When I started taking jazz dance with Andrea Brown at the Broadway Dance Center in New York seven years ago, I was setting years of dancing in motion, but at the time, I just wanted to get back into dance class.
I walked into Andrea’s dance classroom with no clear expectations, ideas, or goals. I had just graduated from college, was living with my grandmother, new to New York, direction-less and relationship-less; and here Andrea presented me with dance, this wonderful potion/elixir to inhale and permeate not just my pores, but my life. She gave me somewhere to be on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, and Saturday and Sunday afternoons. And she cared enough to push me to dance to my greatest capability.
The rules Andrea drilled into us were numerous and I realized very quickly that nearly all of them applied to life as well. Andrea’s first rule: If you can say it, you can do it. What are the words, she would demand, when a student was flustered by the steps. A three-step combination became easier once you knew it was just “back, back, front.” The same could be said about problems in life. Sometimes, we’re uncertain about our futures and lost in the daily routine of our lives, but if we can articulate our desires, then we can actualize them.
Do every movement full out. A straight arm to the right, horizontal to the floor is only in one place. There is only one correct “answer.” If you’re not sure of a movement, pick something and do it full out—if you’re wrong, the teacher will correct it. If you don’t choose something, your body will get confused and you will not develop the muscle memory for that movement. Similarly, in life, we should make choices, commit to them, live fully through the experiences that follow, whatever transpires, and then accept the results of those experiences. Hesitating midway, we only get confused, and become lost in the uncertainty of our actions.
Don’t look at the teacher. Andrea often gave individual corrections and sometimes, after being corrected, students would look to Andrea later, to see if Andrea had noticed the repeated/fixed mistake. She would admonish, don’t look at me! You were supposed to take the correction and continue, not look back to her for approval. Life lesson: sometimes we’re drawn to others for approval and reassurance, but in the end, we have to approve of and reassure ourselves.
Take everyone’s correction. The teacher doesn’t have time to give everyone an individual correction for every exercise— you have to take charge of your dance education and take everyone else’s correction as well. It’s easy to want to throw the perspective externally, and look to others for guidance— in the end, we are the keepers of our own lives and we must take responsibility for ourselves, and be responsible for our own cultivation, no matter who is, or isn’t, paying attention.
Use up all the counts. As I grew stronger in her class, Andrea became more detailed in her corrections. If you have four counts to bring your arms down, you should not be down by two, or even by three. Take the journey, every moment of it, and don’t discount the process. The process is rich and uncharted.
I learned a great deal in Andrea’s class, but in the end, much of it is immeasurable. I gained self-confidence, and the skills to always be able to improve my technique and to take more advanced classes, but what I appreciate most on a daily basis is that I can walk into a room and wear my 5’10” frame well, and know that I grow taller still everyday.
This article appeared in the September 2007 issue of In Dance.