Why I love dance - ruminations of a non-dancer

My first introduction to dance was similar to many of my genre - picture plump little-girl bodies stuffed into pink leotards with hair scraped back (amid cries of ‘ow mommy! That pulls’) into an almost but not quite perfect bun, cream-coloured tights which hide the last vestige of toddler fat still lingering on tubby thighs, and ballet pumps with meticulously hand-sewn elastic straps - all lined up at the barre in first position. Some older dancers are strategically positioned at the front and back of the line, their buns somewhat neater. A severe-looking dance teacher paces in permanent turnout from one end of the line to the other (her bun is perfect) and barks out continous instructions of ‘stand tall! Bottom in! elbows lifted!’ as the tiny ballerinas strive to please her in even the simple execution of their first plie of the day.

Now add to that picture a slightly less tidy body; a ladder in her stockings she has desperately tried to stuff into the back corner of her leotard is just visible in the folds of her tightly clenched bum, and a few wild brunette curls which simply will not remain attached to her clip-infested head framing her face. She stands confidently at her spot in the line, oblivious to the fact that her elbows are slowly drifting towards her sides and her bottom is almost touching the torso of the body behind her as she mimics the bend of the ‘big girls’ in front.

That was me – the slightly chubby, happy-go-lucky, enthusiastic but somewhat co-ordination challenged 5-year old who loved to dance but wanted to do things 'my way'. My ballet career can be fairly briefly profiled – I started at age 4 with my best friend at the time, completed one exam which I passed with an unconvincing C+ (I am certain the ‘plus’ was implemented to keep competitive parents happy), my career highlight being a brief solo as a bluebird in the ballet school end of year show.  When, at age 6, my best friend announced early retirement, I wasted no time in following suit and hanging up my insole-worn baby pink ballet pumps. To the trees and the swimming pools for me!

This rash decision is one I often look back on with regret. I am convinced that with a little perseverance and a lot more stretching I could have become a fairly proficient ballerina. As I grew older and lost my baby fat my build lent itself more towards the long lines and lifted feet of a trained dancer – to the point that I am often asked in my rooms whether I am a ballet dancer and am met with surprised remarks of ‘oh but you look like one!’ when I respond to the contrary.

What was missing back then? Why was it so easy for me to quit? I have asked myself this question often in the years since that day, and only very recently come to a conclusion which satisfies me. 

It was not just a lack of commitment to the cause. Commitment can only motivate you to a point, even more so as a stubborn 5-year old without the insight of a mature adult brain. It was more than that – it was a love for dance, a deep passion that could keep me plugging away at it until I perfected every position, every pirouette, and every port-de-bras. Without that slightly irrational drive, a dancer’s arabesque can never go from being average to spectacular, her jette can never go from satisfactory to incredible. She can never endure the hours and hours of endless effort just to achieve perfect turnout! Dance, in all its forms, requires hard work and even more so when it starts to hurt.

I learnt this lesson of perseverance despite all odds later in life, not through sport but rather through some fairly challenging life experiences. And in a somewhat recent moment of illumination I concluded that this is why I now hold dancers in such high regard – it is because I can identify with that struggle. To work at something until it is absolutely perfect, to keep going even when your muscles are screaming at you to stop, and to walk away knowing that you will gladly do it all again  tomorrow – that is a form of deeply rooted love that I would like to be the driving force in all areas of my life. Love and commitment grow together. Perseverance is a character attribute built through struggle, and from that struggle, true passion grows.

Romantic notions aside, there is always more to a passion than simply that ‘warm fuzzy feeling’. For me, my love for dancing has grown as my life path has brought me more into contact with it, primarily through my profession. As a musculoskeletal physiotherapist, I have worked with dancers ranging from amateur to professional, and all styles imaginable. This has made me increasingly aware of the raw physical challenges this art form presents. No other sport requires such a balance of flexibility and strength, control and explosive power. Dancers must reach longer, bend further, jump higher – all while engaging with their audience and being acutely aware of their co-performers. Seeing how my work can contribute to keeping these artists strong and able, has been both an inspiration and a joy to me.

This blog is a way to share my passion with you; and if it is your passion too, to grow your awareness and appreciation of the body, dance and Durban.

Do what you love - reflections on 2015

Sitting down at my desk for the first time in 2016 after seeing in the new year on a Midlands break, it seems an apt time to reflect back on the year that has just passed before turning my thoughts to what is to come. It is funny how one can spend an entire week in a place as restful and undeniably beautiful as the Midlands and not come up with a single reflective thought. Surely these places are supposed to be breeding grounds for inspiration and poetic turnings? And my little piece of heaven in Nottingham Road is no exception. 

But even poetry needs effort – and likewise reflection does not happen spontaneously for some (a fact that has only recently hit home for me). Be it simply a moment of conscious appreciation of a location or event, or a thorough time-consuming post-mortem of an experience – true reflection is a doing word.

If there is one thing that I have learnt from the year 2015, it is the value of conscious and intentional reflection. Humans are, by nature, a lazy race. Like water, we always choose the path of least resistance unless otherwise pushed. Why change when you can remain the same? Reflection is one of the simplest means to facilitating change and thus growth, in the way you think and act. It forces you to come face to face with mistakes and to understand why, to avoid a repeat episode. It reminds you of successes and creates room for gratitude and celebration.

Here is my top reflection for 2015:

What moves you? It is the name of our blog and the inspiration for our thoughts. What makes your heart beat a little faster, the corners of your lips turn up in a semi-smile? What grabs your attention and will not let go? Is it music, is it words, is it dance? Is it a leafy forest, a running wave, a rolling hill? A patient once told me something that I have never forgotten – ‘you will never maintain a healthy exercise routine unless you choose something you enjoy’. Rocket Science? Hardly! But revolutionary and universally applicable? Definitely. If we find what moves us, what makes us tick, we are far more likely to take hold of it and run with it and make something meaningful and worthwhile of it in the context of our current lives.

My goal for 2016 is to continue to find what moves me, and to chase hard after those things.

I encourage you to do the same.

What moves us?

An interesteing question

An inspiring notion

A call to action

And a ripple in the ocean

 

What are the habits that shape your lifestyle?

What are your daydreams which have potential to become 'real things'?

Too often, we try correct our wrongs all at once. Although I appreciate the fresh, new leaf and opportunity to have a better year and a better life, I think it best to start with just a better day. If not today, when?

I would like to propose a task: whatever change we are adamantly contemplating at the start of this exciting year, let us keep at it until February and if you don't quite feel inspired by the change of the clock from 2015 to 2016, well then, cut yourself some slack. It's okay. You have gotten this far.

I will leave you with a 'zenecdote' from Rumi: "It's good to leave each day behind, like flowing water, free of sadness. Yesterday is gone and its tale told. Today new seeds are growing"