When I first returned to university for art school, I signed up for a ballet and modern dance class to ensure I’d get my dance and fitness fix during the semester ahead.
On the first day of class, the instructor introduced herself, and said, “Dance is my life.” She went on to explain that while she didn’t expect *us* to live with dance at the center of our lives, we should understand her worldview as she taught the course.
“Dance is my life.” That simple statement really affected me as a would-be art student. What does it mean to place your creative expression at the gravitational center of your daily life?
As creative artists, dancers lead very short professional lives. While some few manage to perform for 20 years or transition to choreography, most dancers retire after about 10 years onstage and pursue work as dance teachers or in other fields. As a result, a dancer leads a tightly concentrated existence, one designed to maximize their physical ability and creative artistry.
We artists with longer creative lifespans can learn a lot from the way dancers focus their daily lives around their creative practice.
What are some of the habits and attitudes we can learn from dancers?
- Your body is your instrument. Take care of it as the powerful tool it is. Despite media reports about eating disorders or worse, most dancers actually take very good care of their bodies. Malnutrition, lack of sleep or drug abuse only leads to injury, and no dancer can afford to be sidelined for a season. Eating right, getting a good night’s sleep and staying fit will also increase your endurance and energy in the painting studio.
- Block out time for your art and during studio time focus only on your art.
Dancers arrange their daily schedule in chunks of 60 or 90 minutes, the length of a class or rehearsal. During class, they focus on nothing but the technique or choreography that they are working on at that moment. The annoyances of daily life stay outside the studio doors until rehearsal’s over, then they go make that phone call or run errands on their break. Multi-tasking just makes you frazzled and unable to concentrate on the details of your work.
- Take time out to rest and recover.
Monday is traditionally “dark night” in the theater world, where dancers take a day off from performing 8 shows a week. It’s the day they’ll book a massage or chiropodist visit, take a private class, go for a swim or a sauna, maybe listen to a new musical score. Dancers use their day off to rejuvenate their creative energy, not just run errands or catch up on housework. Why not give it a try?
- Dance for fun.
Dancers LOVE to dance! They watch cheesy dance movies like “Black Swan.” They listen to new kinds of music to discover potential scores for their next choreography. They enjoy going to discos and busting a move. They fill their free time with all manner of things related to their central passion. Try going on sketch crawls, reading artist bios, joining non-artist friends at a paint your own ceramics party. Make art into your entertainment.
And finally, the most important thing that dancers do:
- Take class every day.
Every working dancer in the world shows up at class first thing in the morning, every morning of their life. For a dancer, class is the source of fitness and technical control, the place to learn and improve their art, the connection to their body and creative minds. It is the core of their creative existence. Keeping a daily sketchbook gives us artists that same chance to learn and improve our craft. Draw and observe the world every single day.
Art is my life. What can you do today to make that come true?