How to dance like nobody’s watching

You just have to start moving.

“Dance like nobody’s watching.”

It sounds simple and easy to do, at least in theory. Because who cares what other people think? Just let go, move to the beat (so to speak), and leave them to deal with it.

(I’ve actually written a post about this before: Read it here. I think I’m revisiting the topic because I need someone to tell me to go for it, to not hold back… and that everything’s going to be okay. It’s a sign and a wakeup call. I’m pretty sure I’ll have another post like this in the future.)

But what if you “dance” terribly and get easily embarrassed, though? 😬 What if it’s not “you”? What if it’s something that feels awkward to you?

“I suppose this quote is about being free in your body, and not being self-conscious,” muses Bernice Lee, a dance artist, choreographer, theatre performer, teacher and writer based in Singapore.

Bernice Lee
Go big or go home? Bernice doesn't do things halfway

“These were things I felt especially strongly about when I was younger, and what motivated me to care about dance as a practice and an art form.”

So what happened? 🙂 Well, she plodded on. “Dancing was always important for my sense of self. I do it primarily for myself, for my sense of freedom and joy, to just be present, to learn something and to create something,” she answers.

“I find that dancing has helped me grow beyond self-awareness, into other-awareness – that by learning to feel more grounded within my body, I’ve also been able to pay better attention to the people and situations around me.”

That’s good to hear – and a good example for us to follow, too.

She does have this to say about the above quote, however. “This quote also signals that oftentimes dancing is about what the dancer looks like – that dancing is something people look at,” she ponders.

“So in a sense, for me, when I teach and create and perform, ‘Dance like everybody’s looking’ is also useful. I think we can be just as un-self-conscious and free if everybody’s looking. When everybody’s looking, all that is different is that our attention of self and other is heightened.”

Besides, “I went to look up the origins of this well-known quote, and learnt that it’s often misattributed – and that it most probably surfaced in 1987 when the songwriters Richard Leigh and Susanna Clark wrote in in ‘Come From The Heart’,” she reveals.

“I thought it was quite telling that a quote so well-known can have its origins be so unknown. It’s quite easy to forget that things don’t just appear out of thin air? Someone had to come up with it.”

It all fits

Bernice has been tapping into her talent, positive energy, and love of dance ever since, exploring different means of self-expression at various venues.

She is the co-director of Derring-Do Dance, an arts company in Singapore that runs dance and body-based programmes for diverse children, families and the wider public. Meanwhile, Rolypoly Family, a division of Derring-Do Dance, creates dance experiences from their artists’ intuitive and responsive movement practices.

And together with Chong Gua Khee, Bernice also co-directed the performance project Tactility Studies, wherein they encourage participants to “open up their bodies” and let go through workshops and performances.

Audiences find themselves entranced when they witness the many ways in which Bernice improvises and expresses her emotions and messages. Just check out her Instagram: She looks so free and at ease with herself, and how she moves. It’s cool to see. 👏

The “un-self-conscious” approach worked to her advantage. “I think at some point as a dancer I became less concerned about expressing myself, and more interested in all the things that my body can experience, feel, create. Self-expression became the wonderful byproduct of artistic exploration. When dancing and rehearsing, it’s all about holding on to specific feelings/sensations/intentions, and trying to rediscover them each day.”

Can she give us some tips then, on how to not be so self-conscious and self-critical about our movements, our bodies, and our facial expressions – and to an extent our perspectives and perceptions of ourselves, and the people and things around us? (Whew. That was long.)

#1 It’s okay to be self-conscious and self-critical

“I think it’s part of learning,” she remarks. “But once our self-talk starts to hold us back, then yes, it’s good to work through our emotions and self-perception.”

#2 Affirmations are helpful

“Tell yourself one thing you like about yourself, your body, your life. Say it out loud, or write it down. Or if affirmations don’t work, maybe radical acceptance will. For instance, say: ‘I don’t like how my voice sounds, and I accept that I don’t like it, and I accept that this is how my voice sounds.’”

#3 Dance in a context and community you feel good in

“Get moving in your body any chance you get. Do silly movements. The sillier I get, the less self-conscious I find myself feeling.”

Look around you

And be inspired by people, moments and experiences too. Bernice counts her mum as a huge influence (among many).

“Maybe I’ll only mention this: My mother was always performing creative acts at home,” she recalls.

“She is a homemaker and has never retired. She MacGyver’s all kinds of improvised solutions at home, and the meals she cooks are always somewhat improvised. And she would get inspired once in a while and make craft things, for kicks.

“This kind of daily curiosity of ‘What happens if I do this?’ had a profound influence on me and continues to this day as she grandmothers my baby.” (Yup, Bernice is a new mum.)

Can she also share with us then, the ways in which we can use both standout and everyday moments or experiences to lift and improve how we “move”? 🙂

#1 Play

“I suppose just playing with an image or colour or feeling, and allowing that thing to infuse your sense of your body, can create new opportunities for movement? It’s more about what it feels like on the inside, to the imagination, to the body.” And…

#2 There’s no right or wrong

“It’s all feelings. And I suppose when the imagination is free, a person might also move on, find new things to do with themselves and with their lives.”

#3 Get unstuck

How does the way we move affect our overall physical and mental well-being?

“I think the way we move reveals something about how we live in our bodies, how we inhabit our bodies – and I think that affects how we inhabit this planet and relate to each other, and to ourselves,” she observes.

“If we always move in one way, then that sets us up to live in one way. Sometimes we can’t change the way we live in our bodies without changing the way we move. A simple example would be: ‘I hold a lot of tension in my shoulders, and if I don’t release it regularly, I might start to feel even more stressed just because my body is telling my brain that something is not right.’”

The solution

Start experimenting with different means of self-expression, dance or movement, and creativity as soon as you can. That’s why there’s Derring-Do Dance and Rolypoly Family. 😊

“It’s never too late to start experimenting with dancing! I think dancing can create the space for better self-ownership, self-awareness, and other-awareness. Of course, this depends on the environment we’re dancing in,” Bernice states.

“For Rolypoly Family/Derring-Do Dance, we’re very specific in that we set up a learning environment where children and grown-ups feel comfortable and confident in their bodies. It’s not easy to feel comfortable in your body; at some point every child is told to ‘control’ themselves by sitting still, as if there’s something wrong with the body wanting to move (there isn’t).

“And anyway, what we want for the body isn’t necessarily ‘control’ – it’s awareness and health and pleasure,” she stresses.

“For Rolypoly Family, we want people to come dance with us and feel a sense of liberation – that dancing is an act of caring for your body, and caring about what your body has to tell you, what it can create.”

The results

“A teacher told us that a toddler who’s usually in their own world transformed during just an hour’s dance session with us,” she says.

“The toddler became engaged with us, and with other people. That delighted our hearts! Because it gave that teacher a chance to connect with her young charge.

“More generally, I love seeing people leave my dance classes feeling refreshed and recharged.”

And sometimes, at the end of the day, that’s all you could ask for, especially during these tricky times.

“We have been sharing daily dance sessions!” Bernice tells us. (Head on over to Rolypoly Family’s Instagram.) “It was to warm up for home-based learning, but we’re continuing it this week.” And hopefully for more weeks to come.

They also have a four-day holistic dance camp, in case you’re interested. “It nurtures the dancers’ overall artistry and technique, while introducing them to the essentials of health and wellness for dancers,” she explains.

“This contemporary and creative dance camp is open to young dancers of all levels. Dancers will have room to strengthen their foundational movement, and to tap into their creative confidence through improvisational and compositional studies. Each day of the camp centres on a Dance Mission, supplemented by activity packets that dancers can work with offline. There is room on the final day for our camp facilitators to spend time individually with each dancer, working on their solos before the closing show and party.”

But if you can’t make it and are at home, take a leaf out of Bernice’s book and check out what she’s done in Tactility Studies. They make use of improvisation, durational performances and experiential installations.

“Durational performances are events where people gather, sometimes coming and going, for a longish period of time. Things unfold over time,” she points out.

“Experiential installations are spaces where people are invited to not only use their eyes, but also their other senses, and to put their whole selves into it.”

It could be just the ticket for you to finally practice and “dance like nobody’s watching” – with or without your loved ones present. 😊 Although there are other methods as well.

For Bernice, “Going into nature has helped. Also deep breaths, and bearing witness to my own life and to those of the people around me,” she admits. “I also dance a little bit, and stretch my limbs, every day.” It’s a start!

Find Bernice on @bleelly, @rolypolyfamilysg and @tactilitystudies – and for more examples of how her “life regularly transforms her art-making”. Try her moves, make your own, find your own release, and be free. 👍