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Reba Perez
Lets Dance

Using Creative Visualizations in Dance

by Reba Perez
April 1, 2002

Using Creative Visualizations in Dance


Two weeks ago I led my first "Salsa Meditation"! Sounds like an oxymoron? Here's how it happened:

I have long been fascinated by the use of creative visualization in sports training. I was intrigued by ski-ers who improve their performances by mentally rehearsing their moves. By going down the ski course in their imagination, they hone their physical skills while in the mental realm, and win big pay-offs in the actual physical contest.

I have often pondered how to apply some of these techniques to dance. I believe that so much of success and failure is linked to mental attitudes and mental preparation, and I was frustrated by so much dance training speaking almost exclusively to physical preparation.

I must admit that the notion of mental preparation also had a very practical appeal. Practice mentally? To anyone in a physically active career (your typical bone-tired dance teacher/performer/choreographer, for example), the attraction of this idea is obvious!

I recently had the opportunity to test out some of these ideas on my students. Among the many partner dance classes I teach, I also teach SalsaAerobics through The Open Center. The Open Center's clientel seem to match the school's name - these people tend to be enthusiastically receptive to new ideas and approaches. What better place to begin to experiment with creative visualization?

As perhaps you may recall from my previous column in this magazine, I had an artistically traumatic experience as a young child with a music teacher who basically told me to shut up and watch the other kids sing! I am therefore extra-keenly aware that many who come to dance have similar traumatic memories of humiliating, embarrassing or unhappy dance-related experiences. Even if there are no skeletons hanging in the closet, too often potential dancers get spooked by the first ghost of an unpleasant encounter when they venture into the field.

To address those negative experiences and negative-experiences-to-be, I led a creative visualization about a beautifully perfect dance experience. In a sense I am pro-actively redressing or counteracting negative experiences by adding a positive experience to the balance. Hopefully, the positive experience will outweigh any negative ones, with the result that the student will continue to explore the wonderful and gratifying field of dance, and with greater success and happiness.

At the end of the rigorous SalsaAerobics workout and cool-down, I had my students lie on the floor or lean against a wall. We did a few relaxation exercises. I lowered the lights, played soft, mellow instrumental Latin music, and led my students on a journey to a wonderful dance party. I tried to maintain the delicate balance between a dance fantasy while not breaking the thread of relaxation. (When one gets involved in a very active dance fantasy, it can be quite hard to maintain a state of physical relaxation!)

When we came out of our "Salsa Meditation" the students' faces looked relaxed and glowing. They looked as if they had really been to that beautiful party and had had a great experience. I asked them how they liked it and they said that the "Salsa Meditation" would be their "reward" that they would look forward to every week. I could not have been happier.

Last week we went on another journey, similar to the first one, but exploring another aspect of the dance experience. When asked afterwards, the students reported that, yes, they really relax and "go somewhere." I feel humbled by the trust my students place in me, and I think we are all starting to look forward to where we will go next!

In my next column I will write a recipe for a creative dance-related visualization you can do at home. Until then - happy dancing!

Reba Perez has taught and performed as a Ballroom and Latin Dance Instructor for the past 8 years (four years at DanceSport, four as President of Reba's Dance Connection). She is also a Producer of Spice Summer Festival and The House of Latin Dance. She has a BA in Dance and an MA in Dance History from the University of California.

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