Finding your 'why'
This sentence made the way we could think about careers in dance, change.
‘What if being a dance artist was a way of life? What if it is about your attitude towards life, your point of view that makes you a dance artist, rather than being focussed on your portfolio?’
It is from our dance training that means we can have these conversations. This space holds more than just a conversation - it is an act of dance in itself.
I met Charlotte Jones when we were selected to be part of Performing Gender scheme at Yorkshire Dance [https://yorkshiredance.com/news/performing-gender-ten-dancers/]. Our paths crossed again a year later when we began to teach together at a specialist school in Leeds in association with Yorkshire Dance. She is passionate about inclusive practice within the dance sector, body mind movement, and overall well being. She is interested in finding the connections between dance, wellbeing and movement and shares this through her dance and yoga teaching practices.I was really interested to talk to Charlotte about finding her way into the wellbeing industry, working with a yoga practice and how that intertwines with her dance work.
I asked Charlotte the following questions:
Your social media platforms are inspiring and you regularly share tips for how to release tension, unwind and look after ourselves. How did you become interested in wellbeing practices and advocating for looking after our bodies?
I started my dance training with a real desire to perform but experienced quite a few injuries throughout training. I then became interested in initiating conversation around injuries in dance and how to navigate that. I spent a lot of time at the injury clinic that was available whilst training, and my teachers - Fabiano Culora and Jennifer Lynn Crawford, introduced me to practices such as Body Mind Centring and Somatics. Initially, this practice for me was about physical and emotional recovery.
It became apparent that conversations and practices around physical and mental wellbeing weren’t often there - unless you really needed it. At the time, it was incredibly frustrating and emotionally exhausting to not have these conversations and physical practices inside the dance studio. These practices tended to be something that you explored outside the technique class - in a seperate room with a different teacher. Integrating this learning into a technique practice was a new concept for me to explore and experience. This fuelled an interest in inclusive practice. I was curious to learn more, not only what this might mean when in training, but how this manifests itself outside of training. (I’m hesitant to call post- graduate life the ‘real world’. Training is part of the ‘real world’ too. I’m not sure who needs to hear that, but realising this helped me to let go of the fear of graduating / leaving education).
I now see inclusive practice as an essential part of personal/ professional life - it is something that I am continuing to learn more about and integrate into my teaching practices.
During my time in training, I was learning how to modify dance technique to support my physical body - and how to feel comfortable, confident and find value in doing so. I was navigating through a lot of internal conflict around my sense of worth in putting these modifications in place. I documented this emotional and physical journey in a blog, I'll leave the link below for those who’d like some further reading.
My first experience of a fully inclusive dance class was with Raised dance collective at Yorkshire Dance. I reached out to a member of staff via email to ask if I could join in the class and was then able to attend. I furthered my knowledge by undertaking inclusive CPD (Continuing Professional Development) training with Stopgap Dance Company and TTI (Teacher Training Intensive) with Candoco.
What did you learn by making modifications for yourself in a dance class whilst being injured? I learnt that you’re no less of a dancer if you make different choices to those who are in the room with you. Dance is about the experience and finding new experiences through dance. It became about remembering why we dance, we dance because it’s fun. Something that was really empowering was making modifications without needing permission. We don’t need to ask for approval to look after our own bodies. It becomes about making a microshift in how we view dancing bodies. Can we view modifications and different dancing bodies with just as much importance to one another?
It’s interesting isn’t it, because we are encouraged to make modifications if necessary in yoga practices and in fitness workouts yet dance still falls under a greater ideal.
Contemporary dance can feel as if it is about that sometimes, about reaching an ideal, being aesthetically pleasing, achieving expectations… we need to remember the importance of nourishment and strength, of joy and fun. These expectations in dance training link to other areas of human culture, it’s about our nine to five, working six days a week, aiming for the perfect family, the perfect holidays, the perfect job, we are trying to do it all.
It’s about having to do the work so women in industry are able to work with children, to normalise family life being unpredictable and how that can disrupt your working flow. It’s about normalising rest.
Let’s talk about rest.
When I was training, very few people told me it was okay to rest. I want to be able to continue to pass on this information and realisation of mine - particularly to the dancing community. It is okay to rest. So often we are told to do more, because that is what the generations before us did. Just because it’s what happened then, doesn’t mean it’s what has to happen now. Everything is different now, everything is changing. But, we know that it makes sense, this go-go-go attitude. There is a societal fear that if people allow themselves to rest, they might not get up again. They might not operate at the same productivity levels as they did before.
Finding your place and your niche in any industry or in your own personal life, comes down to finding your why. For Charlotte, she tells me that her why is a passion for working with children. She explains the magic she feels when she is in a room with lots of little smiling faces and because this core value is so important, it becomes transferable. If she needs to pick up some more work, she turns to babysitting or childcare, because she still gets to work with children. So, how do we find our why?
I think finding your why is a lifelong question, where the answer is constantly changing, shifting and moulding around unexpected or planned life events. I think there is something quite freeing in knowing that your why is not a singular, fixed thing. Asking yourself why? takes a lot of courage. It means letting go of your, and other people's expectations of yourself. It means having trust and confidence in finding and following your own path. It can be scary and is often full of surprises. Putting in this time, energy, thought and emotion into asking yourself why can be so fulfilling. It means that you can continue to make choices based on your true sense of self. You can find or create work that you know will nourish you.
Let’s also be real. I think it’s a *little unrealistic to presume that you can be living your *perfect life with your *perfect job with that *perfect salary 100% of the time. But, knowing your why means you can work around life’s reality and continue to work towards yourself. For me, an example is dancing with children - and all the magic that comes with that. When the ‘dance work’ isn't there, I know that jobs revolving around child care will continue to inspire my why. In doing this, I remember that we all have a different why. We all have different reasons for our path in life, we all have different aspirations and dreams, and we all have different reasons why ‘5,6,7,8’ is rooted somewhere deep within us.
Often, from a young age, we are taught that being a professional dancer means being up on stage with a performance career. My personal experience, even now, is that older relatives continue to ask me how the dancing is going - meaning when did I last perform and when is the next show. We are all continuing to navigate ourselves on an ever evolving path of learning, questioning, and reflecting on what a dance career could/should look like. Let’s acknowledge that explaining why you’re not performing on stage to others, (even in the light of COVID19), is both physically and emotionally draining. I’d like to add that justifying yourself and your decisions to others is not essential. You don’t have to do this.
I wish that someone had said to me that it’s okay to take some time away from dancing. It’s okay to find another means of happiness and earning a salary for a little or a long while. It’s okay to take a break - a holiday or some time abroad doing something that doesn't involve a tendu. For me, taking this time outside a studio took, and continues to take, a lot of trust. You need to trust that your body remembers. Trust that dance is rooted within you - ready for you to dip in and out of. Put your trust in time. Know that there is no ‘right way’ to live your life. Know that we are all searching for our own answers.
We are all here, on this journey, together.
Check out Charlotte's blog documenting her time in training and her journey through injury recovery: https://nscdstudentblog.wordpress.com/2016/03/25/i-would-like-to-share-my-story-with-you-by-charlotte-jones-bpa2/
Follow Charlotte over on Instagram at @amalamovement. You can also subscribe to Amala Movement Youtube Channel for free weekly yoga classes, as well as joining the Amala Movement Community over on Facebook.