Monday, 26 August 2013

Rediscovering the Joy of Dance

It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog post. In truth I’ve been trying to write one for weeks but inspiration has been lacking, beginning them and then throwing them in the trash. This one might end the same way...

I guess I haven’t really known what to write about. I’ve been travelling a lot and I could bore you all to death with the details of everywhere I’ve been teaching. But, while that might be of interest to some of you, I don’t want to sound like a broken record. Every trip has been fun in its own unique way; I’ve learned lots and come home happy with some money in my pocket for teaching. Not really the content of a riveting blog post is it?!

However there is something that I feel like I could share with you, readers. If you’re a long time reader of this blog you’ll have followed me with all my ups and downs. The highs and the lows of being a dancer. Injury, self loathing, choreographer’s block, mini-breakthroughs, massive breakthroughs, something that reignited the spark for why you love this so much in the first place. And you’ll have read my posts about being in a slump, for reaching the lowest points of despair of why you’re even still dancing at all. I was in this state of dislike of myself and of dance for some time, and over the past 18 months or so I have been working through it. And for a long time I’ve felt like I was over the slump – I talked to other dancers about what I should do and took their advice and thought I was over the insecurity, the overly critical voice inside my head was a little quieter than usual and therefore everything was ok again.
Photo by Florian Holbling

But, recently I realised that I’m now only just leaving the dark place. The past 6 months I’ve been emerging, and now I have finally emerged. At Tribal Umrah, on stage at the closing show, for the first time in I don’t remember how long... I enjoyed performing. My head was completely empty of thoughts on stage and I loved every second that I was up there. My piece was a new choreography that I had struggled with so much. The music I used I have had for some time, and tried to choreograph to twice before and thrown away. I choreographed my piece a little over a week before I got to Umrah, and only made the dance with the help of the Dance Spinner for inspiration. I felt like the finished article was enough of myself to be recognisably Alexis, but also pushing my own personal movement boundaries a little from what I usually create for myself. And when I stepped on the stage, my head wasn’t filled with worry, or self doubt, or even running the choreography for what came next. I just danced it and felt the power within that. I have been trying to replicate that feeling since February 2012 when I took a class with Amy Sigil and gave myself permission to dance with complete abandonment.

When I met my husband after the show, he asked me: ‘Did you enjoy it?’ When I answered ‘Yes’, he said, ‘I could tell’. Dan sees me perform a lot, and although I had convinced myself these past 6 months that I was enjoying myself when I performed, he could tell that I wasn’t quite there yet. Until Umrah. Since then I have had people coming to me at the events I have performed at telling me that there’s something different about me. That they always enjoyed seeing me perform, that I was always a good dancer when they had seen me dance... but that something was different and they couldn’t quite put their finger on it. Descriptions such as ‘more powerful’, and ‘bigger’. And I feel like they’re seeing the change that is happening in my attitude towards myself and towards my dance.

So what did change you might ask. Well.... I think there is a teacher out there that has had a really profound effect on me this year. I sought out guidance from so many teachers to help me pull myself out of this ridiculous feeling of self loathing towards my dancing. I know we all have it to an extent, and that it can help us be better, but not when it’s making you ask the question, ‘why does something I love so much make me so unhappy?’ So there is one person that I feel like they got the message through. That person is Amy Sigil. I feel like I have a lot to thank her for.

Performing ITS with Afsana in Munich.
Photo by Florian Holbling
For years I have been the girl that doesn’t like to cause a fuss. I’m totally an introvert and I’m incredibly shy. I will take a backseat because I lack confidence in my own ideas, to the point where I’ll follow someone else’s ideas even if I think they’re stupid. Not any more. At Tribal Fest, Amy taught a workshop on team spirit. She made us write on a part of our bodies (I wrote on my foot) with a Sharpie, the team quality we needed to improve in ourselves (this stayed on my foot for about a week, despite trying to scrub the writing off my foot several times!), and to high five the door on the way out, shouting out the quality. I am totally not the kind of person to feel comfortable doing that, but I did it and it felt good. And I made an effort to embody that quality (mine was communicator) more often. I did the Soul Food intensive with Mira and Zoe the following week and actually took some responsibility in group work, confidently. Back home, in one week I lost my voice, taught a workshop with no voice, presented a paper at a conference (which I felt outrageously under-prepared for, but was praised for its content) and passed my PhD viva for which the examiners told me I gave an excellent defence. I’d spent the last four years of my PhD doubting everything I thought I knew about it – when it got to the viva I was convinced I didn’t know my own work well enough to defend it adequately. In fact, I did know it. But I lacked the confidence in myself and my ability. And I feel like I’m now turning a corner with this, and giving myself the credit I deserve.

This is how ITS makes me feel.
Photo by Florian Holbling
At Umrah I completed the Level 1 & 2 ITS intensive with Amy and Kari of UNMATA. I spent up to 7 hours a day for 5 days immersed in ITS. I have fallen completely in love with this format, and a lot of that has to do with having been around Amy and Kari so much. Their energy, dedication and the way they build you up in confidence is astounding. I cried a lot that week. I cried because I was sharing this intense and beautiful and crazy five days with a group of women that all love the same thing. And when it was all over I was heartbroken that we would be leaving each other. I cried when we were all together in a huddle, staring into each others’ eyes saying ‘I’m ready’ over and over again. There were moments tears rolled down my cheeks when the two separate staggers busted out the same move in improv and it was just such a beautiful sight and feeling inside when it happened. On the last day, also being a teacher at the festival, I was obliged to go to a brunch during the lunch break. Usually at lunch I would eat a little then practice everything I’d been learning with the other girls. I was driven back to the studio – I could hear the girls in the studio screaming and laughing with the music pumping from three blocks down. And I couldn’t wait to join them – ‘Let me out of the car! I need to be with my people!’ – I ran down the street and jumped in to the stagger. In that moment I realised what I had been missing for so long – the joy of just dancing. I’m an academic, so everything gets over-analysed. And I’ve realised I need to stop over-analysing everything and just experience things. That I need to let go more, to have more confidence in and acceptance of myself and who I am, and most of all, to feel the bliss of dancing with no inner critic telling you everything you do sucks. Being critical of yourself is important so that you can improve your technique and the outcome of your training – performance – of course, but not to the point that it makes you hate yourself. That week in Marseille completely changed me as a person, just like the flick of a switch. I felt it, my husband saw it in me straight away, and other dancers – people that know me well – have seen the change in me, in such a short time. I don’t just feel motivated – it’s more than that. I’ve left other intensives feeling so motivated to work harder and be a better dancer, but it doesn’t keep momentum, because of this negative attitude I’ve been tarnishing myself with for so long. A month has now passed since the intensive and even though I’m currently nursing an injury, the feeling hasn’t left me. I hope it never does. I’m now going to focus on training my inner critic to be used to my advantage instead of as a form of abusing myself – using the analysis as a strength instead of a weakness.

Thank you Amy Sigil, for helping me to find the joy of dance again. If it weren’t for the intensive I’m not sure that I would be feeling any different than I have been feeling for the past two years now. I am completely in love with dance again – really excited about so many things that are coming up over the next few months, and excited to be starting my weekly classes again next month. Amy really has a way with words that not only make you feel better but also help you to question yourself as to why you feel the way you do and what you should be doing differently. I’m not sure exactly what happened to me in that intensive, but I’m not the person I was when I walked in there the first day. So if you get a chance to spend any length of time with Amy and the rest of the UNMATA girls, you should do it. If you can get to Hot Pot Studio, even better – you’ll feel that vibe coming at you from everyone there.

And of course, I’m totally delighted that after all the sweat and tears, I have now qualified to teach Level 1 & 2 of UNMATA’s ITS format. I’m very excited about this, and the prospect of sharing this format with dancers in my city and around the UK hopefully.

Super looking forward to the future and everything it’s going to bring my way, and most of all learning to enjoy the ride no matter what arises – process vs. outcome!

I hope you’re all making your own dance discoveries this summer and that, if nothing else, the good weather has brightened your spirits!

Until next time!

A x


  1. Very nice post! It really conveys the breakthrough, I think. Good luck with getting your classes up and running.

  2. Awesome - I totally know where you are coming from with "who does something I love so much make me so unhappy?" and it's so great to hear it from another dancer, spesh from a world-travelling intensly committed dancer like you.
    I love what you have said about Amy - it totally echoes what everyone else has said about her. She's doing and unmata level one and two certification straight after the Tribal massive next March, and I am getting more and more tempted...

  3. Such a wonderful post and I can totally identify with what you're describing. Thank you for the inspiring energy!!

  4. Thanks for the positive post. Good luck and beautiful dances.