until the financial break-even point, it may still be worth it if the apartment is really great. Look around on your own first to have a measuring stick for what the broker can give you.
6) Do you have any tips about auditioning, finding a job, making connections, etc?
In terms of finding auditions, there’s http://dancenyc.org/resources/auditions.php. Also, random conversations with other dancers before or after class can give you good info- sometimes when you aren’t even looking for it.
At auditions, personality can take you far. It’s a good thing if you can show them who you are as a person – and not just in terms of your dancing. I saw this happen at an audition with a guy I know actually. What happened was this guy- who is naturally outgoing- chatted with the rehearsal director (RD) on a break when they happened to both be outside. I don’t know what they talked about, but I noticed they laughed together. I imagine he was just being himself- he’s a really likeable guy. When the audition restarted, I noticed the RD was giving him more attention, and he eventually got the job. Now I’m not saying personality by itself got him the job – he’s also a great dancer. But this certainly could have been something the RD mentioned to the choreographer which helped him.
Something else to bear in mind is to make sure that a company is a two-way fit. Will you be happy doing this work, with these people, in this place? Do you feel like you fit in with the culture of the company and of the people there? How do the people treat each other? After talking to a couple dancers, do they think it’s a great job, or is it just “a dance job?” At first it’s good to accumulate experience, so it’s best not to be too selective in this way, but in the long run, this matters a lot.
7) What were some skills you gained from college/work experience/life etc. that helped you the most to succeed living as a dancer in New York?
I’d say money management is one of the most important life skills that’s especially pertinent to dancers. Since we generally don’t make that much, we have a smaller margin of error with money than those in other professions. Keep big fixed costs like rent low and watch that you’re not too loose spending small amounts of money on unimportant things too often. Try to avoid credit card debt.
A key thing to remember about money is that it doesn’t matter how much you make – it’s how much you spend. I think keeping an emergency savings fund is one of the smartest things a dancer can do – it will save you a lot of stress. If you’re getting your start in New York, you can use this fund as a buffer if you come up short some months. Once you find financial equilibrium with enough work, make it a practice to always build the fund back up if you should ever borrow from it. If you let it completely slip away, you’re living paycheck to paycheck, and the whole point is to have a safety net.
Also, emotional health is something I imagine produces longevity in a dancer. Once you lose your spirit, how long can you continue? Why would you want to anyway if you’re unhappy? Knowing yourself and how to deal with your own emotions is important for this, and it’s also important because you won’t always get along with everyone in the world. How you handle conflict is important. Communicating openly seems part of this, but also being able to let things go. I guess the real skill is knowing when to speak up for yourself and when to allow things to pass through you. Both of these things are hard, and I think they’re always works in progress.
8) What are some things you wish you knew before you left college or left home to live in New York?
I’m reminded of some advice I got from one of my teachers in college. She basically said to be nice to everyone. Because: 1) You never know who is watching/ listening. 2) You never know who will be the next big thing. When you go to take class somewhere, the registrar sitting behind the desk might end up being the next great choreographer. People sometimes remember the little things like a rude comment or gesture.
9) Where did you make connections? How did you meet the people you started out working with? ie: emerging choreographers, small companies
I got my first job from an audition I saw posted in the Village Voice- a newspaper. That was random and lucky. It turned out to be a great experience, and I still talk to the choreographer occasionally.
Taking class where these choreographers and small companies teach is a good way to go – DNA, Peridance, Gina Gibney, City Center, maybe Steps on Broadway. Getting seen – literally being visible – is sometimes the hard part too, so be aware of this while you take class. Know that if you stand behind the piano or in the back corner, the teacher won’t look at you as much. Maybe you prefer not to be seen some days and choose to stand in the back, but in an audition situation, this won’t help you.
For making connections and getting jobs, generally, the more you put yourself out there and the more things you do, the more people you’ll meet, and the better chances you’ll have of finding a job.
10) How did you transition from school to dancer in NYC?
I moved in the August after I graduated in May. Living with my parents, I was able to work all summer and build up my savings. Having a little down time after school was good to unwind and prepare for the move, but those couple months were all I needed. I felt very excited to move to the city and wanted to get going.
Bonus: Here’s something else useful to pass along: John Cage’s 10 Rules for Students and Teachers
I mentioned in a previous post that the most important thing about the Pirouette Project wasn’t the outcome of being able to do six pirouettes – I just as well could have used another movement and aimed for a different outcome. I chose pirouettes because a lot of people do them, they involve many difficult but important skills and they’re easy to evaluate.
I’ve been dancing for about twelve years now, and in that time, I’ve attempted a lot of pirouettes. I was never seriously focused on doing six (partially because I didn’t believe I could achieve that), but I did care about doing a clean double. After those twelve years of effort, I could do a reasonable double, rarely if ever a clean triple, and never any kind of quadruple.
But this last week – when I put strong, focused effort into learning six pirouettes – I went from doing a mediocre two on Monday to doing a couple clean triples on Wednesday to doing the best pirouettes of my life – a clean four – at the beginning of the day on Thursday.
From practicing 2-3 hours every day for one week, I achieved something that I never was able to do in the whole previous twelve years of my dancing!
This strikes me as very odd, and it makes me think about the learning process and how we train.
Since I started dancing in college, I’ve kept myself incredibly busy doing lots of “things.” But what have I really been doing? Going to countless classes, doing countless movement phrases and doing countless repetitions. And it’s true that I progressed a lot in that time and even became professional, but is this really that remarkable?
If you do something every day for years on end, you’re bound to get better, especially if you have any sort of innate talent. What’s remarkable then is when people spend years and years doing something but don’t get that much better – especially when the skill is a known and has been mastered by an army of people who’ve come before them.
This seems to be the case with me with pirouettes. Lots of dancers before me have figured out how to do pirouettes, but I spent years doing them without getting much better. The fact that a week of effort gave me significant headway then tells me three things:
1) The skills necessary to do pirouettes are learnable. It’s not the case that only natural turners can do them and that the rest of us are just doomed. It’s a matter of finding an approach – a conceptualization – of how turning works.
2) If I’d had access to the knowledge of all those dancers who knew how to turn, I’d be much better off.
3) Class improves you more slowly than focused, individual study. Teacher as authority figure is an unoptimized model. Being your own best teacher, getting hints from teachers and those more experienced and figuring it out on your own is a much more effective approach.
Training isn’t about doing things right. It’s about doing the right things. How you use your time in class – how you approach doing all those exercises and movement phrases every day – matters. It matters a lot.
It’s the difference between gaining a certain skill in four years and gaining the exact same skill in only three years. It’s the difference between being able to do four pirouettes after twelve years of work and being able to do only two pirouettes. It’s the difference between doing lots of stuff but not really going anywhere and actually becoming better tomorrow than you are today.
In my career, I feel I existed in the middle of this spectrum. I was smart in how I approached things, explored on my own and made huge progress in a relatively short time, but I could have done much better. I should have been giving myself more specific, short-term projects all along.
I’m very curious what will happen when I interview more dancers about turning and get some additional quality ideas to work with. This on top of all my own efforts should yield some exciting results. Why am I only now thinking to approach things this way?
So it’s the end of my week-long pirouette project where I tried to go from being able to do two pirouettes to doing six. The result: I didn’t get six.
The best I got was an ugly five with a hop and poor form, which doesn’t really count. By Wednesday I had gotten up to a solid three, but that afternoon I lost it and got worse. I then discovered an idea about how to make minute adjustments during the turn to balance that I felt had great potential, so I explored that on into the week, sacrificing some technical form on Thursday and Friday to try to develop the feeling of turn. Those last two days weren’t the prettiest, but they had the highest number of turns. To develop turning in the long-run, this seemed worth it.
Overall I’m very pleased with the project. To a degree, I was right about the power of belief, but it turns out one week wasn’t quite enough time to get the job done. I was hoping Parkinson’s Law and the power of the deadline would help me – and my ability to turn definitely improved in the one week – but six pirouettes is a tall task.
Moving forward, I’m excited to keep working on turning and the idea of making minute adjustments to balance. I feel that to make the most progress from here though, I need some outside help.
The whole premise of My Dance Master Mind is that getting varied, outside information from other great dancers is critical to improving oneself and progressing sooner rather than later. Sometimes improving is just a matter of finding the right conceptual approach. So I’m excited to interview some more dancers about turning and then re-visit the project to see if I can get six.
Look for some videos coming soon about what I learned about turning from this week. Also, this project gave me some great reflections on the learning process – look for that in a blog post this week too. For now, you can check out how the week went:
Why Learn Six Pirouettes?
I’ve set this challenge for myself to learn six pirouettes in one week. But really, who cares? Why bother learning this when I don’t dance in work that ever requires me to do six turns? The reason is that I want to practice setting a goal and then achieving it. It’s about the learning process.
In this case, my goal happens to be six pirouettes. It’s quantifiable and involves a single movement. The outcome is easy to measure. But if I can figure out the process of learning this difficult thing, I can apply that process to other goals- even qualitative ones. So what I’m really after here is the process of achieving a goal- whatever that may be.
I wonder if the biggest obstacle to my success here will be my own beliefs. I wonder if the number one reason why I never learned six pirouettes is that I never believed I could. And because I never believed I was capable, I never put my mind to it, and I never applied myself or tried really hard to figure it out.
So what would happen if I threw that self-limiting belief out the window and put my full effort into it? When I think about it, there’s no reason why I should fail. I’m definitely strong enough, coordinated enough and smart enough to figure this out.
What do you actually need to be able to do for six turns after all? Let’s break it down:
1) You have to be able to find a stable relevé.
2) You have to be able to put your toe to your knee while maintaining turnout in both legs without throwing off the alignment of your pelvis and torso.
3) You have to use your arms in coordination with your lower body and keep the upper and lower body halves connected.
4) You have to be able to spot with rhythm.
5) You have to generate sufficient power from your plié.
There we go. That’s really not so overwhelming. I can do each of those things. Doing them all at once is the hard part of course (haha), but there’s no reason I can’t do this. Along with my three step approach from Part 1, I’ll be very curious to see the results of this week. Could six turns really be as simple as changing a belief?…
I’m giving myself a project next week, March 11-15, 2013: learn how to do six pirouettes. Currently, I can only do two, sometimes three. This may seem crazy, but I wonder if it’s so crazy that it will actually work.
Why are pirouettes so difficult after all? There are people who can do five or six or more with no problem. Why can’t the rest of us do this? Is it some special gift of the lucky few, or is it a learnable skill that just requires a special process?
If I really think about it and apply the Yoga Block Principle, my guess is that doing six pirouettes has three steps:
1) Learn how to do three pirouettes.
2) Figure out how to go from three to four.
3) Apply the skill of step #2 repeatedly to get up to six.
Almost all dancers eventually learn to do two pirouettes. You’re not even really forced to find balance, because if you turn fast enough, you can do two in the time it takes you to fall over. So learning to do a solid, consistent three is what’s elusive and the biggest barrier, and that’s why it’s the first step.
Then, going from three to four is the key skill. Once you’ve figured out the concept that helped you do three, how do you further apply it to add one more turn? Figure this out, and building up to six isn’t unreasonably difficult.
So this is my plan of attack. There are some additional things that I think will go into it, and I’ll write a couple more blog posts about those before next week.
For now, do you think I’ll succeed? Follow MDMM on Twitter: @MDanceMM and tweet your predictions #sixturns.
In taking class recently I’ve been thinking about the roles of “right” and “wrong” in dance. I’ve noticed there are certain exercises I’ve been doing basically the same way for years, largely based on these concepts. But art isn’t about right and wrong – there are just possibilities and choices, based on values. The words always seem to pop up in class though, and this has huge limitations.
Take pliés for example. A useful idea I’ve picked up from teachers is to “use all the time,” which means you don’t want to arrive at the depth or height of your plié and just stop and hold. Measure how quickly you go down or come up to take the entire time of the music. A way to achieve this is to move in constant motion and to think of the phrase as one long, never-ending movement.
This is great. Except that I’ve fallen into the habit of doing pliés this way all the time. Because teachers talk about it so much, I’ve almost assumed that if I did it any other way that I’d get the correction to do it the continuous way.
But what about all the other ways of doing pliés? What about an unevenness of timing – doing a certain portion of the movement faster or slower but still using the whole time? What about finding expansion in certain parts of the movement more than others, or even playing with stillness?
Reaching the bottom of the plié quickly is only undesirable if the dancer does it unconsciously. If it’s a thoughtful choice, this is just one possible way of moving to explore. Some artistic choices may be less interesting or useful than others, and for this you need an outside eye. But I consider one goal of training to be to find choices for freedom of expression, and the only way to find choices is by experimenting and failing.
So why don’t I feel the freedom to do this more? I know it’s a good thing to experiment and play. How did I become trapped in this mental prison of right and wrong?
I wonder if it’s the American education system. Gold star for being right, red check mark for being wrong. Education is the cornerstone of our society. Grades are the currency of this system, and right answers earn you currency. It’s advantageous to get good grades to get into a good college and to get a good job. To succeed in life, it’s best to do what the teachers want, which means you have to conform and not challenge.
This definitely conditions a person to think a certain way. I have a subconscious compulsion to want to be right and avoid being wrong. I experience subtle negative emotions if I do things I think are wrong or if I dare ignore a teacher’s advice. In other words, I want to please the teacher. This has been an emotional impulse for as long as I can remember.
This got me thinking of all the things I do in dance because of this compulsion to want to be a good student. All the things I do because someone else told me to do them. All the things I don’t do because someone else told me not to.
So my question is: how has this served me? Am I just a slave to a bunch of other people’s ideas that I adopted out of a sense of duty? Was I even accurate in deciding what was right and wrong all along? Or in my enthusiasm to make my teachers proud, have I sometimes misinterpreted or made incorrect assumptions, thus locking myself into some flawed ideas of right and wrong that have limited my finding choices?
All this isn’t meant to promote rebelliousness. After all, the problem is within myself, not the outside world. It’s an overwhelmingly good thing to learn from others (that’s the entire premise of My Dance Master Mind) and to respect and investigate your teachers’ advice. I’m simply pointing out that I’ve become aware of something that’s not helping me and that I’d like to change it.
The main point is that you can’t lose your own voice. You have to explore the possibilities of your own mind, body, personality and instincts without fear. Giving too much respect to others’ wisdom undermines your own, and if you rely on others’ advice too much, you become a dancer that isn’t you. Use others’ ideas to find even better ones of your own. And when you do find those better ideas, be sure to tell me. ;)
I think a lot about learning and how we improve. How do we become better tomorrow than we are today? I found an area to improve in my own dancing recently, and this led me to realize a principle of learning that can apply to lots of different situations.
I was taking a ballet class a couple weeks after Christmas, and I was annoyed that I kept falling out of pirouettes. I realized why- I wasn’t getting onto a high relevé because I wasn’t as strong from not having danced over the holiday. But not getting the high relevé wasn’t actually the problem; it’s quite possible to turn on quarter point after all. The real problem was that I couldn’t get as high a relevé as the one I was trying to do in my mind.
My mind was attempting to do one thing, but my body physically couldn’t do it. I was striving for a goal that was out of reach. Every time I tried to go into this unachievable relevé, the excess energy just bounced me back down, my balance was thrown off, and the turn failed miserably. I’m a big believer in imagination, but it has its limits.
This led me to realize I actually always have this problem of not reaching my highest relevé- I just never noticed before because it’s usually to a much lesser extent. I always get “bumped down” from my relevé because I try to get a higher one than I can maintain. Basically, my relevé could be stronger.
In the weeks since I’ve noticed this, I’ve been concentrating much more on building a stronger relevé inside and outside of class- doing lots more relevés, asking a physical therapist for strengthening exercises, adjusting how I visualize myself doing relevé and re-calibrating the entire feeling of relevé in a whole-body way. This has given me some great results.
But perhaps even better- there’s a general principle here that applies to even more situations. I think it’s important enough that it deserves a name. I’ll call it the Yoga Block Principle.
The Yoga Block Principle is this:
In yoga, imagine you’re trying to do some seated pose, but let’s assume you can’t sit up on your sits bones properly- for whatever reason. You could just sit there on the floor and struggle, or you could sit on a block.
If you sat on the floor, best case scenario is that you’re spinning your tires going nowhere. The worst case is that all your effort is actually working against you, because you’re gripping and thus creating extra strain and tightness.
Sitting on a block helps you work in a way that allows for progress, because a block makes the task easier and suited to your skill level. You forego the currently impossible ideal pose for a more manageable, intermediate one. This will lead to eventually accomplishing the original ideal pose.
It seems pretty clear that using the block is the way to go.
The Yoga Block Principle in general is:
If a task is too difficult based on your skill level, break it up into a series of manageable steps so you can make incremental progress. If you take on too much, you’re just getting in your own way and missing the benefits of the activity.
In other words, choose a suitably difficult task for yourself. Don’t bite off more than you can chew.
This was exactly the case with my relevé. Going for the highest relevé I couldn’t maintain (chasing the ideal pose while sitting on the floor) was getting me nowhere fast. Using less energy and shooting for a slightly lower relevé that I could maintain in a turn (using a block) helped me turn better. Doing the strengthening exercises and finding new imagery (manageable, intermediate steps) helped move me towards the ideal of highest relevé.
This principle applies in dance more than we realize. Going for too high a leg extension, over-turning out or pushing into too deep a plié are a few other places I know I’ve made (or am making) this same mistake. And I’m sure there are even more.
One note of caution: there is some danger in over-applying this idea and becoming too precious and conservative with your dancing. You also don’t want to get so caught up in minutiae that you get stuck in your head. Dancing without thinking- the “just do it” approach- certainly also has its place. The key- and challenge- of Yoga Block then is to decide when and if to apply it. Sometimes it’s useful and can be a tremendous step towards improvement. Balance is everything.