Dancers are an interesting sub-species. Observing dance students in their natural habitat (the studio) reveals that they tend to revel in their strengths and dwell heavily on their weaknesses. Dancers maintain a detailed mental list of their shortcomings as they wistfully pine for the “natural” abilities of another. Meanwhile, a dancer will redundantly practice the things he/she is already good at. For example, those with high degrees of muscle elasticity can always be found stretching at every opportunity, quick and powerful movers constantly hone their ability to explode into a leap at any given moment, and “turners” spin like a top in a quest to eek out just one more revolution in their pirouette. When searching for the Achilles Heel of most any dance student, simply look to the skill which he or she most regularly avoids.
Mastering Strengths and Overcoming Weaknesses
In my opening I am gently mocking what I’ve witnessed both in the dance studio and even within myself at times. However, despite the tendencies of a dancer, there are dance students that manage to master their strengths and overcome substantial weaknesses in their desire to improve. TapDanceMan includes the focus on developing strengths and improving upon weaknesses as one of his 10 Habits of Highly Effective Dancers. And, he’s absolutely correct. A dancer’s ability to spend more time and effort on areas that are lacking than on the things that give the ego a little boost, separates him/her from the crowd. That doesn’t mean the dancer necessarily reduces time spent on strengths, just that he/she puts in extra time on the weaknesses instead of avoiding them. It’s hard to do this, to face our weaknesses head on and diligently overcome them while still keeping our edge on the things that come more naturally. But, there’s no way around it either. If you are aware of something that you’d like to improve, you can expect to get acquainted with TEDD in order to correct it: time, effort, desire, and diligence.
Transforming Weaknesses into Strengths
Some weaknesses can be turned into strengths. For example, in an article describing the success of the musical Chicago, Nancy Cameron muses on Bob Fosse’s highly stylized choreography, stating,
“He took all of his bad habits and utilized them to his advantage. He didn’t have great placement. For instance, he didn’t have clean use of his arms, so he’d detract from that by wearing gloves. He didn’t have a strong turn-out in his legs, so he’d turn-in instead.
“He transformed all of his habits, even the way he walked. You know how Fosse dancers tend to lean back, with their tail tucked under – that’s supposedly how he walked. And I’m not quite sure, but I think maybe he didn’t have a particularly good hairline, and that’s why he always wore a hat.”
Not everyone will have the success of Bob Fosse, however, James Robey at DanceArt.com does a great job of pointing out that within Fosse’s story there is a lesson to be learned on being yourself. This is not to say that you should stop working on the things that are problematic for you (remember, solid technique is important in preventing injury), only that you can learn to accept your quirks or the things you can’t change because they can actually help set you apart.
Learning from Others
It is dangerous to constantly compare yourself to others, however, a lot can be learned from observing the strengths and weaknesses of fellow dancers. If someone is doing something well, try to assess what they are doing that you are not. Try not to focus on what they’ve got that you don’t. Instead analyze their actions – for example, adding strong dynamics to the movement, sharply spotting turns, executing a deep plié before a jump, etc. Study the weaknesses of others in the same objective manner, making sure that you do not repeat their mistakes. Dancers that watch closely whenever they are not dancing during class will absorb and apply the corrections given, leading to noticeable improvement.
In the Zone
Often dancers must leave their comfort zones to recognize or address their strengths and weaknesses. It can take an awkward audition to realize that perhaps you need to work on your speed in picking up new choreography, for example. Likewise, you may not recognize your particular ability to connect with the music until a stranger in a master class mentions it. New discoveries can be made when you dare to push yourself into uncomfortable territory in class (going for that quadruple pirouette or letting go emotionally in a new combination, for example). In all of these situations, you may risk exposing a weakness, but recognition is the first step in improving or transforming that weakness. Plus, the risk is worth it if you discover a hidden strength.
There are rarely quick fixes in dance and a smart and effective dancer knows this. Dancers often hit plateaus in their development before their next “growth spurt” (physically and mentally). If you’ve been working hard on something and feel like you’re stuck, read The Dance Primer’s account of how sometimes weaknesses can suddenly become strengths if you don’t give up. And speaking of not giving up, I’ve written a page that offers encouragement to those who are struggling: I Can’t encourages dancers to accept challenges in a positive manner and serves as a reminder that every dancer has strengths and every dancer has weaknesses.