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For Starters #8: Turning wiggles into dancing

By Jess Williamson, November 6 2023—

Dance is one of the only activities that bridge the divide between sports and arts. With countless genres spanning from ballet to hip hop, dance is also one of the most accessible forms of exercise, requiring just music and your body. However, when social media is heavily concentrated on videos of five-year-olds who can turn with their legs behind their heads, it is easy to be intimidated away from trying it out. As a dancer at the University of Calgary Dance Company, I have compiled a list of tips from both myself and my teammates to share with aspiring dancers.

Move your body daily

A big part of dancing is being in touch with your body to feel the movement. When getting comfortable with moving in ways that you’re not used to, you just have to be uncomfortable for the first little bit. It is important to do frequent stretching, and even more important to just put on some music and move your body. It doesn’t have to be good; it doesn’t even have to be “dancing”, it is just to make you understand how your body works. This will make it easier to learn new techniques since you have created the connections with your limbs.

Take a beginner’s class

There are plenty of options for beginner drop-in classes throughout Calgary. Many dancers suggest checking out Decidedly Jazz Danceworks which is a professional company located on 12th Ave SE. They teach many different styles for all levels, with more than 50 classes running per week, so there is something for everyone. And remember that everyone else in the beginner class is also anxious about trying something new, so no one is going to pay attention to what you’re doing. It even helps to go with a friend who is also new to dancing. Things always seem a little less embarrassing when there’s someone to laugh with.

Don’t compare yourself to what you see on social media

As mentioned previously, the content we see on our phones can make us feel like dancing is out of reach, but it is important to remember that you don’t know the journeys that those people have taken to be where they are. Many professional dancers train for more than 20 hours a week, so it would be unreasonable to expect yourself to be at that level right away. Besides, there is so much more to the dancer than tricks.

Strength training

Although professional dancers make their movements look soft and elegant, there is a lot of strength required to move with such grace. Flexibility aids in a lot of movements, but there is no point in being flexible if you cannot control your limbs in all ranges of motion. Practicing your movements will build muscle, but aiding your dancing with lifts or other strengthening exercises will make your dance progress that much quicker. And it is absolutely essential to strengthen that core. With all the direction changes, balances jumps and turns, you need the stability to keep yourself upright, so get to planking.

Put yourself out there

The best way to gain confidence in your dancing is to, yet again, get comfortable with being uncomfortable. I know, it seems like everything about dance is uncomfortable, but now we’re talking about social discomfort. I don’t mean that you have to dance in front of an auditorium or perform on live television, but start by putting yourself forward in your classes. Stand in the front of the class; it seems scary that everyone behind you can see what you’re doing, but you’ll have the best view of the teachers and likely more space. This will get you accustomed to not being stuck in the crowd. And when you’re feeling safe in one style, try another one. Growth only comes from discomfort, so see what other kinds of movement you can learn.

Focus on the art of it

Dance as art can evoke all sorts of emotions, and when you tap into what the music and movement make you feel, it takes away the seriousness that makes dance seem uptight. The art of expression is what makes dance unique to any other sport, and by embracing your creative side, you may move in ways that feel better than other forms of cardio. There are plenty of movies and TV shows that depict dance as tense and stressful (Abby Lee Miller, I’m looking at you) but it’s really not that serious. 

There is no need to rush technical progress, as long as you feel safe and expressed by what you’re doing, your enjoyment is all that matters. So get the music going and let’s see those wiggles.

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