We have all had days when we felt ourselves cutting corners and “cheating” here and there…it happens, right? You fudge your turnout a bit by rolling your arches a little; you manage to get up to speed in allegro by not pointing your feet all the way.
Sometimes this seems to work just fine, and we let ourselves “get away” with it. But let’s just stop and think about what’s really going on when we cheat or practice mindlessly.
The Cost of Cheating: Poor Muscle Memory
First off, in dance, much of our training comes down to muscle memory. The repetitive nature of daily class and practice is to train the body in the technique so that it knows what to do when we perform.
After a certain level of training, no one goes onstage thinking about every technical feat they are about to do- they just take a deep breath and do it. They trust their bodies to perform as they have been taught.
When we practice mindlessly, we undercut our ability to create proper muscle memory. And once we learn something incorrectly, it can take a really long time to unlearn it and reprogram the body properly. So practicing mindlessly isn’t just a bad idea, it’s a Terrible Idea, which interferes with your progress in a real way.
Mindfulness and Muscle Memory
We can avoid this trap by practicing mindfully. What that means is being 100% present when you are dancing, even if it’s just another class or rehearsal. Every step is an opportunity to program your instrument the right way.
Usually, we get distracted by our minds, not our bodies. We let our minds wander forward to what’s coming up in the class or later in the day, or back to what’s already happened. We can also get distracted by things or people around us.
Sometimes, we have an out-of-body experience when our minds start thinking about something completely disconnected from what we’re doing, like what we’ll have for dinner and what movie we want to see over the weekend.
When the mind starts to wander, we are no longer connected to what we’re doing. Try some of these simple techniques to bring your focus back into your body.
Tips to Increase Mindfulness
- Focus on the breath.
When you breathe mindfully, it is very difficult to let the mind wander. If you can count the breath while practicing, try counting your exhales 1 to 5, and then starting over again. Once you count past 5, you know your mind has wandered. If counting the breath throws you off, just stay mindful of your breathing as you practice; when you lose your sense of it, go back to it. Feel the inhales and the exhales and don’t lose track of that rhythm.
- Repeat a cue word(s).
Like mindful breathing, saying a cue word on the exhale can keep you in your body. Lately I’ve been using “My mind is on the breath” during yoga when I start to wander. A directive can be helpful too, like “Get in the body.”
- Push yourself out of your comfort zone.
Sometimes we get so comfortable with what we’re doing that we are lulled into passivity, and we start to go through the motions. Mixing up the routine, like letting go of the barre on difficult combinations, or changing your place in the center, can be enough of a shift to get you back into your body.
Sometimes it isn’t possible to be 100% present, particularly when we are overtired, which is why it’s important to know how to pace yourself. Pacing is a crucial aspect of mindfulness and injury prevention, but it’s a big enough topic that we’ll talk about that in another post- keep your eyes peeled!
Until then, start to notice how often you practice mindlessly.
Ask yourself, what is it costing you to not practice mindfully?
Give yourself at least one good reason to make mindfulness part of your routine. Then try some of these techniques to bring yourself back into your body and be fully present.
Feel free to let me know how it goes in the comments section.