Expanding Awareness

How to dance without trying to dance

By Michael Ashcroft | 6 min read
Photo by Ardian Lumi on Unsplash

There’s a particular way of being we inhabit when dancing. Dancing is a kind of availability, a capacity to respond to the invitations of each moment in a receptive, fluid and open way.

When dancing without a partner, say in a club or at a concert, the music is your dance partner. Your body seems to move of its own accord as the energies of the rhythms and melodies play easily and elegantly across your frame, where the only wrong way to dance is to not to dance at all.

When dancing with a partner you are always in active communication, in an emergent, wordless dialogue. As the leader you are aware of the music, the space around you, your body, your partner’s body, your partner’s attention and your own intention, which you both assert and allow to emerge.

As the follower you listen for the most subtle of suggestions and give a constantly renewing consent to be led, without anticipating the moment ahead or resisting the moment before.

You each maintain your power, refusing to give up responsibility for yourself to the other.

Of course, all of the above is the ideal. The opposite of that fluid, immersive, dare I say blissful experience is one of being stuck in your head, of trying to ‘get it right’, of worrying about being judged. I suspect this is what most people experience. It’s certainly what I used to experience.

Alexander Technique is a tool by which we can move into the available state, stepping out of the rigidity and awkwardness that stems from trying to dance. Because dancing, like playing, works best when it happens for its own sake, when any goal you may have is subordinated to the process by which the goal may, or may not, ultimately be attained.

But, how? How do you step out of that awkward mode where you’re trying to coordinate yourself, where you’re stuck in your own head?

You step out of it by not trying to step out of it.

ARGH, Michael, what do you MEAN?? You speak in riddles. Just tell me HOW!

Okay, here’s the problem. This is a bind that shows up everywhere in life and my goal is to free you from it. I can’t do that for you, but I can show you the door. The realisation and insight you need to actually step through it is up to you.

With that, here’s what I mean when I say the solution to this problem is not to try to fix it.

Consider that there is a part of your mind — let’s call it the Tryer — that sees problems everywhere. Problems need some kind of solution, which means it is always trying; to analyse, to fix, to solve, to improve, to organise, to categorise, to achieve, to get right. Words like these bear little in common with the words I used to describe dancing above: available, fluid, receptive, open, consent, easy, elegant.

And that’s exactly the problem! The Tryer is not needed here. It seems to think it has to involve itself in dancing, and everything else for that matter, but that isn’t the case, so it only gets in the way. What you need is for The Tryer to be quiet for a while and let something else show up instead, the part that dances when it feels to you that dancing happens by itself.

But be careful, because the bind is coming up. The Tryer is as clever as it is clueless. It understands that trying isn’t required, so it tries to stop trying, but the only tool it has to do that is trying!

Put another way, it doesn’t realise that it itself is the problem and, without seeing what’s going on, it tries to shut itself up by yelling more and more loudly at itself. This is the experience you have inside your head when you ‘overthink’ and what happens when people ‘choke’ in a sports context. It’s a vicious thinking trap that goes like this:

“Okay I need to pay attention to my partner oh and there’s someone on the dance floor where I want to go damn I missed the beat oh god I hope I don’t tread on her foot okay step two three okay relax this thinking isn’t helping stop thinking just flow yeah okay wait why isn’t it working come on you can do this get out of your head… ”

The solution is to stop all that. But again, how?

The trick, the way out of the trap, is merely to notice that The Tryer is trying to involve itself. Just notice it and then don’t do anything about it. Leave the ‘the problem’ unsolved.

Why? Because any attempt to get The Tryer to be quiet comes from the Tryer itself! Really let that sink in. Anything you do is merely digging you deeper into the hole you’re already in.

‘Just’ noticing, though, is an entirely different process, one that creates a kind of separation from The Tryer. And by noticing The Tryer as a separate process you step into a larger space, one that contains the Tryer but isn’t entirely it.

This is my experience of dancing while using my mad Alexander Technique skills:

  1. Start moving
  2. Notice and keep noticing, over and over again, all the ways that The Tryer wants to involve itself in dancing
  3. Notice the associated ‘collapse’ in awareness that comes from being hijacked by The Tryer and consciously re-expand my awareness, hooking back onto the contents of the present moment (AT jargon: ‘inhibition’)
  4. Keep repeating this process moment by moment and watch as I move in a fluid, ‘non-doing’ kind of way. I've never surfed, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's a similar experience to riding a wave.

Let’s talk about point 3 for a moment. There is a ‘mental move’ associated with not allowing the Tryer to take over which, once you recognise it, is possible to assert consciously.

It’s extremely difficult to put this into words though, and this is what my course is for. Check out this lesson from the course on ‘identifying the finger, not the moon’ to get a sense of the teaching method I use.

By learning to identify ‘the moon’, you can play with your own awareness such that you can consciously ‘unhook’ yourself from The Tryer when it tries to kick in.

I’m applying it right now, while typing. I'm noticing all the ways The Tryer wants to take me out of the present moment and get me stuck. I am inhibiting all that and allowing an effortless something else to show up in its place.

I am always dancing.

This is what I want to give you.

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