With the ubiquity of smartphones, people don’t think twice about whipping out their phone and grabbing a video at a class or a social. But let’s remember that it hasn’t always been so easy to record yourself (or others) dancing.
When I was growing up in the ballet world, I only had a chance to see footage of myself dancing a few times a year. My dance company put on two or three productions a season and I only saw the recordings during the group viewing at the cast party or if I bought a copy of the VHS or DVD.
Nobody ever filmed classes or rehearsals, unless preparing an audition video or filming for promotional purposes.
I remember watching the videos of the performances with a sense of relief. Ok, I didn’t fall. Nice! Ok, that didn’t look too bad. Ugh, my arms looked weird there but hopefully nobody noticed.
After an initial viewing or two, I put the videos on a shelf at home and mostly forgot about them, moving on to the next thing.
Fast forward to 2018, where inevitably someone films every class, rehearsal, social and performance, often from multiple angles. Now, you can barely escape seeing videos of yourself dancing.
I have mixed feelings about this.
I remember reading a Beyoncé interview where she said she watched every single one of her shows and found ways to improve herself and her crew, the way football coaches go over plays. With the abundance and ease of taking video, we plebeians can do the same thing. Videos can show you what that the mirror does not.
But watching videos can also unleash a flood of self-criticism that isn’t always the constructive kind.
A week or two ago, my friend and I filmed a combo after class and this is more or less what went through my head when watching the playback:
Ew do my hands really look like that? They’re so stupid and tiny!
What am I doing with my face?
Why are my legs so stumpy?
I look so awkward and flat-footed.
I need to stand up straighter.
Seriously though, are my hands that tiny?
I’m quitting dance.
I had to check myself because this is how I find myself reacting to a lot of videos. It’s too easy to get on my phone, look at a video, and go through this litany. Maybe there’s one or two tangible and constructive notes in the barrage, but it’s mostly intense and mean. I wouldn’t talk like that to anybody else, so why am I talking like that to myself?
The funny thing is that if I watch the same video a few weeks, months or even years later, I don’t see all the tiny imperfections that I did before. Maybe I feel further removed from it or like it’s less personal—even though it’s still me, it’s me in the past and I can forgive the flaws and just feel grateful that I was dancing then and I’m still dancing now.
So now I’m working on watching myself dance on tape with a different attitude. I’m working on watching the video as a whole—if there are other people in it, not just zeroing in on myself, but watching the full effect. Or watching myself as a whole and not just fixating on one small detail or body part.
If I have criticism for myself, it’s something that is tangible and fixable—not just bashing the size of my hands, which alas, will not change.
“Why do my shoulders look so weird?” becomes, “Next time, let me try standing up a little straighter.”
I have to remind myself that videos are also a valuable tool to measure progress. I don’t have many videos from when I first started social dancing, but I can definitely see improvement in social dancing, performing and choreography over the last few years.
I have this pervasive sense that I “peaked” at dancing a long time ago and have been in a perpetual backslide ever since as I get older, but watching videos from over the years assures me that the opposite is true.
I’m also working on expressing more gratitude— gratitude for being able to use video as a tool for improving and remembering steps, gratitude for the opportunity to dance, gratitude that I can capture these moments and relive them whenever I want to and gratitude that I can share what I’m doing with friends and family who might not get to join in person.
And mostly I’m working on accepting imperfection. If we were all flawless dancers, where would the fun in that be? Knowing that I can always improve, that I can always learn something new keeps dance fresh and exciting. Sure, sometimes it’s frustrating or I get in a rut or I can’t stand looking at my tiny hands, but mostly accepting imperfection keeps me moving forward and keeps me curious.
What do you think? Do you go into “mean mode” when you watch a video of yourself dance or am I the only one?