New Irish Dance Choreography: Comparing Myself to... Myself

Article featured in Diddlyi Magazine.
10.22.09

I’ve never been the quickest at picking up brand new steps. Yes I can master steps as good as anyone and perform them well before a judge or on stage when I have them down, but I don’t always get them down as fast as I’d like to. I admit over time it has gotten easier. In fact every time Tina Shelley gives us new choreography I find it easier to pick up than the last time, but I still have to watch the other dancers nail the movements down before I do.

When I first started dancing Irish I thought I wasn’t doing as well as the others. I thought I was the only one not picking up the new steps. It was very hard to deal with. I would try to do the choreography with everyone else at my level, but lose my train of thought, have to stop and wait at the back of the studio while the other dancers seemed to easily master a sequence of steps only learned two minutes ago. I felt like I wasn’t as good of a dancer because of the trouble I had, until a few months went by.

The opposite thing started happening. I would be the one doing the steps perfectly while some of the others had to stop and start over. I was amazed and just thought I was having a better day, until I realized I wasn’t any less of a dancer than the others at all. What I was struggling with had nothing to do with my ability to dance. All it meant is I need a bit more time to remember the steps than the others do, and on top of that I realized that once I mastered the sequence, I didn’t forget it while some of the other dancers did. They would easily pick up steps in less than five minutes, but after a month forget what they’d learned and have to start all over again.

When I realized this, it was such a relief. I realized that I’d prefer taking my time to learn new steps and only have to master my dances once, always executing them correctly, rather than the other way around. I suppose my point in saying all this is that every dancer has their strengths and weaknesses. It’s very important to never compare yourself to other dancers. Mainly because when we compare ourselves to others, we tend to compare our weaknesses to other dancer’s strengths.

Of course, at a Feis or Oireachtas you are definitely being compared to other dancers, that’s a given, but it’s not something you need to bother thinking about. That’s what judicators are for. Comparisons help you to advance, but the comparisons you make should only be comparing yourself now, to yourself before. For example, I do pick up dances much more quickly than I used to, so I have advanced in that skill. If I were to compare myself to the other dancers who are learning the new steps with me, I’d only get down on myself since I still pick up new steps slower than most other championship dancers at my school. That gets me nowhere.

Since the whole point in learning new steps is to improve myself, I’ve learned to only compare my dancing to how I used to dance, and therefore continually move forward. Keeping this positive thinking in mind, learning new choreography has become exciting and fun, where it used to be frustrating. Now I just laugh at my clumsy attempts to master a new move I can’t do yet. It can be quite hilarious and I never like to miss a good laugh.

TAGS: choreography, comparison, competition, dance, dancer, feis, Hathaway, Irish, Irish Dance, judge, judicator, new, Oireachtas, positive, Shelley school, Shelly, step, strength, Tina, weakness

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