Monday, April 9, 2012

Random rant on being told to do it "naturally"

Possibly my biggest pet peeve in taking dance classes is when I am told to do some movement "naturally" without any additional explanation.

I am intensely awkward*. You tell me to do some shit "naturally," and I will do my best, but it will still be wrong.  

I hear instructors tell me to do something naturally, and I think to myself, "Why can't we just skip the part where you tell me to do it naturally, and I do it a way that you don't like, and go right to the part where you actually describe what you want?"

I feel stupid when this happens. The implication (or statement) is often than natural should be easy, and that most people should really just be able to do this if they try. Or if they would just be a little less uptight.  I kind of doubt that I'm the only who feels stupid and ashamed, defective, when they are unable to accomplish properly "natural" movement.  Stupid and ashamed are bad emotions to try and deal with when one is trying to learn.  They definitely don't help. 

[This post totally started as a response to some recent ideas floating around from Rebecca Brightly and Bobby White re: lindy hop as a "challenge" but then I slipped and fell into a bucket of rant. Maybe the next post will be about how I feel about lindy-hop-as-challenge. spoiler alert: yes and also no!]


*Fun bonus story: when I was a freshman in college, I lived in one of those little shoe-box dorm rooms with a random roommate.  She was openly skeptical that I could be any kind of rock climber, because I couldn't navigate flat ground indoors without tripping over my own feet.   


  1. I read the same articles you mentioned, and we might not be talking about the exact same thing but I do share a frustration with people who tell me that I just have to loosen up and dance naturally. It's exasperating and I quickly become defensively confrontational when told this. I feel like there is an implied accusation of stupidity when someone says this to another dancer, i.e. "oh the answer to all your dance problems is so simple and you must be an idiot not to realize it." Or at least that's how I feel when it is said to me.

    Yes, I am excruciatingly aware that a huge part of my problem is the uptight nature of my dancing. No, it doesn't help me to say "oh you just have to groove out and dance." If I could "just do" that do you think I would still be struggling with this issue like a moron?

    1. Yeah, I will repeat something here that I said in response to a comment on Rebecca Brightly's page: it's nice that "natural" movement comes naturally to some people, but to a lot of people it doesn't. The good news is that grace can be learned.

      I don't find it helpful to be told that something should be easy when it is actually hard, either. I think this is kind of an unacknowledged element in a lot of lindy hop classes.

      But as far as tension/uptightness inhibiting your dancing, I think I do understand what you mean. It's something I've been working on consciously for a year and a half or so, but again, the good news is that individual feedback helps enormously. I had to have somebody hold my hand and be like "this muscle... not that muscle" ect. Before I could even really start working on it.

  2. Or, perhaps the instructors have realized that some people have to deal with their core movement their own way rather than being nitpicked with technique advice.

    Also, think for a bit... if you are getting a lot of instructors telling you to "dance naturally" perhaps it is your problem and not theirs? I see lots of rants on your blog, and it seems you are hyper defensive and combative. Perhaps chill out, and "just have fun".

    1. hahaha. Indeed. More having fun should be had by all.

      I think the phrase "dance naturally" is a linguistic crutch. (I feel the same way about "keep your arm connected to your body" which, in a literal sense, is always true.) And I hear it said in group classes all the time. I admit I have a bit of learned fear of the phrase after having ventured to try to move "naturally" and been mocked or snapped at for the result more than once. But I think good teachers have more than one way to explain things.

      As far as the rantiness goes.... that's why this is a blog. Easily ignored, rants safely contained off the dance floor. But apparently somebody linked one of my other ranty posts on facebook this morning? (which I can tell from the traffic stats, but I don't know where). But to be fair, if you take a look around, the blog is mostly trip reports and (I think) thoughtful essays.

      But in the end, I still feel like, this is just my blog. I'm not any kind of pro or otherwise significant figure in the dance scene, so there's not really any reason you should care what I say if you don't like the content. And, in all sincerity, if you do read stuff here that makes you not want to dance with me and I should ever ask you, please feel free to decline. I think everyone should dance with who they want, and then all dances will be the best possible ones.

  3. Oh, this whole 'just do it naturally' thing is so stupid. Yes, we do want to aim for 'natural' movement, but most of us lindy hoppers have no clue how to move naturally because we spend so much time on our arses!
    I think it's far more useful for teachers to find exercises, models and metaphors which use familiar movements (eg walking, running, jumping, etc) and kind of sneakily trick students into moving naturally. To bee honest, 90% of dance classes are about teaching people how to use their bodies, and how to unlearn a lifetime of weirdo sedentary living, where movement is so constrained by life style (not to mention culture) it's utterly 'unnatural'.

    Fuck, I've just painted myself into a corner, haven't I? Natural movement: you do not exist!

    Much more usefully, if your students are laughing and having fun, they relax, they stop freaking out about their bodies and they DO move naturally!

  4. Hah! I know this is old but I just saw it, and I totally agree. What I've noticed is that instructors will say things like "the pulse naturally happens when you do charleston."


    The pulse naturally happens when you do charleston well. When you aren't used to it and you're struggling to make your legs move and keep your balance, not having a pulse is natural. If you don't believe me, just watch beginners do it.

    So really I think it's useful to say "the pulse will happen more readily once you get familiar with the movement," but to say "it happens naturally" is false, and an insult to everyone for whom this isn't true.

  5. I think this is a flaw in the world of the-best-dancers-become-instructors...because I know very few instructors who are really great teachers or are trained in dance teaching.

    But there is some truth to it. As an example, I'll use the oft-discussed swivels: I see so many people trying for a swivel that is specific to a particular dancer and I wish they would just work with their natural stance. Meaning, I have a very wide swivel from years of ballet training and lose hips, but others may have smaller swivels. When I see someone working with their natural stance to create a natural swivel, it is ALWAYS more beautiful that someone attempting to swivel in a specific way.

    Does that make sense?

    But I think you have a very good point and that instructors should consider this point. Most of us are attempting a dance that does not come naturally and takes a lot of work. Perhaps other language would be more helpful.

    Also, I believe that rants have a purpose. Aside from this being your blog, I think we should stop trying to force people to be positive for no reason. I think you have a right to voice your frustrations and a discerning ear might gain insight from your voicing of your frustrations.

  6. Incidentally...It bugs me when experienced dancers act as though they were never awkward or don't remember it. So, I've said this before and I just want to say it again : I've been dancing for over 15 years now...longer than anyone else I've ever met, including the celebrity instructors (excluding Nina, I believe)...and it took me YEARS to sort many things out, and I am NOT even remotely an experienced lead.

    I am serious, it took me YEARS.

    I am trained in ballet, and learning to trust was HUGE in my dancing, so I was blamed of the mythical "back-leading" often. I learned in a cliquey scene full of not-nice people who were often rude to me because of my beginner status. I've been surrounded by people who act like lindy hop is SO EASY and being a beginner who doesn't pick everything up right away just makes me STUPID.

    It was social pressure as well as insecurities and personal limitations that took me YEARS to overcome. I have only felt 100% comfortable for the last five years, and a lot of that is my refusal to be told what to do...which means I piss off a lot of leads.

    I just want to put that out there, because I don't hear it said a lot. And I believe that all you beginners who really want to improve will reach a point of comfort and ease. It might take a while, but I know you can do it!

    (And I am impressed with your growth as a dancer, Christina.)