“Oh my God! Is that really what I look like?” That’s what I thought the first time I saw video of myself dancing.
To be a great dancer, you have to develop a lot of skills: balance and center, rhythm and musicality, strength and stamina. One skill that often gets over looked is proprioception. Proprioception is the big fancy word that means knowing where your body is in space. If your arm is sticking out to the side, proprioception is the sense telling your brain, “My arm is sticking out to the side!”
With good proprioception, we have a much better sense of what our bodies are doing when we dance. For instance, a lot of leads let their right hands dangle like a dead fish when they dance, totally unaware of it. I, myself, am often guilty of this, and try to be hyper-vigilant about keeping the arm active. Plus, when we have a good sense of proprioception, we can more easily watch a video or another dancer and translate their movements into our own bodies.
The good news is that proprioception is something that we can improve and develop. When teaching piano, I often have my students close their eyes and imagine their eyes traveling down their arms to their finger tips to help connect their brain with the nerves in their fingers. Personally, my sense of proprioception has grown through Yoga practice, but there are many other techniques to develop it including the Alexander Technique and the Feldenkreis Method. Outside of these formal structures, it can often help us to use mirrors, to watch video of ourselves dancing, and to solicit feedback from other dancers. We can use these tools to engage our exteroceptive senses (the ones that observe the world outside us) while developing proprioception.