More Advice for Aspiring Young Dancers
by Alisha Coon
Following our popular interview with Alisha Coon last October on her experience as a professional dancer both in Australia and in Europe, we have decided to run some further feature articles written by Alisha that shed insight into life as a career dancer and how to successfully care for a dancer’s body and mind._________________________________________________
Where do I start looking if I want to dance overseas?
How do I mentally prepare for auditions, competitions and exams?
What is it like living on the other side of the world to dance?
How can I keep my confidence up on audition tours?
What are the companies and opportunities like overseas?
These are some of the questions I am being asked now as a teacher and I feel my whole dance journey has led me to this point where I would like to share my experiences and knowledge with dancers, teachers, and parents.
I have toured the world with Sydney Dance Company, lived and danced in Europe for 7 years, I have performed with Queensland Ballet, danced on cruise ships, at corporate events, and worked with some of the world’s best choreographers. I now want to share my experiences of auditioning in Europe, working with choreographers and reveal what life is really like as a professional dancer. However, most critically, I want to emphasise the importance of not only looking after your body, but also your mind.
Since my retirement from Sydney Dance Company in 2013, I moved to Melbourne to study Dance Movement Therapy (DMT). If you haven’t heard of DMT, then you need to. It is a clinical form of psychotherapy that is used in hospitals around the world, but it also has many amazing benefits for dancers! DMT helped me transition from life as a professional dancer and really highlighted the importance of body awareness and self-care.
As a teacher, I see this more than ever. I have students as young as seven years old saying that they are too stressed to do their ballet exams … SEVEN YEARS OLD! I don’t think I even knew what the word stress meant when I was seven!
Unfortunately, I know all too well the stresses and strains we put on ourselves as dancers. After ten years as a professional dancer my body was telling me to slow down. I didn’t listen until I literally couldn’t drag myself out of bed due to pure physical and mental fatigue.
It was at this point of my life that I learnt the meaning of self-care.
Dance Movement Therapy taught me techniques to establish a strong mind/body connection. I was able to stop, breathe and start listening to what my body was telling me.
Having a strong mind/body connection is vital as a dancer:
- It increases our body awareness in order to drastically reduce the chance of injury.
- It teaches us to focus our minds to improve concentration and mindfulness.
- It allows us to tap into inner feelings and emotions to help develop artistry and self-confidence.
The easiest way to connect into our bodies is through our breath. If we take the time to listen, we can hear what our bodies need. It only takes a few minutes a day. I’d like to share a breathing exercise that I teach in my DMT workshops.
All you need is a normal drinking straw.
- Have the straw in your hand and sit cross-legged with a straight spine
- Close your eyes and start to notice how you are breathing and feeling
- Place the straw in your mouth (you can hold it in place with your hand if you need to)
- Take a normal breath in through the nose and gently blow the air out through the straw
- Repeat for 10-15 breaths (this can increase with practice)
- Keeping your eyes closed, remove the straw and notice any difference in your breathing or in the way you feel
- If at any time you feel dizzy, remove the straw and breathe normally
I find this exercise instantly calms the whole nervous system and is fantastic to do at the start of class to help focus the mind and get in touch with how the body (and mind!) are feeling that day. Please share this exercise with your students and friends.
If you have any specific questions or there is a topic you really want me to write about then message me on Facebook (Alisha Coon) and I’ll be happy to help.
Look out for my next DanceLife article that will explore what the dance companies and opportunities are like overseas for Australian dancers.
Lots of love, ALISHA xxx
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