As dancers we put in tireless amounts of blood, sweat, and tears, then often have less to show for it than we would ideally like. It is only human to want to see instant improvement and results, and as we are acutely dedicated to our discipline we work ourselves to the bone to get to where we want to be. I want you to think the next time you are presented with a new challenge or goal in your next class or performance, and ask yourself these questions: Do I want to work brutally hard? Or Do I actually want to achieve results? I for one want the results, and while I’m more than willing to work hard for them, I want it to be a kind of hard work that also applies my intelligence.
For me, working intelligently has many different components, however I would like to point out the 3 most relevant to dance: focus, creativity and purpose.
Focus is one of the most important parts of dance. We can probably all admit to having days when we are in the studio attempting to pick up choreography or are trying perfecting a certain step by practicing over and over again, and yet we still get the feeling that we aren’t improving at the rate we would have liked. In this case, instead of focusing on the negative, we should focus on what’s positive. You have taken the time and energy to practice and commit yourself, which is more than what you had achieved before you started. Whether or not you would like to admit it, this IS an improvement and an action of focus that should not go unrecognized.
If you sense you lack in focus (or have been told this by teachers) use these simple ideas to improve: First of all don’t worry about managing the information, worry about managing your attention. Paying attention, for long periods of time, is a form of endurance athleticism. Like performing a piece that runs for 20 minutes straight, it requires practice and training to get the most out of it. If you want the ability to focus on things for a long period of time, you need attention fitness.
The ability to focus comes from your brain, which is just like any other physical part of your body that needs to be taken care of correctly. Your body responds to two things really well — diet and exercise (the latter, thankfully, we have covered by dance). What you put into your body is your fuel, if you’re low on fuel, your brain won’t let you focus on anything else. So be smart and stock up on foods rich in nutrients that feed the brain with its essential vitamins. From wholegrain-packed breakfast choices, to oily fish and avocado for dinner, take a look at the super brain foods that nourish your brain, stimulate concentration and sharpen your mind.
Creativity is something that I believe every person can cultivate. I find for creative artists, especially dancers, that a simple way to boost your creativity is to set aside time for creative thinking. Before you start a task (using the same example of learning choreography or mastering a particular step), take a certain portion of time to think about how you might do it efficiently. Sometimes you might even want to trial and explore different ways of doing the certain steps or try another approach to absorbing the choreography, and compare these methods to see which one has the best result for you (remember every approach for every person is different, so feel free to experiment).
I personally am also very creatively stimulated when I surround myself with like-minded creative people. Being a dancer, this is quite easy to do, but try stretch yourself and see if you can stumble across any other creatively passionate people, like visual artists, musicians, painters, photographers, etc. You will be able to discuss and share ideas / concepts with a whole new, fresh perspective and this will, in turn, help heighten your own sense of creativity.
Another huge source of creativity (and often a wonderful outlet) for dancers, and all artists, is music. It pulses through our veins and allows our minds to explore areas of creativity and sides of our imagination like no other inspirational supply ever could.
I strongly believe that purpose is intertwined with both creativity and focus. In the world of dance our purpose or our goal is specified (by our teachers, choreographers, mentors, or even ourselves), but the means of achieving these goals are essentially infinite. Without considering the purpose of why we are attempting such tasks (like new choreography or mastering challenging steps), we lose our creativity and of course our focus then suffers.
When you start thinking about your own purpose, you set off a chain reaction of creativity and focus, which allows you to not only strive to complete your task, but to do so in an intelligent manner, with minimized brut efforts but maximized overall achievement.
The purpose of retaining and perfecting your new choreography or challenging exercises is to show that you have the dedication and focus needed to be a professional dancer. This will not only demonstrate your full commitment, but also a level of hard work that comes from working intelligently.
I believe working with intelligence, in conjunction with hard work, means you’re more likely to reach the goals you set out to achieve. By applying the three key elements of focus, creativity and purpose into your dance practice, performance, rehearsal and overall learning, you will skilfully develop you ability to work as an intelligent artist.
Ultimately remember…success is often a result of hard work. But also appreciate that failure too is often a result of hard work. As dancers, we must distinguish the difference between working hard and working smart and always acknowledge, accept and be proud of our efforts.