The Power of the Mind

9:00 AM

Margot Fonteyn danced for a good long time before quitting dance, and returning to it ten years later. Her technique was drastically improved.

In a medical study a few years ago, one group of men did bicep curls, while the other group watched themselves doing bicep curls from a video they had recorded the week prior, and at the end of the week, the group sitting in chairs watching videos had gained more muscle mass.

Recent successful cancer treatments have consisted of visualizing the cancer dying.

Our minds are much more powerful than we realize. Enrico Cecchetti once said “The limbs are servants of the mind.” Sometimes dancers forget that more of our dancing is done in our heads than is done with our bodies—and that’s saying something, considering how hard we work!

Try this: Close your eyes. Visualize yourself doing a simple step, like a tendu or a port de bras. In your mind’s eye, you can probably do it perfectly. But if you were to visualize yourself doing pirouettes, or an illusion, or an attitude turn, it’s totally different. It’ll be fuzzy, or you may, in your head, be doing it wrong. You might fall, hop travel across the floor, or make any variety of mistakes—in your head.

And I promise, until you can do it perfectly in your head, you won’t do it perfectly with your body.

Visualization is a bizarre phenomenon that essentially sends messages from your brain to your body. Your body will do exactly what your brain tells it to whether it’s correct technique or not.

I’ve also personally experienced the wonder of visualization. I quit ballet when I was seventeen, and took a two-and-a-half year break (though I thought it was permanent). In my head, I never stopped dancing. I’d started ballet when I was thirteen, and since the beginning, I’d closed my tendus with a bent leg. I physically could not close a tendu without bending my knee. After two years of imagining myself at back at the ballet barre, when I did finally go back, my tendus were perfect.

So the next time you just can’t get that step, try these helpful hints:
  • Watch someone else do it perfectly—either in class or online. Visualize that it’s you.
  • Before class, or before you go to bed, or when you wake up, practice it in your head.
  • Mark the dance with your eyes closed, imagining what it should look like. In your mind, correct any falters.
For more information about visualization, techniques, and imagery, check out Eric Franklin’s books “Dance Imagery for Technique and Performance,” and “Dynamic Alignment through Imagery.”

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