Dancing Outside My Comfort Zone

Monday, September 1, 2014

Last weekend I did something non-ballet: I took a Contemporary master class at a local new dance studio. It's been two years since I've taken any other dance class other than ballet, and for some reason I thought this was going to be a joyous and easy piece of cake. Ballet is harder than any other kind of dance, right?! That's what I always tell myself. But the complete opposite happened: I struggled. And I haven't felt that way in a dance class in a very long time. It was humbling.

Krista Johnson was our guest teacher. I had not heard of her before, but I don't think that says too much about her credibility! We started with about a 10 minute warm-up and stretch. By the end of this I was already feeling sore! Granted, I have been on summer break from ballet for three weeks and I'm just getting over my hip flexor tendonitis so I really shouldn't be so surprised at my soreness :)

After our stretch I thought we would get right into choreography, but no: we did improv exercises across the floor! The last time I did improv was at a convention in Dallas in the 9th grade...all those feelings of teenage anxiety came bubbling up, but I thought "I'm an adult. I can handle this". We were given different instructions for each section (for example: keep 3 limbs on the ground at all times, make every movement a circle, there's a magnet on the other side of the room but you don't want to be pulled in) so I was thankful for that, but when it was my turn to go, my mind went blank. I couldn't let go and just move or come up with different ways to move. I dance silly around my house every day, why couldn't I do this?! I had never wanted my ballet class back so badly in my life.

But you know what? I survived. Sure I wasn't good, but it wasn't a competition. Krista kept reminding us that there was no right or wrong with these exercises, which was comforting for me to hear. But I still like to be right! ;)

Once we got through the improv exercises we started learning choreography. I was so happy to hear that we would be dancing to a Sam Smith song - his cover of Whitney Houston's "How Will I Know" (look it up on YouTube if you haven't heard it. It's beautiful!). At this point it occurred to me that it's also been two years since I've attempted to learn choreography to anything other than ballet. I have always felt like picking up choreography is one of my strengths - even in jazz or contemporary - but I guess because it's been a few years my brain was having a hard time keeping up. I was working so hard just to keep up with the order of the steps that I never had a chance to really dance. I reminded myself that non-ballet dancers feel this way about combos in ballet class, so I shouldn't expect myself to just be awesome with no experience. Dance has a way of bringing out the competitor in me, so I have to ease up on myself sometimes!

I wanted to share this experience with you all because it made me realize that for those new to ballet, this is how you probably feel in class. It is so overwhelming, but I want to encourage you to keep going. If you're coming back to ballet after a hiatus and find that it's not as easy as you remember, don't give up. Don't sideline yourself when you get uncomfortable (as adults we are allowed to do things like that!). Know that you're not alone if you're feeling like a hot mess! It will get better! :)

Me (far right) with Krista Johnson (middle) and the group from the Contemporary master class.

This week I returned back to my ballet comfort zone. I happily dragged my oh-so-sore body to the barre :)

Do you have any experiences that took you outside your dance comfort zone? How did you handle it? I'd love to hear about it in the comment section!

- Jana

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