It seems completely obvious for a dancer to focus on movement, but I'm continually amazed by how much more I could be doing. In fact, after today's rehearsal of an Uighur dance, I began to realize how much I wasn't doing.
To approximate what my coach, a distinguished teacher from the Beijing Dance Academy, told me in Chinese:
"Without ebb and flow, there is no contrast. You merely have motion. But when you focus on the origin of the movement and you know when to be soft and when to be hard, then! Then, it becomes dance."
Another way she drove it home, after stopping me for the umpteenth time after a break in a series of turns:
"You've got the framework, but it's just the skeleton. Breathe! When you allow your body to fully live the movement, you build the flesh and blood. That's what gives life to dance."
As she spoke, her eyes softened as her entire body melted into a mesmerizing fluidity of girlish coquetry. She perfectly embodied the Uighur maiden, blushing secretly to herself at the mere thought of love.
During moments like this, I am unable to tear my eyes off of her. How do I become that movement, so full of life? I'm frustrated at my inability to sublimate the movement and simultaneously filled with complete adoration for my coach. Her body, her eyes, every little thing about her, is completely captivating.
Then the moment is broken as her eyes harden and train upon me. She's back in coach mode. "You got that?"
Quickly I nod, not quite recovered, and try again. And again, and again. We run the dance several more times, and by the end I'm so far gone I barely hold the last pose, a snap backbend. My coach is a tough trainer, but she takes pity on me at the end of the rehearsal.
"When you know the steps better, you'll get there," she said, her gaze softer. You've already improved. Be unafraid, let your body live the movement." In a split second, her eyes sharpen. "And for heaven's sake, let your neck go!"
"Yes, Teacher," I said, smiling, and do what I do at the end of every class: She dismisses me, and I bow with a hearty "Thank you, Teacher!" This formality is a given in China, and while my coach does not enforce it much here in the States I am careful to always show my respect. Her proud, lifted chin does not quite hide her satisfied smile of approval.
Back home, I move in front of the mirror or in the light reflected off a window in the evenings, trying to find, and then grow, the movements within my body. Instead of wearing them like an ill-fitting outfit, I must learn to activate them seamlessly as I tap into the appropriate state of being. Only then will I become the flesh and blood that is my dance.