“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” ― Oscar Wilde
“I want freedom for the full expression of my personality.” – Mahatma Gandhi
It is true of any competitive environment that, the higher up the chain you look, the less variety you see among competitors. And that’s so in WCS as well. Although the dance appeals to people for the range of personal expression and creativity that it allows I find that I see “more of the same” in the higher competitive levels. The greatest variety and creativity (for worse AND for better!) can be seen on the social floor and also among Novice dancers.
The Pros perhaps have more leeway to be very individual; yet, even among the Pros I see the followers come to look more and more like each other – with similar hair styles, clothing, earrings and even breasts!
At various points in my progression through the competitive ranks in WCS I have had to ask myself who I want to be and which direction I want to go with the dance. My choice has always ended up being that I want to be ME. That sounds noble but it’s not really – I fight the pressure (real or perceived) to be “like” the “It Girls” who always seem to make finals and be seen. It takes a thick skin and independent spirit to hold on to yourself when it often feels like the rewards go to “those who conform best.”
I am interested in acquiring knowledge and skills from a variety of different pros, yet I don’t want to dance like any one of them. I appreciate many other followers but often remind myself that I’m not her, or her, or her. When you dance with me, you get me.
When I take a lesson with a Pro, it’s to learn how they approach specific things that I feel they are good at and that I am needing an opinion or help with, and partly to be knowledgeable about a variety of approaches to the dance so that I can better guide my own students. But if you take a lesson with me, you get me.
Very often, students come for lessons wanting to “look like” something they see a lot of or like another dancer, whether or not their own bodies are capable of it; whether or not their personalities suit it. My approach is to help students to be the best that THEY can be – to move the best (i.e. efficient, fluid, balanced, grounded, connected) that they can. I watch the individual’s natural/instinctive movement behaviour and work with that to bring out the things that seem natural to them and to make those “signatures” in their own dancing. We also encourage the use of video by our students – watch yourself and develop the elements you like to see and work on changing those you don’t.
For me, dancing is first and foremost about personal expression. I know it’s not about that for everyone, particularly in a competitive context, but for me that that is what’s interesting and rewarding. When I think back over my WCS dancing experiences, I don’t remember the wins and I don’t analyze judges’ scores. In fact, once a competition is over it’s gone from my mind very quickly. What I do remember, and cherish, are the moments when someone has approached me to give me a compliment – to tell me that they enjoyed watching me or that a performance I gave touched them or inspired them.
If your goal is to “look like so-and-so” or “do it like so-and-so”, then you should take lessons with so-and-so to learn their philosophies, techniques and trade secrets. It’s likely that you will learn something useful from every good teacher. But I would like to encourage you to develop the essence of YOU. Any creative pursuit is an opportunity to awaken an authentic element of yourself, to explore it, to play with it and present it. I hope all of my students will feel inspired to be THEIR best and nothing less.