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When in Doubt, Dance!

 

These days, I feel like I’m stressed out constantly. Owning a business is no joke—I always feel like I’m several weeks behind on my to-do list. I feel like I can’t keep up with the demands of running my business and having any semblance of a normal/healthy life. I have a Clif bar for half of my meals every week. When I sleep, it’s fitful and I wake up multiple times during the night or early in the morning and just think about things. All the things I should be doing. All the marketing, all the promoting, all the bookkeeping, all the cleaning, all the staffing, all the scheduling, all the administration…the list goes on and on and on and it never seems to stop.

 I own a dance studio, so you’d think I would be using dance as my release, as my therapy constantly, but since I spend so much time either thinking about dance or teaching it or trying to promote it, lately I haven’t actually wanted to dance outside of work. The joy and the magic of dance has honestly been a little lost to me. Which is kind of depressing.

 But I’ve been rekindling my love and dance, thanks to a simple message inscribed on a bench.

 I’ve always loved this unassuming wooden bench in my hometown that says

“Arden Crandall Flagg

When In Doubt, Dance!”

When I was home fleeing a hurricane a few weeks ago, I walked down to this bench.I just sat for at least half an hour, watching sailboats glide across the water and joggers with strollers and dogs pound past me. I was close to tears, feeling overwhelmed. Luckily, the hurricane hadn’t caused any damage to my business, but I was struggling. Struggling because I didn’t want to leave home to go back to it all. I didn’t want to face reality. I didn’t want to face responsibility. I didn’t want to go back to that feeling—that feeling that I wasn’t doing enough, that if I didn’t go, go, go constantly, the entire operation would fall on my head like a house of cards.

I was planning to go to take class with my old ballet teacher, one of my favorite women and mentors, but I didn’t feel like I could. I melted down, sobbing. I was too fat to go to a ballet class, too out of shape. I didn’t dance anymore, not like that. I didn’t even like dancing anymore.

I couldn’t see any way out of my terrible mood, even though I was sitting on a bench that had the answer. When I got home, I was preparing to sit on the couch and skip the ballet class, to continue wallowing in my self-inflicted misery. My mom looked at me and pointed out what should have been obvious.

“You love to dance, go to the class.”

So I went. And it turns out, I’m not too fat to go to ballet. I wasn’t so terribly out of shape that I couldn’t keep up.

And even if any of those things were true, they didn’t matter. My teacher was thrilled to see me and so were the ladies and gentleman in the class. I enjoyed seeing them, my old adult ballet crew and the teacher who had inspired me the most when I was a vulnerable teenager. I enjoyed an hour and a half where I didn’t fret about my business. Didn’t think about the money I had lost or could lose because of the hurricane. Didn’t think about how I didn’t measure up to my idea of what a business owner looked like. I just enjoyed moving. I enjoyed the music. I even enjoyed wearing a leotard.

Since I’ve been back in the grind post-hurricane, I’ve been repeating and living by that simple mantra—“When in doubt, dance.”  I dance in my kitchen. I’ve stayed at the studio after class and moved just to move. I’ve been getting my butt out of bed earlier than I want to and going to ballet classes. I had an absolute blast at a regional dance event, when lately going to a big event has felt like work. I started a dance party at my friends wedding.  

I still feel uncertain…owning a business is an exercise in constantly battling with and eventually accepting uncertainty. Is there more I could be doing? Absolutely. Am I where I want to be in my business? Definitely not.

But I feel grateful that I’ve rediscovered an important lesson: To not let the fear and uncertainty consume me. And when it does get to the point where I want to throw the towel in, instead of collapsing on the couch and binge watching Netflix to chase out those feelings, I’m remembering my mantra…

When in doubt, dance!

Do you live by this mantra? Does dance help you feel less uncertain when life gets too much? Do you ever feel like dance is too much? Is a chore, an obligation? Do you have another dance mantra by which to live and dance? Comment below!

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Dancing to the Beat of Your Own Clave: Loving YOUR Dance Style

Photo courtesy of Matthew Hale, check him out at  halemd.smugmug.com

Photo courtesy of Matthew Hale, check him out at halemd.smugmug.com

         I was recently added to a group of people who consider themselves the “underdogs” of Salsa congresses…the people who work hard, leave it all on stage, but don’t get the recognition that the big name national and international artists receive. We are the people who aren’t Youtube sensations, who aren’t getting paid top dollar to travel the world, teaching our special brand of Pachanga Footwork or Sensual Bachata dips.

            I used to think that’s what I was supposed to want if I went pro in the Salsa world…a pair of Burju shoes named after me, a million views on my Youtube videos, adoration at every congress for my gymnastics/Salsa routines.

            But then I realized that was someone else’s dream, not mine. I can’t stand wearing lycra, full body sequins, and false eyelashes. I have no interest in my routines looking like everyone else’s, following the formula of spin, spin, spin, spin, flip, dip, crazy shine, crazy turn combo, repeat, lift, aaaaand finish. I don’t even really like wearing high heel dance shoes anymore.

            One of the taglines of my first dance company, Baila ConmiGA, was “I Like My Own Style.” It’s taken me a while to embrace this idea…I have always been self-conscious about the way I dance, because my lifelong ballet training makes me look more like a ballerina than a salsera on the floor. I can turn well, but I don’t have Afro-Cuban body isolations or hip movements for days.  I have short hair and can’t do all the sexy hair-whipping that so many salsa dancers pull off so well.  

            If I really wanted to, I could probably learn and practice enough to look more like a “Salsa dancer.” But I don’t.  I love my choreography, movement style, costume and music choices precisely because they are so different. I take all of my dance and life experiences and put them together to truly express myself, whether I’m social dancing or performing.

            Whenever I’m teaching, I stress the importance of developing your own style. We all have different body architectures, and therefore, every step is going to look different on every person. No two people are going to turn exactly the same or have arm styling that looks exactly the same. And that’s the beauty of dance.

            Every time you step on the dance floor, you have a chance to express and assert your personality. You have a chance to show the world who you really are—where you’ve been, who you’ve loved, who you’ve lost, what you stand for in life.  I love the quote from Mikhail Baryshnikov “When a body moves, it is the most revealing thing. Dance for a minute, and I’ll tell you who you are.”

            When you’re trying to copy someone else or look exactly like this star or that one, it shows. It looks inauthentic, disingenuous. Be yourself on the dance floor, and that’s when you’ll really shine. When people will take notice. When you’ll feel happier and more confident. It may take time to develop your style, you may have to try out several and find the one that works best for you. You may take a piece here and there, a move from this workshop, a step from that video.

            But at the end of the day, you’ll know that you’re dancing as yourself. You’ll have made your own formula, a special blend that only you can dance.

            So perhaps I am an underdog in the sense that there’s not a line of people waiting to dance with me or I don’t get thunderous applause for a performance, but I dance MY way and am able to express myself and get other people to do the same, so somehow, I feel like I’m coming out on top.   

One of my favorite pieces I've choreographed/performed. Borrowing elements of Salsa, Ballet, Contemporary, hip-hop, and Afro-Cuban to tell a story. 

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