Your mind plays an intense role in dance anatomy and improvement in technique. Imagining moving faster or lifting your legs higher is part of being a dancer in motion as well as understanding primary muscle movement. Visualization can also be a tool for helping you dance more effectively. How many times do you practice the act of développé? How many times do you feel gripping in the thigh and anxiety because you are unable to raise the leg higher? Imagine what it would be like to know which muscles need to contract, lengthen, and stabilize without gripping. Imagine your leg elevating higher without anxiety. This is using your mind along with physical ability.
Visualization, imagery, and mental simulation are terms used to describe creating a picture in your mind without doing the physical activity. There are many kinds of imagery, but for this text let’s focus on basic visualization skills to improve performance. You can use simple positive images and focus on maintaining a calm center to release unwanted tension. Visualize exactly what you want your body to do and keep your thoughts positive. Eric Franklin is a master at visualization; I love his term seed imagery—planting an intuitive thought and letting that image grow to increase performance. When you repeatedly train your actions (as you do in class and rehearsal), you induce physiological changes and increase accuracy. Take a little time every day to find a quiet spot, close your eyes, and just listen to yourself breathe. Now, imagine the dancer you want to be, and see yourself moving with ease. Focus on how clean your lines are. Continue to visualize how much control you have with every combination you perform. You can see it in your mind, you can hear the music playing, and you can feel your body executing the sequences with detail. Now, all you have to do is do it! Let everything else go, and focus on your technique. You are training the relationship between your mind and your muscles. They must work together to help you reach your goals.
Your state of mind will definitely influence the outcome of your work. If you prepare for a pirouette with tension in the upper body, stress about having to execute two, and anxiety about losing your balance, how on earth can you turn? Visualize beautiful multiple turns around a firm but calm center and breathe! Dance your way into the pirouette, enjoy turning, release the fear, use rhythm to help you, and turn!
Research continues to look at the proven connection between stress and injury. You seek perfection and you push yourself beyond your limits. Dance, like any other sport, requires intense levels of training and conditioning to maintain the highest level of physical performance. When you allow competition anxiety or fear of failure to overwhelm your mind, you lose the ability to cope, and you put yourself at risk of getting hurt. When you can’t maintain motivation, you create disruptions in attention, lose momentary awareness, and put yourself at risk for an acute injury. All of these stressors can also lead to hesitation, weakness in balance skills, and unwanted muscle tension.
The best dancers keep a healthy, positive conversation going within themselves to create motivation and encouragement. This inner dialogue can reduce tension and create an ease in your movement. Remember, you are building a healthy connection between mind and body. Accept yourself and love dancing—it’s that easy! Be firm and tell yourself that it’s possible. Unfortunately, you might be full of criticism and doubt; if you love to dance and want to improve, you must stop the negativity and dissatisfaction with yourself. Stay away from telling yourself you cannot do something or that some movement is too hard.
There is a distinct relationship between each exercise and the illustrations in these chapters. Throughout the exercises, visualize ease and balance in your neck as well as stability throughout your center, and allow those skills to carry over in your technique. For example, when performing the exercises for your legs, visualize ample joint mobility, not tension, in your hips. Remember to keep the images positive and brief. After practicing visualization skills during the exercises, send those brief images through your mind before classes, rehearsals, and performances. Notice how your skills improve; notice how you work more effectively with less gripping in your muscles. Keep using positive visualization skills. They are exercises of the mind and they require practice. Don’t let negative thoughts creep back in and ruin your technique. Each chapter has a section called Dance-Focused Exercise guiding you on applying these skills to the exercises in that chapter.