Have you ever had a good idea, with no clue where it came from? How about a new cooking recipe, a more efficient way to work – or a great piece of choreography? If we trace it back, we ultimately find that our creativity seems to come from nowhere at all. And the more you think about the process, the harder it is to be creative! No, you’re not ‘born’ with this ability, you develop it, through circumstances where you have to act, faster than you have time to think about it. Enter social ballroom dancing.
The reason why the ‘social’ aspect of dancing is so important is because it requires you to not know what the dance is going to look like until you dance it – the dance is improvised. By contrast, competitive dances usually follow a set routine, and the creative muscle is only exercised if something unexpected happens – like another couple crashes into you. Whether competitive or social however, two critical elements are required to unlock your creative potential: Training and Presence.
How do improvisational actors manage to come up with such great stories? Answer: They cheat. No, they don’t secretly rehearse scripts beforehand, but they study and practice the principles of improv. For example, you will never hear an improv actor say ‘no’ in response to a suggestion made by their partner, because to do so negates that suggestion and blocks the creative flow. It’s akin to ‘backleading’ in dancing, which usually arises from a desire to stay ‘safe’. As with improv, practicing dance techniques – as well as social dancing itself – builds muscle memory so even when disaster strikes, you can trust your honed instincts to carry you through.
Training your creative instincts only helps if you know how to tap into them when necessary. To keep them at the ready, you need presence, which I’m defining here as simply being focused on the present moment, without thought. This means we trust our muscle memory and our subconscious understanding of the dance, which can size up and react to a situation literally thousands of times faster than your conscious mind ever could. Furthermore, it’s the closest we can ever come to true ‘multi-tasking’, engaging both brain and body in multiple ways to create a complete picture.
What’s your natural focus?
When developing any creative skill, both training and presence are absolutely essential. Everybody tends to naturally rely more on one over the other, becoming either ‘thinkers’ or ‘feelers’ respectively. We’ll delve deeper into this in a future article, but to summarize:
‘Thinkers’ – You put absolute faith in the power of your mind. You love to analyze the details, but can easily get lost in the minutiae and forget to trust what feels comfortable. Spend more time getting in touch with your body, through meditation and freestyle dancing, checking in with yourself to learn what feels good for your body.
‘Feelers’ – You’re very intuitive, and emotional. Bringing ‘life’ to the dance floor is easy for you, but you tend to hate structure. Practice your technique more, putting a greater focus on moving with your partner. There is still plenty of room to ‘play’ with the music and your body’s natural shapes, but remember it must come from a solid foundation to avoid becoming messy.
By tapping into your inner thinker and feeler, you will be able to create dances (or other works of art), that are not only look amazing, but feel great as well. Good luck!