This is the first in a series of blog posts called “Mind Over Matter” that explore the importance and relevance of the psychological aspects of dancing.
As any of my students can tell you, I often say that dance is half mental. Well, I’m not sure if it’s actually half, but I do believe that the mental aspect of the dance is as important – if not more important – than the physical aspect.
I think one of the most basic illustrations of this idea is how difficult it can be for students to master some of the fundamentals of movement. I have yet to encounter someone who walks into class leading with their feet, or leaning back, or walking from her hips. Even when asked to walk backwards, while they may lead with the feet, most people rarely lean backwards while doing so. So why is it that when dancing, people often have so many problems with posture and movement?
I often feel that my job as a dance instructor is to remind people how to walk. After all, my students already know how to walk – to move from their centers with good posture. They don’t need to learn anything new; their bodies already know the basic mechanics of the dance. And let’s be honest: there’s no dance closer to walking than West Coast Swing.
What then prevents the student from successful dancing? I would argue that the mind gets in the way of the body doing what it already knows. Because students have expectations of what dancing should look and feel like, they make changes to their body mechanics in an effort to achieve certain physical feelings, or they make changes to how they move because they are distracted by a partner or the music. The mind, in short, interferes with and overrides what the body does automatically, distracting it and redirecting it in ways that it often doesn’t even realize.
How important do you think the mind is in learning to dance? What experiences have you had with conflicts between brain and body? Have you been able to use your mind to help you improve your dancing? Teachers, how do you tackle this challenge and what has been most successful for your students?