This may sound odd to some people, but lately I have found that focusing my attention on several different hobbies and cutting down somewhat on my time in the studio is actually helping me to become a better dancer. I agree that this outlook seems as though it might be counter-productive since training and studying consistently plays a big part in how one improves as an artist, but I will elaborate on why it has personally helped me.
Back in the days of high school and college I was dancing six to seven days a week, and taking anywhere from two to four dance classes a day. Add in rehearsals, and there was not a lot of extra time to get anything else done. I loved it, and did not mind not being able to get out much. I really enjoyed being that active and exerting that much energy. On my days off though, I would realize how tired my body really was, and how little extra energy I had to conquer my to do list. (In reality, doing laundry and cleaning is not always that glamorous, so it was not missed that much all of the time).
Flash forward several years later after moving to this great big city that never sleeps. At first I found myself not dancing at all and really missing it. I finally found jobs after a couple of years that allowed me to get back to dancing, and which gave me the flexibility to work and pursue my goals. The New York dream was beginning. I think we all hate having survival jobs at times, but the ones that do not drive us crazy are out there. It can take a lot of coordination, but when I finally found the right ones for me, it made a world of difference. Even though it means working between 4-6 jobs, I find it to be worth it. I love having a flexible schedule, and the opportunity to add dance into the mix.
I got injured a couple of years ago, I was still trying to dance almost every single day, and tried to take two classes whenever possible. Days off I often aimed for three classes. There were too many teachers I wanted to study with to not take that many. I did not do much else, and pulling back after getting injured and taking care of my body was a blessing in disguise. I quickly realized that I was too tired, and my body was no longer getting the rest it needed to actually improve. I had been struggling to make it through that many classes. I could, and I did, but I began to realize I was not benefiting from my studies as much as I should have been. Dancing became more of a struggle, and I could not apply what was needed as well. I still learned a great deal, but taking a step back made me realize how much I needed to refocus.
Growing up I used to get depressed really easily if I was not busy at all times, so always being active helped me to stay positive. Somewhere down the line I noticed that I can be just as happy doing something outside of dance, as I am when I am dancing. Being injured forced me to find other hobbies to occupy my time when I was not working, and I finally got back into working on acting studies, as well as writing. I used to write simply for fun when I was in school, but a few dance teachers told me to consider picking it up again, and see where it could take me. Almost a year later, I am now reviewing for a theater review site, writing blog posts, and opening up my options on what I am capable of doing.
I have never felt that I was the strongest or most talented at anything I did, but taking up new hobbies has helped me to be more free in all that I do. I feel more grounded, happier, and I feel that the freedom and expression I have in my dancing comes out more now. I finally believe as though I am finding the place where I fit in. Every day I feel a little bit stronger. I feel successful in other things besides dance, so when I do get into dance classes, workshops, and auditions, I have more fun. I have finally found how it works for me personally to know what is natural, and to live in every moment. I find myself holding on to every word, having the capability to apply more corrections, and simply cherish it more than I ever have before.
I would say on average I now only take about seven classes a week at most, but they are more important to me. My other hobbies and interests are helping to shape me into a better dancer. The acting work is incredibly challenging and forces me to think outside of the box in ways that help me to think along those lines in dance classes. My writing makes me so happy, even though at times I suffer from moderate to extreme cases of writer’s block. (When not in the studio, there’s a great chance I can be found at one of the libraries, or at Argo Tea, which is my guilty pleasure tea place of choice). I change up what dance classes I take more often than I used to, and I do not get over-tired because I listen to my body and understand my limitations. I work on my other hobbies, I get more rest and give my heart, soul, and mind a chance to recuperate, and the opportunity to reflect on what I have learned. I have also started writing down what corrections I am given, and what the combo was like to keep track of the various styles I am learning.
I now have time to get caught up on my favorite shows, grab tea with friends, and simply relax. Amazing what a little down time can do. For me it definitely makes me more energized, and I look forward to going back to dance class. I go back with an open mind, and the determination to work really hard to improve, while having a lot of fun. I have so much respect, admiration, and appreciation for the incredible teachers I get to study with, and for their patience in helping me to become a better dancer. I am grateful for their tough love. I am happier in my dancing thanks in part to knowing that for me it was important to step back and try other hobbies that would help me with dance. I think we all have very different needs in what it is we do, and have the right to find what it is that makes us happy, and how we can use that in our every day life. Incorporating hobbies into my life has been a win-win. Hmmm… Maybe I will try learning the harmonica
– Anne-Allegra Bennett
Steps Administrative Assistant, and Musical Theater student
graphic courtesy of www.docdreyfus.com