Dare to Be a Dance Class Rebel
Historically I was a “good student,” diligently following my teachers’ instructions. In dance classes, I mustered my very best posture, tried to put all the teacher’s tips into practice, and kept going even when figures required more flexibility or balance than I had. In kickboxing classes, when the teacher said go faster and harder, I pushed myself often beyond what felt good or safe for me.
It’s so easy to disregard our internal warning signals and continue on in a class despite discomfort, pain or exhaustion. We want to look good, to do it “right,” to get maximum benefit, or to prove to ourselves (or others) that we’re strong, capable or talented. Sometimes we’re afraid of being judged if we do things differently or take a break. Or maybe we just don’t realize there’s an alternative.
An Alternative Way
The Feldenkrais Method taught me how to listen to myself, stay within a range that’s comfortable, go at my own speed, and rest when I needed to, not when the teacher said I could. This didn’t come easily at first. Like most of us, our culture’s values—working hard, being competitive, viewing bigger as better and that there’s no gain without pain—had been deeply instilled in me.
In Feldenkrais classes, slowing down and reducing effort was not only allowed, it was what you were told to do. Slowly, I began practicing this approach. Whereas before I would ignore discomfort, not wanting to call attention to myself or miss out on any part of class, I began to do less or take the time in the middle of class to go get a prop to make myself more comfortable.
I experienced the rewards of this approach, including fewer injuries, faster learning, better coordination, more enjoyment and a greater sense of well-being. When I fell back into habits of rushing or pushing myself, I felt those effects, such as feeling frustrated, tired or hurting after class.
Eventually this Feldenkrais-ian approach was the only one I wanted to take, so I started using it in other classes. For instance, if the figure in a Salsa class was making me dizzy or was starting to strain my back, I’d ask my leader to go gently, modify it, or not lead it at all. Or if I was leading in a swing dance class and a move was too difficult or felt unsafe for me, I’d tell my followers I wanted to slow it down or was skipping it altogether.
How to Take Care of Yourself in a Dance Class
Taking care of yourself and breaking rank in a group setting can be challenging, but the benefits make it so worth it. Here are some tips on taking the leap and becoming a dance class rebel (or yoga, Pilates, karate, aerobics, etc.):
1. Listen to Yourself
Regularly check in with yourself. Among other things, this helps you know your limits before you end up wishing you hadn’t done something. So instead of ignoring a twinge, tightness, discomfort or overwhelm, you pay attention to it. Then you can decide whether you’d like to continue, slow down, make a change, take a break, ask for help, etc.
For example, say a class is doing double spins and you suffer from vertigo or your neck is getting sore. Instead of bearing through spin after spin, you could decide to sit out and watch for awhile, or you might tell your dance partners you’re not up for anymore spins that night.
And if you’re feeling tired or that your brain will explode if the teacher adds one more thing, don’t be shy about taking a short break, sitting out the rest of class, or even leaving early.
2. Reflect on Your Intentions
What’s your reason for taking the class? If it’s to have fun and you start to have pain or feel stressed, you’re no longer having fun. In this way, your intention can serve as a reminder and help you muster the courage to boldly stray from the pack.
3. Go at Your Own Speed
Taking the time to slow down and really feel or understand a movement is far more valuable than hurrying to keep up and leaving without being able to do any of what was taught.
Going at your own pace might mean stepping out of rotation and practicing on your own for a bit. Or you could ask your partner to do the figure in slow motion or just practice the last four counts. You might be surprised how often your partner is happy to comply—or even relieved because they’re having a hard time too!
4. Do What’s Comfortable for You
What’s easy or beneficial for others might not be good for you. For instance, if all the other women in class wear 3-inch heels, by all means strut your stuff in your flats! And if all the other men wear dress shoes that hurt your feet, feel free to wear your Converse.
You know what’s best for you, not your dance partner or your teacher. Many teachers don’t have a thorough understanding of the body when it comes to injury and pain. Even those that do can’t watch you every moment or necessarily anticipate when you might hurt yourself. If a movement is uncomfortable (or you suspect it might be), modify it so it is comfortable (or don’t do it at all). Who knows, you might create a great new variation!
5. Talk to Your Teacher
As a teacher, I applaud people doing their own thing in class (as long as they’re not being disruptive). But when a student hasn’t said anything to me, I’m not sure if they didn’t understand my instructions or if they’re intentionally doing something different.
So if you have an injury, balance issues, a tendency to get overwhelmed or anything that might have you straying from the pack, it’s best to tell your teacher before class. Not only do you avoid unwarranted corrections from the teacher, but it also allows the teacher to offer you individual suggestions or alternatives, and to support you if other students bother you about straying from class instructions.
Ready to Be a Dance Class Rebel?
I encourage you to trust your instincts, know that you’re cool, and use these tips to become a dance class rebel. You’ll not only be taking care of yourself, you’ll be a great role model for others.