Motivation and Inspiration, Part Two: Loving the Process

You, and everyone around you, have be trained since children to be unhappy. You've been taught it by your well-meaning parents, encouraged by your peers, had it presented in structured format by your schools.

They didn't mean to. They were simply trying to instil a desire to reach for bigger and better things. They taught us: This what success looks like, what wealth and abundance look like. This is what pleasure and happiness look like.

The problem is, they tied all those awesome feelings to some future ideal... And left none of it for the present. And now we live in a society caught in a rat-race, determined to be rich and successful, with a Mr./Ms. Right on one arm and the keys to a mansion in the other. Because everything before that point feels like failure.

What does this have to do with ballroom dancing? Let me explain:

Transcript:

Hi guys! My name is Ian Crewe. I'm an instructor at the joy of dance Centre in Toronto, Ontario, and the creator of Social Ballroom Dance: Where you can learn your dance, at your place, on your schedule.

In any undertaking we make - dancing included - 99% of that time is going to be spent learning; in other words, making mistakes and learning how to do better.

Yet, we've been trained since childhood to hyper-focus on the end result: The grades we get, the pay check we receive, and the ballroom dance competition that we win.

The problem with that is when we focus on the end goal, everything up until that point starts feeling like failure. So today we're going to look at how to learn to love the process of reaching towards those goals.

An important part of that, is coming to make peace with your situation right now, rather than resisting it.

Sometimes our life can feel a bit like we're being asked to dance to a song that we really hate, when deep down inside we're frustratedly saying "I don't like that song! I can't wait until the song that I do like comes on! When is that song I like going to come on?!"

Ironically, the more we put our attention into the future, the less joy we can take from the present.

So for example, a lot of the joy of ballroom dancing has nothing to do with the song that's playing at all. It comes from the thrill of the unknown: Not knowing how your partner's going to respond to you, and feeling the movement evolve in response to your unique dance styles.

It's also really awesome when you feel your dancing has improved from the previous dance, and the one before that.

Also, sometimes you're going to get bored - I mean, sometimes we get bored when we're drilling the same step over and over again. But that does not mean that the activity is boring. It just means that we have lost our focus with the parts of that activity which we might enjoy.

For example, if I am having trouble with a specific dance technique and I start to get bored, I might ask myself: "Why am I getting bored?" I may come to the conclusion that I don't feel like I'm progressing - I feel like I'm stuck in place. Or maybe I'm not progressing as fast as I want to.

So that allows me to start looking more closely in my body so I can start learning where I'm going wrong and maybe notice those incremental improvements so I can start to take pleasure in it again. Or I may need to get my expectations of how fast I'm going to improve out of the way.

When we ruminate about the past or worry about the future, these things both keep us from enjoying what's happening right now. Instead, we want to find ways to bring ourselves into what's happening right now, so that we can look at what's happening more objectively.

A good way to do that is by asking yourself the question: What at this very moment is lacking? When I ask myself that, the only thing that's really lacking right now, is it's a very warm day out and we don't have air-conditioning.

But if I think about what I have to do in a couple of hours, or throughout the rest of the day - I've got to put together choreography that I'm going to teach to seniors at Chester Village in a couple hours, I have some lessons to do, a social to go to in the evening...

There's lots of things that I could stress myself out about if I gave too much of my attention to those things; asking this question can remind us that 1) what's happening right now usually isn't that bad, and 2) there's only so much you can do about the past or future.

We can prepare for the future sure, but we still have to prepare by taking actions right now: Worrying about the future does not solve anything.

Also, when we are procrastinating or if we suffer from perfectionism, these are both opposite sides of the same coin - that is, fear of failing, or fear that the process is not going to give us the payoff that we want.

Procrastination says "I'm afraid of failure so I won't start", and perfectionism says "I'm afraid of failure, so if I start it's all got to be perfect from the beginning, and nothing can surprise me"

Since that's really unrealistic to expect, we have to learn to rephrase our mistakes as learning opportunities. I like to think of our goals as lying across a field: A field that is full of mistakes - literally every step we take through that field is a mistake. And that's a GOOD thing.

Because the mistakes are teaching you how to take the next step, and a step after that - it's part of the process, the shots are part of the program.

Also, sometimes when we make mistakes, we feel like it's our fault. You know when we mess up in front of our instructor, what's the first thing we often say? "I'm sorry."

Sometimes I let my students know, when they've been messing up a step that they're trying for the first time: "you don't need to apologize. You've never done this step before, and I know you didn't get this morning, saying 'hey! I think I'm going to mess with my instructors day' and then start screwing up on purpose."

This is not really something that's in your control; it's not about fault at all. It's part of the process.

Finally, it's worth remembering that when we reach our end goal, there's nowhere to go but reaching for the next. So be okay with setting some goals that you may never reach.

The important part is that when you're reaching for them, they help you develop and grow as a person; and that is where much of the joy of learning comes from.

So I hope you enjoyed this talk, and it gives you some interesting food for thought. If you have any questions or comments about it, please message me on my Facebook fan page Ballroom Dancers Anonymous, or you can email me at ian@socialballroom.dance. 

Next week, we're going to be talking to a life coach, somebody who has been very helpful for me, and we're going to be looking at self-sabotage: How we end up holding ourselves back from achieving our full potential.

So happy dancing, and I will see you next time!

Motivation and Inspiration, Part One: The Right Mindset

Have you ever noticed how some people always seem to get things done? Achieving success is simple and straightforward for them, and mastering ballroom dancing is no exception - once they decide where they want to go, they stop at nothing to get there.

Then there are others who go in with good intentions, but never seem to reach the dance goals they set for themselves. They hit a patch where the learning becomes frustrating, their motivation goes down, and before long, they decide ballroom dance just isn't for them.

This isn't about blame or fault - In my experience, a certain mindset is needed to become the dancer you've always wanted to be. Let me explain:

Transcript

Hi guys my name is Ian Crewe. I'm an instructor at the joy of Dance Centre in Toronto, Ontario, and the creator of Social Ballroom Dance where you can learn your dance, at your place, on your schedule.

We're starting into a theme this month! Something that's near and dear to my heart: Motivation and inspiration in ballroom dancing.

Specifically, we're looking at the mindset for a successful ballroom dancer,  what causes dancers to succeed and continue with their craft for years, while others might give up after only a few weeks or months.

I'm not talking about people who consciously decide to put their energy into another pursuit - there is going to be of course people who try ballroom dancing and decide "you know what? Ballroom dancing music; not my thing. I'd rather do something else."

Or maybe they decide they'd rather dance by themselves, and they end up going into ballet, or hip-hop, or contemporary, or just dancing alone in their living room - and power to them. That's beautiful.

We're looking at the people who believe that ballroom dancing has something to offer them, but for some reason they stop themselves. So why is it that some people are able to continue and others seem to just give up?

Now, in my experience I've seen that there's five essential ingredients that every ballroom dancer absolutely needs, if they're going to succeed and get what they want from dancing, and I'd like to introduce you to two different mindsets on this. A static mindset versus the active mindset

Now, these are broad definitions, but just to give you a way of comparing two different approaches. We'll start with the first ingredient, which is self-knowledge.

The static mindset makes a lot of their actions on impulse: they haven't taken the time to really think about why they do what they do, so it's very difficult for them to reliably devote themselves to an unfamiliar cause.

I say unfamiliar because when we are trying to do something that's out of our comfort zone, it often brings up parts of ourselves that we don't know very well, and that can be a scary experience for some people. But we'll talk more about that in a couple of weeks.

On the other hand the active mindset has taken that time to look through or explore that mental landscape. They have taken time to reflect on why they do the things they do, and they have a strong emotional connection to the principles that guide them.

This allows them to be much more consistent when they decide to pursue something, because they already know whatever internal demons they're going to have to face, and how to overcome them.

Then we have motivation. The static mindset will approach motivation from the standpoint of "well, I've seen ballroom dancing, and there's something in there that I like." 

Maybe they saw Dancing with the Stars, or they went to a dance club and they saw this really cool dancer, and there was this sense of "there's something here that I want", and they want to explore it.

But they haven't thought very deeply about what's specifically that thing is, so they go into the lessons with more of a vague sense of what they want, rather than a specific idea.

Meanwhile, the more active mindset have taken that time to reflect on what exactly about ballroom dancing moves them. And when they go in for their lessons, they're going to be able to convey that; which will help guide the lessons towards that goal.

Then we have persistence, which the first two help build into. The static mindset encounters something that's difficult for them and they say "well, maybe I'm just not cut out for this", and they don't really have a lot of reason to keep pushing through.

The active mindset, because they've taken that time to reflect on why they dance; they have drive to continue that is stronger than the temptation to quit.

These are closely connected with belief, which is the fourth ingredient. If the static mindset tends to not put in a hundred percent of their effort, because there's this underlying feeling that "well I don't know if I'm going to ever be the dancer that I want to be, so I'm not going to waste 100% of my energy trying to get there. Because why would I bother if I'm not going to succeed?"

Meanwhile, the active mindset believes that they can have their dancing dream, so they're going to push themselves that much harder; they're going to give a 100% of their energy in order to achieve that.

This all feeds into the final and fifth agreement, which is inspiration. See, a static mindset will look at a fabulous dancer and they will say, "wow! I wish I could do something like that... but I know I can't."

An active mindset looks at a fabulous dancer and says "wow! What are they doing and how can I learn that and incorporate it into my own dancing, so I can look just as good or better??" They let the vision of what's to come inspire them rather than discourage them.

So broadly speaking, the static mind tends to be more safety-based; it's found this comfortable area that it wants to stay in and because it wants to stay there, it comes up with excuses that validate its inaction.

Meanwhile the active mindset takes a more growth-based approach; it believes that there is something better out there, and that that it can have it. So it's looking to stretch, and expand, and take new skills in order to achieve that thing that it wants.

Now this isn't to say that if you have a static mindset on one of these ingredients that you MUST be static throughout your whole life. We can often have a static mindset on one ingredients but be very active on another.

Maybe I believe that I can be a great dancer but on a subconscious level, because I don't have that self-knowledge, I haven't taken that time to understand how my past experiences have affected me - I have these other beliefs deep down inside that are pulling in the opposite direction.

Or you might have somebody who has the motivation - they really want to have this thing, but they find it's hard for them to develop the persistence. They try, but it's very difficult for them to push through these  more difficult periods because there's there's something there that's blocking them.

We can spot the ingredients that give us the most trouble, and we can train our mind to change from a static to an active mindset. We're not stuck in any one placeI have always believed that and I always will.

A big part of getting there is learning to love the process of improving ourselves. Because we get so often focused on a destination, and we forget to appreciate and enjoy all the growth that's required to get there. And THEN we get there and often we end up reaching for the next thing and the next thing.

We keep thinking "well, once I have that, I'm going to be happy." But we've trained ourselves to be constantly looking for the next thing, and the next thing, and the next thing.

We're going to go deeper into that for next week. So I look forward to seeing you then! If you have any questions or comments, please don't hesitate to message me on my Facebook fan page, Ballroom Dancers Anonymous, or you can email me at ian@socialballroom.dance.

I look forward to seeing you next week and until then, happy dancing!

Why Ballroom is an Expressive Dance

expressive dance

Ballet. Hip hop. Jazz. Contemporary. By comparison, ballroom dance is often found wanting, described as ‘stiff, flat, and lacking real self-expression.’ But an expressive dance is defined by more than range of motion alone.

expressive dance
We're expressing!

True, you are compromising for your partner, sacrificing some movement so you can move better together. But there’s plenty of character that can still be conveyed, not only through each of you separately, but in the story you tell together.

Expression is more than dramatic kicks, jetés, and tumbles. It is the act of conveying one’s humanity to the world. It is not just seen, but felt, both in yourself and the people you are. Of course, that’s hardly where you start from.

There is a learning curve.

It’s unavoidable that you will initially feel ‘stiff’ together, as you focus on rigid concepts like frame and posture. But don’t be fooled - these techniques simply lay the groundwork for more creative movement later.

expressive dance

You see, before ballroom can become an expressive dance, you must learn how to move together. This can take several lessons initially, but you’ll eventually develop a sense of your partner within a few seconds of social dancing.

Most ballroom dancers make learning to connect with each other their entire goal, never realizing it isn’t the end - it’s where the fun really begins.

Ballroom is both of you.

If you are in a relationship with someone, do you lose your own individuality to that person? Hopefully not! Sure, you change some things for each other, but who you are remains untouched - and your partner will even give it a new dimension.

expressive dance

Likewise, not only is ballroom dance an expressive dance style, it’s arguably more expressive because the two of you are working together, combining your personalities in unique ways.

You can choose your music.

If you like expressive dance, it’s almost guaranteed that you love music! Fortunately, ballroom dance encompass a huge range of music, so there’s something for everybody. Just pick the music you like most and start taking courses in the corresponding dance!

Or maybe you’re coming at it backwards, and prefer certain kinds of movements. With over 12 different styles of ballroom dancing and music to match, odds are there’s at least one that does it for you.

Expression through conversation.

Because many forms of expressive dance are performance-based, the people you are expressing to are usually sitting comfortably in their seats. Ballroom dance gives you another person who can share in your conversation: your partner.

expressive dance

The problem with performances is that there often is no real interaction between the performers themselves; the people who share a passion for dance and know how to convey themselves with it. With ballroom dancing, it’s not only possible, it’s mandatory.

Ballroom dancing isn't just a showcase dance, but a social one as well. With a partner to share your movement, you can express yourself more ‘honestly’ than you could with a crowd of strangers. And connecting with each other is after all, what it’s all about.

expressive dance

About the Author

Ian Crewe has been dancing ballroom for over 18 years, and has a Licentiate in American smooth and rhythm. His passion for dance eventually led him to blogging and the World Wide Web. Ian currently teaches at the Joy of Dance Centre, Toronto, ON, Canada. Click here to see when he's teaching.

How Increasing Awareness Helps Your Dancing

Increasing Awareness

Dancing is like learning to cook. The steps are the ‘recipe’ you read from, but over time, you learn to add the ‘spices’ that are uniquely you. We’ve discussed how increasing awareness of thought patterns that hold us back can help us reprogram them. Now, we’re ready to explore how to add our own authenticity to our dancing.

The book The Legend of Bagger Vance by Steven Pressfield illustrates this concept of authentic mastery brilliantly. The golf caddy Bagger believes there is an ‘authentic swing’, that is unique to every person on the planet, and all golfers are unconsciously trying to find it. To reach it however, they must ultimately learn to ‘surrender’ to their increasing awareness of their authentic self, which is a culmination of the training they’ve received and a deep understanding of who they truly are.

Increasing Awareness

We likewise each have an ‘authentic dance’. How do we know this? Because our body can tell which movements feel ‘good’ and which feel ‘bad’ - and it will automatically guide us towards the former. Over time, and with increasing awareness, we reach a place where training can no longer help us. Only by surrendering to this instinct can we go further, bridging the last gap to dancing with authenticity.

We can hasten this surrender by using your increasing awareness of your body during practice. To do this, we must enter each dance with as few attachments as possible. Social dancing is a particularly excellent way to train your natural spontaneity, while testing your ability to detach from the opinions and judgements of others.

increasing awareness

If this is very difficult for you, you can begin by dancing alone, but try move where at least one or two others can see you. Not only will this help push your comfort zone, but you will give others unconscious permission to do the same.

‘But what if my authentic dance is something nobody else likes? I still want people to dance with me’, I hear some of you say. The truth is dancing with increasing awareness will draw more people to you, even if some of your movement is unusual. Remember that potential dance partners want the same thing you do, even if they don’t know it: To connect to a sense of authenticity within themselves. I’ve seen many performances that were technically brilliant, but they might as well have been danced by cyborgs - there was no life or joy to it. Increasing Awareness

When you dance authentically, you radiate that joy that comes from being in touch with yourself and your partner, and others will want to connect to that as well.

First and foremost though, remember that dancing with increasing awareness to impress others is not dancing with awareness at all. You may dance for judges, for an audience, or for your partner. But nothing will feel better than when you dance for yourself.

Raise Awareness, Raise your Dancing

raise awareness

We’ve been talking about how to avoid getting distracted by thinking during dancing, in order to make it more natural and fun for ourselves and our partner. When we raise awareness of what’s happening in our body, we remove focus from the part of our mind that’s constantly judging others, regretting mistakes, and planning for the future. This is not to say that planning the next step is bad, only that it will be replaced over time by the body’s intuitions - that is to say, it’s trained sense of what can naturally flow from the previous movement.

raise awareness

Trying to raise awareness can be a scary experience however. Many of us carry destructive thought patterns or ‘beliefs’ which we learned in childhood: ‘I am not enough.’ ‘I can never be a good dancer.’ ‘I have two left feet.’ ‘I am ugly.’ These voices often get louder when we raise awareness in our body, so we may have to weaken them before we can dance with greater confidence. In order to get there however, we must first understand the difference between who we are and what we identify with.

When we identify with something, it means we’ve tied some part of ourselves to it - things like the friends we keep, the car we own, and yes, the thoughts we hold. You can tell you’ve identified with something if the thought of losing it fills you with fear.

raise awareness
Not you Betsy! DON'T LEAVE ME!!!

When we have the things we identify with around us, they make us feel safe. Even if some of those things are destructive to you, like fear-based beliefs. Losing something we’ve identified with can feel like we’re losing a part of ourselves. But here’s the paradox: Are you really defined by the money in your pocket, the house you own, and the beliefs you hold? These may all be great descriptors of you, but are they really you?

Here’s another way to think of it, and raise awareness at the same time: try watching your thoughts. Follow them, stalk them like a hunter in the jungle. Avoid forming opinions about them, but just allow them to be. Now, if you are your thoughts, then who is observing those thoughts? In truth, you are not your thoughts at all. Perhaps the best description is that you are a silent observer, a consciousness that watches with no thoughts at all.

raise awareness
You've got to come out sometime mate...

This might seem like a roundabout way of explaining, but it’s necessary to arrive at a central truth: If you are not any of the things that you have, or think, then you have nothing to lose. This is the beginning of freedom, where we can start to dance, and live, with greater authenticity.

So at last, how can we raise awareness to stop the flow of negative, fear-driven thinking? Start by observing your thoughts, as you did earlier. You can do this while meditating, or working out, or doing any activity that slows your thinking at least temporarily. If impatience or frustration arise, just observe them like everything else - this is not a race to ‘get it’ as fast as you can.

As you raise awareness, you’ll find the stream of thinking slows, and even stops at times. You’ve created a ‘gap’ between observing and thinking, between who you really are and the filtering, judging, rationalizing mind. This gap gives you a chance to make a different choice when destructive thoughts arise - for instance, instead of reacting with shame, guilt, or anger, you might replace the thought with a more positive one, or even laugh at it for being so ridiculous. In this way, your mind, like your body, can be retrained to act in a way that comes from love rather than fear.

raise awareness

‘This is all well and good’, I hear you say, ‘but I still don’t see how raising awareness can improve my dancing.’ Next week, we’ll come full circle and explain how we can infuse this greater awareness into our dancing, so we can move fearlessly and authentically.

Body Awareness in Ballroom Dance

body awareness

‘Kids: They dance before they learn anything that isn’t music.’
- William Stafford

Thinking in dancing is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it helps us plan the next step, and interpret what we learn in a lesson. But too much thinking can stifle our body’s natural movement. You can tell if someone is dancing more in their mind then their body; their movements are stiff and robotic, and they seem unaware of their partner, or the music. Virtually all of us suffer from over-thinking sometimes, but we can counter it with the body awareness.

body awareness

What is body awareness? It is the ability to stay in the present, connected with the music and your partner. It also means that the mind goes silent, because our thoughts are only occupied by the past or future. Consider: Even if you are cursing yourself for a recent misstep, your attention is still directed into the past. To dance on the cutting edge of NOW, we must remove most of our thought from dancing.

We all learned how to dance, spin, jump and roll, as children. As we grew older however, we lost touch with our bodies. We were trained to use our minds for everything - look before you leap, don’t make assumptions, if you plan to learn, learn to plan. This doesn’t mean our minds aren’t an important tool in our day-to-day lives. But when we start using it on the ever-changing dance floor, it only slows us down. The tool has overtaken the master.

body awareness
I OWN you! Now make me a sandwich!

Here’s just a few kinds of thinking that can distract us from a great social dance:

  1. Ruminating about a mistake
  2. Anticipating or guessing at the next pattern
  3. Thinking about the work-day
  4. Worrying about the opinions of others
  5. Trying to remember our technique
  6. Planning five or ten steps in advance
  7. Internally judging your partner, or nearby dancers

To increase our body awareness, we need to start trusting our body’s instincts again. Our body picks up on steps, technique, and usually music too, a lot faster than our brain does. This is why we usually dance better when trying a pattern or dance style for the first time: we allow ourselves to instinctually feel our way through the motions, at least temporarily. After a few repetitions however, our brain starts to reassert itself, and our dancing suffers until we’ve learned to make it automatic once more.

body awareness
'I don't want any gimmicks, just give me straight up dancing!'

‘But how am I supposed to dance without thinking?’ you might be wondering. The answer is to build trust in our instincts, and to train our mind to avoid ‘clinging’ to the inevitable bumps, jolts, and missteps that occur. For leaders, there may be brief flashes of thought as they decide on what to do next, but even this is a spontaneous interaction with the body. The rest of our attention is directed on what we feel, in our connection with our partner, and in expressing the music as it arrives. When you have body awareness, the only dance step that matters, is the one you are making right now.

body awareness

For many, the addiction to thinking can be too powerful to break simply by recognizing the importance of body awareness. Next week, we’ll take an objective look at where the destructive thought patterns that hurt our dancing come from, and how to eliminate them.