Joy of dancing


Imperfect but full of joy—that’s us, the Crows Feet Dance Collective. Forty women, average age 55, range 39–76, skilled and unskilled.

Last weekend we performed at the Tempo Dance Fest at Q Theatre in Auckland. If you are a New Zealander, you’ll understand that performing in our biggest city was rather an intimidating prospect for a community collective —and thrilling. But the organisation was excellent, the theatre a friendly space, and the audiences warm and enthusiastic. We had a marvellous time.

Read the review if you’d like to know more about our show.
Read Dr Hanna on the fascinating effects of dancing on the brain — an excerpt follows.

And go find a chance to dance if you can. Trust me, it’s never too late; for example, I joined the Crows at 66, ten years ago, and while I’m no star and I often stumble, I manage very well indeed. Enough to get the joy of dancing, and that magic performance buzz, and a cluster of truly remarkable friends.

Dancing is a language, another way of writing into life

A language is a method of conveying complex ideas and emotions. It has representations of information, and rules for how the representations can be combined. As a means of conveying ideas and emotions, with or without recourse to sound, dance language draws upon similar places and thought processes in the brain as verbal language. Dance, like verbal language, has vocabulary (locomotion and gestures in dance), grammar or syntax (rules for putting the vocabulary together and justifying how one movement can fol­low another), and semantics (meaning). Verbal language strings together sequences of words, and dance strings together sequences of movement to make phrases and sentences. Meaning may be story-telling or abstract, playing with form or chance.

Judith Lynne Hanna, PhD, is the author of “Learning to Dance: The Brain’s Cognition, Emotion, and Movement” Judith Lynne Hanna, PhD.

Dancing friends: a few of the Crows Feet Dance Collective 2016

Dancing with aphantasia


Right, in half an hour I’m off to the Crows Feet Dance Collective dress rehearsal for our new show, Hakari. And because I finally grasp the fact that I have Aphantasia, I will be dancing with some new insights into how I learn the necessary choreography compared with how others learn.

At last I understand why I’m the one who needs the following aids to learning.

  • I take videos of each dance for learning purposes
  • I keep a notebook
  • I make little diagrams of our placement on the floor at the start of each movement
  • I create little stories to remember the order of things (don’t ask — they are crazy)
  • I give labels to movements or poses (tai chi, swish, tiptoes, Peter Pan, tootsies, windmill, Krishna and so forth)
  • I silently recite little mantras like 1, 2, skippity hop.

When I rehearse a dance in my head, I feel it in my body.

And all this is not because at 76 I’m the oldest dancer on the floor. It’s because I cannot picture the dance in my mind’s eye.  I can feel with my mind’s body. And I can hear the accompanying music in my mind’s ear. But I cannot see it with my non-existent mind’s eye.

Clever little brain, ay? Who else do you know with this fun condition?

Crows Feet Dance Collective on Facebook



Jo-joy of dancing: how to dance better


This week, I discovered something wonderful: the simple act of smiling can make a difficult learning task easy and fun.

The Crows Feet Dance Collective is at that scary moment, ten days before the first performance of a new show. Our sub-group is a wee bit fraught as we struggle to clean up technique on two new dances, both of which are difficult in their way. Secretly we fear that the show cannot possibly be ready for opening night. OK, that’s normal and it happens every year.

Anyway, at Sunday rehearsal I looked around and saw many anxious faces. That seemed reasonable: most of us are not able to smile on stage until we have mastered the choreography. It is surely false to smile when you feel as if you are bumbling around, that you’ll let the side down, that you’ll never get it right.

Or is it?

A Jo epiphany: if you love dancing, show it!

Then I thought about Jo, a star of our group and a dear friend, our lovely Jo who had just left town to live in another city. Jo is charismatic on stage: you can’t take your eyes off her. This is partly because of her beauty and grace, but also because a transcendent joy of dancing shines out of her face.

Then I thought, Rachel, you love dancing too. That’s why you’re here! Why not show your delight instead of exuding strain and effort? You have plenty to smile about. If messing up on stage is your worst worry, you are living the dream.

So I decided to smile. I began to smile on purpose. And immediately, two marvellous things happened.

Marvellous thing #1: joy squashes worry

I felt the muscles of my face come alive. (Perhaps they were dancing.) I felt the joy of dancing rush back into me. I truly truly enjoyed every minute of the next rehearsal. Faith, hope and charity returned. Charity? I felt my smile was a gesture of loving kindness towards myself. I forgive myself for bumbles and failings — let them go! If I’m dancing and doing my best, that’s enough.

I did expect this when I turned on the smile: that kind of effect is pretty well documented. But I did not anticipate the next marvellous thing.

Marvellous thing #2: joy improves technique

Who knew? At last night’s rehearsal I made fewer mistakes. I recovered faster than usual when I did make a mistake. I absorbed corrections faster too: I made nice progress with some tricky bits.

Of course I don’t know the reason but I can guess. I didn’t waste energy straining or beating myself up. I remembered why I was dancing: not because I want to be a prima ballerina but because I love it. And so I had a happy evening with my friends.

I’m learning two lessons again. Smiling heals, if you can do it. Dancing heals, if you let it.

When we perform, I’ll be the one spaced out on the joy of the dance. If I get out of step or do an involuntary solo, I’ll forgive myself and I hope you will too.


Photo of rehearsal by Crows Feet Dance Collective
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