When in Japan recently, I learned an interesting custom. In some shops, the merchants have small trays upon which you place your money when exchanging cash and coins with the merchant. I got varying explanations for this custom from my Japanese colleagues, but it definitely seems a very efficient and respectful custom. I learned about it first from my fellow traveler who, immediately after telling me the custom, handed her cash directly to a merchant rather than putting it on the provided tray. She didn’t even realize what she was doing. Mentally, she acknowledged the custom, but when put into an actual real-life situation, she automatically reverted to habit — a habit so strong she went into it without thinking.
As dancers, we want to develop solid muscle memory and safe habits. This is why the first two levels of my format are devoted to solid technique development (precision, efficiency, flexibility, fluidity, stamina, movement quality, etc.) We train our bodies (our instruments) with specific technique, and we develop muscle memory for the varied movements. When performing, we access that well earned and continuously maintained technique as an organic, automatic habit. Then we can put our focus on emotional and performance elements. And at that point, we have a well trained instrument to better express those emotional and performance elements.
Muscle Memory is part of our Today’s Word: Sometimes We Have Something to Say series in which we discuss in brief the common themes and questions facing dancers.