I’m reminded of a blog post that I read from a well-respected dancer, who made the statement that students of dance often make the mistake that their teachers are also their career counselors, marriage and family counselors or life coaches. At the time I thought what a really healthy way to distinguish my boundaries as an instructor. I’m thinking of this post as I reflect on the many times that I’ve observed student’s anxiety interfering with their growth as a dancer. Whether it is the physical consequences of prolonged stress and anxiety that are displaying themselves in her body habits and posture which limit their ability to reap the sheer pleasure of movements in class, or it’s the emotional consequences that have robbed her of any joy, and have only fueled self despair or loathing at her inability to “get it”. So as the years go by, I’m finding this really isn’t working for me. It’s not a very organic or holistic approach to teaching. As some of my students are staying with me for years and yes some decades, I feel like I’m not being a good teacher, (and that gives me anxiety)! if it’s not addressed. Like the police officer whose empathy was captured on video this week giving the barefoot, homeless man a pair of boots. I can’t continue to stand by and witness so much struggle without offering a hand. Anxiety makes everything harder! Ever try to parallel park, when the car behind you is beeping their horn at you, radio’s a blaring, you’re late to an appointment…you get my drift. I’m not talking about that feeling of excitement pre performance that can fuel your dance, or the anticipation of an upcoming event…well maybe I am!! It’s essentially the same thing, except in a tiny way…..those feelings haven’t physically hijacked your body! You are able to use that experience to your advantage. When I say hijacked, I mean that the feelings you have, have stimulated an onslaught of body responses that can sabotage (physically and emotionally) any attempts you might make at engaging or completing a task that you set out to do. I think the problem might lie, that we are all coming from a place of low-level anxiety, that we never give “it”/ us an opportunity to shut down. So it is easily ignited into a state of “fight or flight” or “my emotions got the best of me” state. It’s well documented what anxiety can do initially and what happens to our bodies when it is a chronic state. Increased blood pressure, shallow respiration, increased muscle tension, increase in cortisol, poor concentration etc. occurs immediately, in the long-term it contributes to heart disease and cancer. This statement is so broad, it’s almost misleading and dismissive, I don’t want to list all the ways it can display itself…stress/anxiety can be observed in every cell of our beings. If you think of the science of it…every cell…yea it can be seen by a microscope…No wonder it can affect you so profoundly! In the dance studio, anxiety reveals itself in the frustration you might feel, because you are unable to release the muscle habits and body responses that are a result of a chronic anxiety or stress or of profound concentration. Those body responses and habituations that interfere with a centered, balanced, responsive dancer body. Unlikely, that the anxiety exists only in your head, left unchecked, it will reveal itself in some physical way. It’s the body’s way. So, if you haven’t developed a practice of mindfulness along with your other dance practices, consider it. A practice that combines a mindful breath to keep you centered emotionally can lead to a physical equanimity. A practice of self-examination and observation from the inside out, free from the burden of a critical judgment, can release you from your angst and quiet those inner voices. Taking this practice of observation, free from harshness, clearing out your emotional debris, can free you up for the physical challenges of dance. Starting you on the path of allowing your body to be more aligned with the forces of gravity. So start with your breath, keep yourself connected to your breath… Middendorf or holotropic breath work deeply explore the breath, and are intense studies of their own. Yoga integrates breath with movement. Simple mindful, deep abdominal breathing, is a practice you can put in your pocket and go! My ideal practice combines a lot of those elements. It connects me to my spine, my diaphragm, pelvic floor….my inner vessel. Where my movements originate from. A breath that elongates my spine with inhalation….an exhalation whose destination is my belly and pelvis, reminding me of my base of gravity, initiating the strength of my pelvic floor. A breath that allows me to expand my rib cage without disturbing my upper torso stability…unless I want it to….only if I want to send the pulse of the movement there…in all directions without excessive muscle tension and keep my connection to my inner vessel. A breath that allows my clavicles to broaden, and scapula to slide down to my waist, softening my neck muscles along with it. A breath that allows my sacrum to sink with heaviness towards my heels and the earth. A breath that releases excessive muscular activity in my legs, calves and feet. A breath that allows me to receive the force of the earth up through my arches into my leg bones, relying on their density to support my vessel as it transmits that energy into my pelvis and torso, where my strength emanates from. Here are a couple of links to get you started on the fundamentals of breathing.