The Millennial PhD: Creative Survival at Work & Beyond

Ep 20. 5 Life Skills I Learnd As A Dancer

April 06, 2022 Carmela Season 2 Episode 20
The Millennial PhD: Creative Survival at Work & Beyond
Ep 20. 5 Life Skills I Learnd As A Dancer
Show Notes Transcript

This week's solo episode explores the amazing life skills I picked up over a decade as a professional dancer AND how they apply to your next creative venture. Don't sleep on the capacity the arts have to teach us soft and hard skills in life that can help us navigate these bumps and bruises! Enjoy!

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Speaker 1 (00:09):

Welcome to the millennial PhD, a podcast about creative survival and beyond. My name is Dr. Carmela Muzio Dormani and I'm a sociologist, dancer and creative consultant from New York. In these episodes, you'll find inspiration, ideas, and actionable tips for building new pathways forward in work and life. You'll hear from artists, activists, creative entrepreneurs, PhDs, and professional pivoters. We talk about radical humanity and practical steps to follow your dreams, even in the context of challenging social conditions. Before we jump into today's episode, a quick reminder to follow the millennial PhD on Instagram. And to please take a minute to rate and a review the millennial PhD on Apple podcasts. Your rating really helps the show reach as many listeners as possible. You can learn more about me and get access to free creative resources on the millennial PhD Instagram page, I hope you enjoyed the episode. 

Welcome back to the millennial PhD. This is your host, me, and this week I'm doing an episode on a topic that I have wanted to cover for probably a couple of years, either in writing or as we're doing now in a podcast episode. And that is five life skills I learned as a dancer and how they can apply to your next creative project. So, the reason I want needed to do this for a long time is because, uh, over the last 10 years of my journey as a professional dancer, I've learned a lot of skills in terms of dance and performance, of course, but also a lot of things that I came to realize were really applicable to other areas of life, everyday life, relationships, just moving through the world, and also professional life. So for me, these were things that I picked up as a dancer that helped me get through my academic journey, for example, or, and have helped me as I've been launching a, a new business. 

Um, and we don't always necessarily think about the power and the utility of the skills that we gain in the arts and in recreation. So I wanna talk about them today, and again, not just to go through them and, and talk about them because they're enjoyable, but because I really feel like these are things that when we think about them and keep them in mind, they can be useful to us moving forward as we launch new creative projects, uh, and, and, you know, travel down whatever paths we may be looking at going forward. So if you're brand new, uh, just a quick introduction. I'm a sociologist. I'm a, I teach sociology. I'm a professor, um, at Mercy College in New York. I'm also a writer and a creative consultant. And as I just mentioned a moment ago, I spent the last eight to 10 years or so becoming a professional dancer and specifically a professional salsa dancer. 

Most, um, mostly. So this is where the, the particular lessons are coming from. And again, I really feel like they are applicable in a bunch of different areas. So I'll jump right into it because these solo episodes are a little bit more bite sized. They're meant to be a little bit shorter every other week. Again, if you're new, every other week, we have interviews with amazing creatives, performers, dancers, former academics, lots of folks who are just doing amazing work out in the world, entrepreneurs. And on the other weeks we have these mini bite-sized episodes that are just me talking through some of the useful concepts and, and knowledge that I picked up over the last 10 years as a sociologist and as a dancer. So let's talk through it. The first, uh, kind of life skill that I, that I really picked up over the years as a dancer is to breathe and relax. 

Okay? And this may sound like extremely obvious, obviously we have to breathe, Um, but it was something that as a dancer, it take, it took a little bit of skills building to realize that pacing oneself to get through a certain type of movement was really essential. And also relaxing into that movement is a form of giving yourself permission to, to ex to fully experience that movement, and also to give yourself permission to have confidence that your body's gonna do what you're asking it to do. Okay? And it's really tempting, and a lot of, I, I've done a lot of teaching over the years, um, of, of new, as newer dancers move into the space. And this is something that is really challenging for a lot of people. Just to, to build that faith and to build that confidence in yourself and in your body, that your body's gonna listen to you, and that it's gonna translate out what you need. 

And one of the things we can tend to do in dance is tense up, uh, or fight our way through the movement. I've definitely struggled with that. I continue to, to work on, on doing that. And the most essential thing that I have been able to build as a practice is really to be able to kind of radically relax into movement. And to do that, it really needs to be a practice of breathing, trusting your breath, trusting your body to get through a routine. If it's a really strenuous routine, trusting your breath to hold you down if you are very nervous, which happens a lot. It happens as a performer. It even happens if you're not performing. If you're just social dancing as we do in the Latin social dance scene, this can be something that there's eyes on you, there's eyes on us all the time now on social media, out on the dance floor, whatever. 

So breathing through rehearsal, breathing through a performance, breathing through social dance is so essential. And it's something that is not just for performing, because it's also for if you feel like you're going through a rehearsal and the movement is hard and you're tired and you know, you're two hours in, and also you worked all day or whatever the case may be, breathing through that and giving yourself permission to relax into the movement has been everything. And it's really, you know, the number one most essential thing to kind of continue to build skills as a dancer. So what does this have to do with life, right? I think the correlation here is pretty, pretty straightforward. In the same way that there's this temptation to tense up and force our, our way through movement. If you're a dancer, or even if you're not, I'm sure that this can resonate in the same way that the tendency is to maybe kind of tense up and fight through it, which is something I've struggled with in terms of movement in dance. 

We can also see the way that there's a tendency as we go through the bumps and bruises of life to kind of tense up and hustle through it, tense up and bite through it. And I'm not gonna knock that because sometimes it's, it's what we need to do to get through a given situation, obviously. But at the same time, when we're talking about day-to-day ups and downs, and just living in our joy and living in our practices and weathering the inevitable ups and downs that are gonna come at us, um, in our day-to-day lives, breathing through it and trusting in a certain process to, to get yourself through those days has been really essential. And jumping into something like, a lot of folks who listen to this are jumping into entrepreneurship or are pursuing a creative field, or are pursuing entertainment, or are thinking about leaving academia, and those are some very stressful high stakes and independently driven PR practices. 

So that reminder to breathe through it and to trust your body has been really powerful for me in changing the way that I relate to the world around me. And I'm not sure I would've picked up that skill if it weren't for how important it became for me as a dancer to learn how to really, realistically, and comfortably, comfortably execute movement. Okay? We want ease, we want comfort, and we wanna reduce stress. And this is so essential. Breathing, relaxing into the movement, whether that be as a dancer or your day-to-day life. Number two of life skills that I learned as a dancer that you can apply to your next creative project is to rely on your teammates. Okay? And this may be counterintuitive, um, and it does kind of fly in the base of my next point, but that's okay. One of the things that's really wonderful for me, I dance on a team. 

Um, I dance, uh, you know, with nine times outta 10 with partners and teammates. So because we do partner work, it's very much about a give and take and a flow. We have a lead and follow, um, in Latin dance that is really critical to executing this fast, clean, powerful social dance movements, whether performing or just, you know, dancing for fun. And then also for me, I prefer to perform with a team rather than some people perform solos, which is also great, even if you are doing a solo, you still have some teammates up there, because if you're performing a solo, you have an audience and you have folks cheering you on. So there's that as well. But the reason I say this is because it can really build your confidence to know that you're stepping onto a stage or stepping into a new project or a new endeavor with some folks that are gonna pick you up if you fall down, if something was wrong, if you know you're not on point that day, that folks are gonna pick you up and it can really pull you down if that feeling is not there, right? 

So if you're stepping on stage with a team that doesn't feel like it has that connection, and it has not had that community building experience built into it as a dancer or in life, if you're stepping out into something, you're not feeling like you, you have the connections that you would wanna have, this can be a challenge. And that doesn't mean it's something to stop you in your tracks. If you're starting a new project and you don't feel like your community is there to support you in the way that you need them, there are other ways to find that, right? And it's not ideal, right? Or it may not feel ideal. I think it, it can be fine and it can be great. Um, but if you feel like right now the community is not there for you and you don't have the teammates that are gonna pick you up, if you fall down and on the days that it gets really rough, then there's options to kind of build that community, right? 

Look for folks who are doing the type of work that you're trying to do. Look for folks who are making the type of impact that you're trying to make. Hire a coach if you can, if that's within your means, if it's not, use the free resources that a lot of coaches put post up, um, because those are available to you as well. Um, network on social media. I have a whole episode about different ways of kind of getting started and connecting with people. And I'm not saying that it's so easy, but I am saying that building a community of folks who are invested in and interested in what you're doing, even if they don't even know you that well, can make all the difference. Because stepping onto the stage, knowing that you are in this together can, can be, you know, a, a really powerful experience. 

So that's my my number two, Rely on your teammates. Build a team, invest in community building. If you have a team, uh, moving forward, you know, with the project and you're trying to build collaborators, make sure that you invest in those community building processes and pick each other up. And that means you have to be there for other folks as well, right? It's not a one way street. And number three, the life skills that I learned as a dancer would be to paradoxically from the last one. Take your journey into your own hands. And this is a, this is the big one, that's why I put it in the middle. Um, and this can be a, a challenging mental adjustment. It can be challenging to execute in real life, but nobody cares. Um, in the sense, I'm not trying to say nobody cares, uh, because, because of course they do, but at the same time, everybody is worried and thinking about their own journey and their communities and their families. 

And if you want to build a certain journey as a dancer or in terms of building your next creative project, that has to be something that you champion. I just recently had the opportunity to take a intensive with Gaylen Hooks, who is a very well known professional dancer. For those of you who are not familiar, you can look her up on Instagram. You can see this Galen Hooks method workshops that she puts on, which I would highly recommend checking out if it's within your, within your, um, resources at the moment. And her, one of her big sayings that she says is Cap, Be the captain of your own ship, which is another articulation of this similar idea of kind of if this, you're trying to build something as a dancer, If you're trying to get to the next level in terms of your technique or performance, or if you are trying to go into entertainment or get booked for certain types of gigs, then you need to be the one steering that because nobody else is gonna do it for you and also to your life. 

And it's your body, especially with dance, because it's, it is so physical. So as much as I believe in building community and relying on community and picking each other up, not dragging each other down, I do also believe that if you wanna build something for yourself as a dancer, then you gotta build it for yourself. And it took me years to come to this, probably, um, still arriving at it after the last 10 years. And some people have that orientation, that mental orientation, really young. So you'll see really focused answers at 18, 19 years old, just doing their thing, who understand that intuitively or have been taught it. And that's wonderful. For me, it took 10 or 12 years, and it's something I'm really just arriving at going into my early thirties. And that being said, it's also something that carries over so tremendously. It carried over into my work as an academic, but also very slowly for me to put that 10 year journey to understand this. 

And it carries over into the idea of launching a creative business and entrepreneurship and building the life that you wanna see for yourself. And ultimately, when I think about for myself, I also think about for my communities, my family, and the communities that I'm deeply embedded in. So take your journey in your hands as Galen Hooks would say, Be the captain of your own ship, however you wanna articulate it, whatever the articulation looks like for you. Get in the, get behind the steering wheel in whatever ways you can. And a lot of that is usually a men, it's usually about mental work, and it's usually about a mental shift. And maybe it means finding somebody to be an accountability partner with you or to accompany you through this journey, but ultimately you've got a vision what you wanna see happen, and then embody that vision and embody the joy that comes along with that vision. 

So number four, move on. Number four of life skills I learned as a dancer that can apply to your next creative project is going back to what I mentioned about the fact that I, I usually perform with a team. One of the things that I learned over time as an individual dancer who danced with a team that has a coach or a director, is that the coach or the director is thinking about the big picture and they're thinking about everybody where everybody fits in, and the individual dancer, the individual's thinking about their spot, what's their position gonna be? What is their skill level like, can they get the choreography? What's their show? Good? And this is something that anyone who's been in sports or dance at a really high level and danced with the team or worked with the team in some way or another, probably knows. 

Um, but it's, it is a really critical kind of mental adjustment to hold your head and to think about maybe even the fact, depending on what kind of creative project you're involved in or what where you're at in terms of work or your art right now, Are you the coach right now or are you the individual dancer? And it's okay to if, if in whatever you're in right now, you're the individual dancer and you're thinking about yourself in your journey, just also be aware that if you're part of a collaborative project or a community and there's a coach or a director, or you're also supposed to be collectively running something together, there's a big picture there. Um, and then of course, if you are the coach, the director, or if you're launching a new business, or if you're starting a new creative project and you're trying to bring your vision to fruition, you, that's you, you're <laugh>, you're, you're focused on the big picture. 

And it's okay to understand that sometimes other folks who are involved might be thinking a little bit more about themselves and might be thinking about their individual journey. So you're not gonna have the same exact orientation toward a project if you are in the position of directing or being a coach or having that big picture vision versus, um, someone who's, who's focused on their own journey. So this has been something that I've also been able to bring over into other areas of life in both positions. And just understanding that, for example, when a student reaches out to me and says something that seems like wildly inappropriate <laugh> or just like, um, you know, explain this already in class, or something that's like, it's on the syllabus or whatever the thing may be, that is not necessarily because they're trying to be to, to, um, disrespect your time, for example. 

It's just that they're thinking about their journey and they may not necessarily be realizing that you're thinking about a full picture thing and there's a hundred other students. Okay? So that's just in terms of teaching. And the same thing goes forward with projects. I've heard a lot of folks over the years that start initiatives or start projects and feel either, either sometimes hurt or confused by maybe a lack of support that they thought that they would get more support or, um, just feel like things are not coming to fruition or people are not coming through, through for them in the way that they had hoped that they would. And this is something that I think can be mediated a little bit by just keeping in mind the different roles that we play in different projects. Okay? Number five, the final one for five life skills that I learned as a dancer is everything is temporary and nothing can happen on stage that can't be fixed. 

So if you have performed, if you've been on a team, even if you've played sports, or even if you, if you're an academic lecturer and you've had to get up to, you know, do a do a lesson that you were not a hundred percent prepared for, you may have experienced nerves, right? Anyone who has ever been through an academic job interview for sure has really probably any type of interview. We know that nerves can be really powerful. I know that performing as a dancer, this was something that those moments before you get on stage, they're the most intense moments of nervousness and sometimes trepidation for getting up, and the fear is something's gonna go wrong. But one of the things that I've learned over the years as a dancer, and that's so important, if you're gonna get up and put yourself out there over and over again, whether it be through dance or public speaking, or any other project, or even on social media, whatever it may be, when once you're gonna put your authentic self out into the world, that that nervousness is there. 

And the only way to manage that is to understand that you can't control those moments completely. You did the prep work, you did the rehearsing. If you were a dancer, you spent the hours learning the routine, you tried to teach your body the movement that you were hoping that it would make, and then when you step out on that stage, you're gonna do your best, but you don't have full control over it because stuff can happen. You can trip on your costume, I've tripped on my costume and falling down, you can, you know, just slip a little bit or, or just not have a great, a great show. Things can be a little bit off. They can feel funny. The spins don't come out right. Whatever it may be, this stuff happens. But if you go in there expecting a disaster and under, I'm feeling like if a disaster happens, that's it, You're stuck, then that's, you know, it's a, a, an even more paralyzing feeling. 

One of the things that a coach of mine has said many times, and that I came to embody and really pull into myself as well, is the idea that, okay, so if something goes wrong, if you fall down or the move doesn't come out right, or the music turns off, or your costume rips or whatever happens, then in the next moment you fix that, right? You get back up, you cover up, you finish the, the routine without the music, and it's fine. Sometimes people even love it. And this is something that I remind myself of anytime I'm sitting down to do almost anything that has a lot of pressure associated with it. So an interview or speaking or anything where I'm putting myself out there, like, I'm gonna throw it at the wall and if something goes wrong, I'll fix it or I'll do what I can following that, you know, we can't control everything. 

And this is something that obviously in life, there are things that are awful that happen to us that we go through, and they're part of the ups and downs of being human and moving through the world. And at the same time, trying to control the outcomes of our day to day lives can only cause more stress and tension and grief. So if you're gonna start a new project, or if you're gonna put yourself out there and try to pursue the dream career or the dream practice or the dream life that you wanted, or if you're gonna pursue entertainment or leave academia to look for greener pastures, it's very scary. It's nerve wracking about how's it gonna come out? The fear is there, and you hear this a lot, so reorienting that fear away from what if I fail? Or what if something goes wrong toward what, how, you know, what, you know, what if I, what if I'm successful can be really helpful and it maybe is a little corny, but it also is really helpful. 

And if something goes wrong, I'm gonna be okay. I'm gonna gonna pick up and move on to the next thing. I'm gonna pull the pieces together. If I post something that's embarrassing, then I'm gonna keep it moving and, and post something better the next time. If I start a business, nobody cares. But if it feels like it doesn't go where I wanted it to, I can adjust from there. And we can't control every single thing, but we can continue to keep moving forward. So that would be my final piece of, of kind of life skill advice that I picked up as a dancer, and again, that I apply to almost every area of my life and can be carried with you into your new creative project launch. So I hope that these have been been interesting and helpful. Life as a dancer is wonderful. It's bizarre. 

My backwards <laugh>, it's achy, but it's a really beautiful existence. And so much of the wisdom that is carried in those spaces, those movement spaces, those physical movement spaces can help carry us through the ups and downs and the waves of life as well. So I hope you enjoyed this. Next week we'll be back to an interview based episode, and I would love to hear from you all. The info is in the soundtrack at the end of this episode. Feel free to connect with me at Mela uio on Instagram. That's where I'm most active. It's M E L A M U Z I O. And please don't forget to rate and review the podcast on Apple Podcast or Spotify, wherever you're listening, and we'll see you next time. That's it for this week's episode of the Millennial PhD. You can find more content, resources, and information on Instagram at the millennial PhD in this collective moment of reevaluating our relationships with work and exploitation. I look forward to connecting with you and building stronger bonds of community and collaboration. I would love to hear from you via email at the millennial with any feedback, comments, questions, or concerns, or if you're interested in coming on the show as a guest. That's all for now. It's been real. See you next time.