Have you ever heard the cliché “those who can’t, teach”? The emphasis is usually on can’t… a comment on someone who lacks ability. Maybe I’m having a rose-colored moment but I think the tense is wrong. When you think about the best teachers you know, you realize that the comment is actually about someone who lacked ability. Lack-ED. Past tense. As in not anymore.
Try to explain what you actually do to make yourself walk forward. It’s not easy to break down instinct into discrete muscle movements. All great dancers instinctually know how to move to music. But, no matter how much natural talent a person has, there is always something to improve on… always something in that “can’t” column. The dancers who excel as teachers are those who have been able to pinpoint their own can’ts (“I can’t hit this hard enough”, “I can’t make this smooth enough”) and pushed themselves until they could. They don’t rest on what they were born with. They respect that improvement is always possible and anything can be improved on.
So there are great dancers and then there are great dance teachers…
And then there’s Gigi Torres.
As I learned on Friday, those in the know, know Gigi Torres. Walking into the studio, the pre-dance energy was more frenzied than usual as people were buzzing about the opportunity to attend the workshop. But, as she jumped into the room, Gigi wasted no time on accolades. After a quick greeting, she immediately started to lead about 30 dancers through stretches and sit-ups…. and that was only warm-up number 1.
For warm-up number 2, Gigi taught about fundamentals – how to breath, how to stand, how to move with purpose. She went back to basics, breaking down the discrete movements that make up a “hit”.
Sidebar: A “hit” refers to a muscle contraction which allows a particular body part to isolate itself from the rest of the body in order to connect with, or hit, a particular beat. Hip-hop 101, as defined by Jynx.
Standing just outside the studio (in the front left corner – a very different vantage point for me), I was poised to take notes. But when Gigi turned on the music to have the group practice what she preached, I realized I hadn’t written anything down. I was distracted by how the others, the dancers who already knew how to hit, were actually learning how to hit. I watched them improve the mechanics of their natural movements. This woman was molding dancers before even asking them to dance.
Moving on to choreography, I listened as Gigi talked about the 5 elements of dance. I won’t describe these elements here as I believe in credit where credit is due – if you want to know Gigi Torres’ elements of dance then you should probably ask Gigi Torres. I will, however, describe the philosophy behind those elements. In the last blog entry, I wrote about people learning to dance vs. dancing to learn. I now realize I missed one – learning to be a dancer. There’s a difference between doing something because you feel it in the moment and feeling the moment when you are doing something… the latter being the essence of the workshop. With each comment – about the vitality of breathing for learning the choreography, the important role hands play in keeping movements clean – Gigi was teaching a room full of dancers how to be dancers. I watched people stare themselves down in the mirror as they accepted the challenge of bettering their dancer selves.
As a dancer, Gigi Torres embodies her motto Inspire and Be Inspired. Her musicality is undeniable. She takes the smallest music note and, with the subtlest movement, makes a huge impact. But while her style and control are to be admired, her workshop was not so much about learning her moves. It was about learning her path to performing the moves in a better way.
At the beginning of the night, one of the E3 regulars told me that in a year from now, when I’m more confident as a dancer, I will be kicking myself for not taking the workshop when I had the chance. He was wrong…
It didn’t take a year.