Saturday, December 5, 2009

Dancers as Professional Athletes

I had an interesting thought when I got to dance with Carla Heiney at this year’s ILHC. That was, I’ll never hit a baseball thrown by NY Yankee pitcher Mariano Rivera or catch a football thrown by NFL quarterback Peyton Manning. In fact, this dance is probably be the closest I’ll ever get to playing with a professional athlete.

That got me to thinking about the Discovery Channel’s Time Warp episode with Carla and Nick Williams and how I felt like I was a kid again watching one of those Olympic athlete profile pieces where you see them using technology to study body mechanics and perfect motions and their skills... and then you want to grow up and be just like them. Of course, they also look the part of professional athletes. Nick looks like some ancient Greek sculptor carved him from granite, as so does instructor Joel Plys. While others like Evita Arce look like they were born on the Broadway stage.

I was reminded of this again at Seattle's Emerald City Blues when I got to dance with Portland instructor Brenda Russell. Several years ago I attended one of Brenda’s workshops and was so amazed and inspired by her flexibility and body control that I began doing yoga, which I’ve realized is central to many dancers’ training. It literally took me two years of steady practice to get my middle-aged, weekend warrior frame the range of motion where I could START practicing the movements she showed. I joked to my wife Patty, “hey look what I can do after 2 years of work-- move my hips; so flipping what?” Well, last month in Seattle while dancing with Brenda I played with some stuff and it was like I’d traded in my beat-up mini-van for a Ferrari Enzo. So THAT'S what dancing is supposed to be like!

I’m always amused when someone excitedly comes back from a weekend workshop with a professional dancer and tries to share what they’ve seen taught, “Your hips are here, like this… not like this… and not like this.” Meanwhile, everyone in the room is saying, “You didn’t move; I don’t understand. What are you trying to show us?” It’s great to see the enthusiasm… up to the point where someone starts claiming to be able to teach it themselves.

Mischievously, when a local teacher once asked me to help demonstrate a concept he’d just learned by doing it wrong two different ways and then correctly the third time, I stood unmoving and lax muscled as he exclaimed, “There! Did you see how the whole body alignment shifted into place? That’s exactly what we want!” Nobody saw a thing but the local still thought he'd done a good job as a teacher.

Sadly, I’ve lost track of the number of conversations I’ve overheard where someone who’s started assembling a decent repertoire of dance moves over 2 or 3 years grumbles, “If that person can market themselves as a professional why can’t I? I’ve learned most of the stuff on their videos.” The idea is crazy to me. Nobody’s stupid enough to watch a couple old Manny Pacquiao or Chuck Liddell fight films, beat up their baby brother and then expect to climb into the ring and knockout the champion... but doing the equivalent in the dance world seems to be fine for some people.

I sometimes think maybe what’s wrong with the world today is we don’t have enough biblical smiting going on. For the prideful, the vain-glorious, the greedy, the envious… “WAHPAH!!! I smite thee!” Yup, the world would definitely be a better place.

But for now, here’s a thankful shout out of appreciation to my professional heroes who’ve inspired me to be a better dancer and a better person.

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