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Emotions & the Body – Part 2: Don’t fear feelings – express them!

In Part 1 we talked about the connection between emotions and the body and how vital emotional awareness is in developing so many of the aspects that make up stunning dancers. If you missed it, go check it out here now before you read this post.

Part 2 is about what holds us back from using our emotions to their fullest in our dancing and how to get over that all too common feeling of being emotionally “stuck”.

For many dancers, feelings are a bit of an awkward thing.

You might not have thought about it much, but have you ever:

• Been asked to portray a character and the suddenly gone all shy?
• Been hurt by something a teacher said to you, but wouldn’t let yourself show it?
• Pushed through an injury, just hoping it’ll go away?
• Struggled to motivate yourself when you’re in a bad mood?
• Forgotten your steps when you got nervous?

All of these (really common!) experiences are signs that you probably don’t feel very comfortable with your feelings. And you might be tuning out from them right when you need them the most.

So why is it that dancers are uncomfortable with their feelings if dance really is all about emotions in motion?

Part of it has to do with the way we train dancers to leave emotions until last, but barriers also come up inside dancers that hold them back from being expressive. Lots of dancers think:

• I’ll look full of myself if I dance with confidence
• I’m too busy trying hard to let go and “feel”
• If I put myself out there people might not like it and I’ll be gutted

What it comes down to is essentially fear: fear of feelings.

[pullquote position=”right”]Dancers resist showing feelings in their dancing because they are afraid of being judged and rejected by others watching them.[/pullquote]

Feelings reveal some of the deepest parts of a person, so dancing authentically, and expressing genuine emotions with your motions puts you in a very vulnerable place. You are literally putting your heart on the line.

This is what makes dance so beautiful, compelling and moving to watch.

But it requires emotional strength and resilience in dancers to really give of themselves authentically.

If you dance with honesty and someone criticizes your work, it seems as though they are criticizing YOU as a person. As we talked about in Part 1, the studio environment needs to be a safe space for dancers to practice expressing themselves authentically, without fear of judgement.

Because, it is not so much the feelings they are expressing, whether that’s confidence, joy, or some character role, that dancers are afraid of.

What holds dancers back from expressing themselves freely is the fear of being judged, rejected, belitted, embarrassed, ashamed etc. when they are seen being expressive.

But the strategy of avoiding genuine expression in order to avoid being judged doesn’t solve the real problem. Feelings are meant to be expressed through movement (remember “emovere”, the word emotion literally means to move!).

If you avoid expressing feelings when you dance and just focus on your technique or improvement, you end up feeling STUCK in your body. You’ll get more easily frustrated with yourself, you’ll hold extra tension, you’ll find it harder and harder to let go.

So, what are dancers to do?

Get Unstuck

When you feel stuck in your dancing, in your body, in your progress, ask yourself:

• Is there something that I am I avoiding? What could it be?
• Why am I avoiding it? What am I afraid of?
• Where do I notice that feeling in my body? What does it need?
• How can I dance it out or express it healthily?

Honesty is the best policy

Being authentic is always the best option. All you can do is be true to yourself and give of yourself generously, because that’s who you are, and that’s what you’re here to do as a dancer.

If others don’t like your performance, or judge you for it – that’s their issue. Of course it affects you, but you can’t control how other people will respond. Some people will love your work, others won’t.

That’s out of your hands.

What you are in control of is yourself: how you express yourself, how honest you are in your work, how you acknowledge your disappointment when someone doesn’t appreciate your dancing and allow yourself to move on.

You will find your place in the dance world best by being true to yourself.

Know that emotions pass. They resolve.

You don’t need to fear emotions because they come and go and change. all. the. time.

Even the hardest and most painful emotions do pass. And the best way to enable them to pass is to acknowledge them and express them honestly.

Its only when we stuff down our emotions and try to avoid them that they stick around so much longer and come out in the cracks in all the wrong ways.

Trust me, I’m a counselor.

I’ve sat with people during panic attacks, going through grief & loss and all sorts of other issues that bring up lots of strong, painful emotions, and I can tell you, all feelings pass, even the painful ones.

Emotions come and go. Don’t be afraid.

Listen to your feelings

Your feelings are very important because they help you know what you need.

• If you’re feeling shy, you may need some encouragement
• If you’re feeling sad, you may need some comfort
• If you’re feeling nervous, you may need some reassurance
• If you’re feeling angry, upset or frustrated you may need to let off some steam –     and what better way to do that than by using your body and dancing it out!

Express your feelings

Don’t fear feelings, express them!

I often get the students in my contemporary dance class to improvise, starting by closing their eyes, noticing how they’re feeling in their bodies, then dancing it out. At the end, they close their eyes again and notice how they feel. They almost always feel different, usually more at peace, more balanced, more alive, more energized.

Expressing your feelings will add a thrilling new dimension to your dancing and make your movements far more meaningful than if you just “put on” expression as an add-on, or copy other dancers’ expressive mannerisms.

Expressing your feelings takes courage, it takes you being bold enough to be YOU.

But it is so worth it.

So, I have a challenge for you with this post. I want to see you put these thoughts into actual practice in your dancing… don’t fear feelings – express them!


I invite you to use the hashtag #dontfearfeelings and share a photo or a short video of you dancing from the heart with us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

There’s no prizes. In my eyes, taking the courage to dance with genuine expression, already makes you a winner! And, there’s no judgement here 😉
So show us you #dontfearfeelings! Express them instead!

Looking forward to watching you shine!

🙂 Philippa

photo credit: conservatoire de danse (license)

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