I haven’t been to a dance class in three months, or at least not a traditional class. I’ve been to various creative workshops, weekly yoga, classes in other movement disciplines, cardio workouts and rehearsals, but I haven’t been to class. What’s more is that I have never been happier or felt stronger.
Throughout my education I was told that to stay in shape I had to always be taking weekly dance classes. It had to be a part of my regular routine. So upon finishing school I became diligent about going to classes a minimum of three times a week. I would drag myself to classes many days having no desire to be there, but having this voice in the back of my head saying that I MUST attend or else. But what really is that “or else”?
Here’s the facts I have been able to gather on the subject of the need to take class every week: Yes, continuing to dance is important. Especially outside of the rehearsal settings. Classes work our body more evenly than a rehearsal ever will and they give us time to identify our areas of strength and weakness. Dance class reinforces the neuromuscular patterning needed to dance efficiently, safely and gracefully. There are some things though that technique class does not do for the professional dancer. Upon reaching the professional dancer’s level of craft, if you want to become technically or physically stronger, it isn’t going to happen within the context of class. You need to put the time in outside of class to focus on whatever specific area of your performance you would like to improve upon. Class is a tool for maintenance more than a tool for significant growth.
So then why have I completely given it up as of late? For a few reasons:
Firstly, I was struggling to find regular classes with teachers who I felt were addressing my needs as an artist. I was looking for specific styles of classes and they just weren’t accessible for me on a weekly basis. By trying to target my current needs, I was limiting myself significantly as to what classes were available for me to take. It wasn’t that the other classes available weren’t interesting, they just weren’t interesting for me at this moment. Instead I began to become drawn to alternative means of training which I felt better helped me accomplish my current physical goals.
Secondly, I felt like I was getting weaker instead of stronger. I’ve accepted the fact that I will probably never be as fit as I was when in school. Dancing that many hours a week will probably not be my reality ever again, but I felt like my physical drop in ability was far too drastic. Technically I still had the neuromuscular ability to accomplish movement, but physically I was getting weaker and weaker. My old injuries were beginning to act up and class was becoming an uphill battle to get through.
And probably most importantly, I wasn’t feeling fulfilled. Instead of walking out of class feeling inspired and ready to move I was often feeling quite an opposite set of emotions. What’s more, I was feeling guilty about struggling to find that fulfilment from dance. I knew I was still passionate about dance. I just wasn’t passionate about class anymore. And so I strayed. Instead of going to technique I took workshops in alternative movement practices. I began doing conditioning work from home as well as practicing yoga more intensely. Suddenly I looked forward to working on my body and my craft again. Attending these other training practices was providing me with purpose.
What was most interesting to me though was when I began to speak with other artists and realized that many of them don’t go to class either, or they only go when specific people are teaching who’s approaches interest them. But the process of them admitting this to me was accompanied by what appeared to be a lot of shame. Many people sounded almost guilty that they didn’t go to class saying things like “I’m such a bad dancers for not going” or “I know, I need to do better.”
Now I say none of this in an attempt to bash the practice of going to regular dance class nor do I want to discourage my fellow dance artist from doing so. I am sure that I will at some point return. But why are we as dancers made to feel so bad when we don’t go? Why is it so hard to admit that class just isn’t doing it for us anymore? We spend years of our lives in a studio to the point where we are made to believe that what happens in those four walls can fulfil all our needs, but it just isn’t true. Sometimes we need a reason other than “Because you should.” to go take class.
And I do get it. When you find yourself as an artist no longer going to class it feels a bit like you are abandoning your colleagues. Dance is an industry in constant need of support and suddenly you are one more person not doing your full part. It is often your friends who are taking class with you and your mentors who are teaching. It feels like you are insulting them if you admit that you aren’t enjoying training in their company.
Personally, I see one of the goals of art to be to bring to light the rich diversity present in the world around us and to honour uniqueness. So then why should we assume that all dancers need the same kind of training? We are all drastically different performers inhabiting a variety of different types of bodies each with its own distinct needs. Let us honour that not only in the work we present to the public, but also in the way we prepare our bodies to perform.
I share my experience because I feel like the shame that goes along with not going to, or not enjoying technique class is unnecessary. One of the best pieces of advice that was ever given to me as an artist was that once school is complete, there is no one telling you what kind of artist you must be. You get to decide for yourself. I think this advice applies perfectly when discussing the somewhat taboo subject of no longer attending regular dance classes.
Personally, I have decided to embrace my desire to train alternatively without shame or disappointment. I hope that whatever training method an artist chooses, it is one which they find strengthening and fulfilling with every ounce of their being, regardless of if it is considered the “normal” way to train.