Dance Teacher Resources

How to boost your creativity over the summer, ready for a fulfilling new year

Dance creativity

As you head into the summer break, you’re probably looking forward to a rest from so much physical activity and the craziness that comes with the end of the year. Or you may be concerned about maintaining your fitness and flexibility during the break. But don’t worry. The summer break is an ideal time to be creative. Creativity is an important quality for dancers, but it’s often neglected in the daily life of dance training and performing.

You can use the time off during the summer break to dream up new possibilities and conjure pathways to realise them. You can take time to re-connect with your true purpose so you are clear about what you want to achieve in the coming year. It’s a time to solve problems that have been plaguing you and experiment with new things. Tapping into your creativity can also have a powerful effect on your well-being, because creativity helps to reduce stress, improves mood and brain function, and helps protect against dementia.

Sleep in.

I didn’t just add “sleep in” so it would grab your attention. Sleeping in can boost your creativity, as can other activities which clear your mind, including meditation, walking, spending time in nature or swimming.

The reason is because when you are in a relaxed state of mind, such as in the time between sleep and wakefulness, your brain is generating alpha waves, which are crucial for the insights that stimulate creativity. When you’re relaxed, you focus more on your inner world, and a stream of consciousness flows from the right side of your brain.  Finally, you can hear the deep unconscious, the quiet element of the self that quietly works things out in the background while you go about your day-to-day.

During your daily life, you may be so busy that you are often in what author of Imagine: The Art and Science of Creativity, Jonah Lehrer, calls a “clenched state of mind”, which keeps your brain running in the same patterns it always has. While you’re on holiday, relax your focus, and let your mind wander outside well-worn patterns to lead you to unexpected discoveries.

Spend time with different people.

Within any group, there are a shared set of assumptions that everyone takes for granted. This is true for the group in your dance world, your family or your friendship groups. These assumptions help you to cope with the mind-boggling amount of information that your brain screens out every minute. And they help you make quick decisions. But what they don’t do is help you see the world in new ways. If you can’t see the world in new ways, you can’t be creative. It’s just not possible.

So how do you leap over these barriers to creativity? One way to do this is to spend time with people who belong to different groups than you, and who don’t share the same set of assumptions as you do. When people share knowledge across different fields (like dance and architecture, for instance), they make what Lehrer describes as “horizontal interactions”. It’s like you’re following a train track, and you can’t see outside of those two parallel lines. But when your track crosses, or runs alongside, a different track, you might see things differently, and suddenly something you couldn’t see before becomes obvious. 

Did you know that many of the great scientific breakthroughs (and science requires a great deal of creativity, too) have come from someone who is in a related field of study but who isn’t an expert in that particular field? This happens because these scientists have some knowledge of the field but aren’t limited by the assumptions that have blinded those more expert in that particular area. So spend time with people who can help you see past your assumptions to tap into your creativity.

Read, watch and do.

Renowned creativity expert Dr. Robert Epstein has a theory called “generativity theory”, in which he says creativity has four elements. One of the four, he calls “broadening knowledge”.

You broaden your knowledge throughout the year by going to class every week, but that’s only one way to learn – and a particularly linear one at that! During your holidays, take time to read books, magazines and articles, as well as watch videos, movies, documentaries and even people. Take the break from routine as a chance to go to a workshop, masterclass or summer intensive. Go on a holiday, visit a museum or gallery, or spend your days in a cafe or on the beach observing other people. The things you reach and watch can be about dance, but they don’t have to be just dance. Remember, the goal is to see things in a new way so you can come up with new ideas. Whatever the medium, all of these things help you absorb new information, as well as to help you make new connections with the knowledge you already have.

When you learn in a structured environment, you usually have a good idea of the learning objectives, and there is a set path to get there. But this is a different way to learn and expand your knowledge. It’s one where you absorb information and your mind tucks things away for later reference. 

These holidays, you may do something new or go somewhere you’ve never been before, and then months or even years later you may have a sudden idea for a new dance piece. Something will have happened that triggered the memory of doing that thing or being in that place. Think of a dance work like Mixed Doubles by Leigh Warren. The work is inspired by the game of tennis. If Warren had never seen tennis, he wouldn’t have come up with the idea for the work, let alone had the tools and ideas to develop the idea and bring it to fruition.

Perhaps this summer you want to indulge in a different aspect to yourself and delve into more scientific interests. For example, if you explore the basics of physics, you’ll learn about how objects move through space and the forces that make things spin, and then as you practice your turns later in the year, you discover that you’ve incorporated those scientific principles into the way you use your body.

The point is, you don’t have to go about broadening your knowledge in a structured way, like the way you do when you are studying or training. Simply absorbing the information and letting it percolate around in the back of your mind will do wonders.

Doodle, journal or scrapbook.

Another of Epstein’s elements of creativity is “capturing ideas”. What’s the good of coming up with an amazing idea, or suddenly seeing how to resolve a nagging problem, if you forget about it?

You need to have a system to catch those ideas before they float back into the ether and elude you. You never know when brilliance will strike, so you’ve got to have something handy. Use a notebook, a sketchpad, your phone or camera. You can carry napkins or a tape recorder. It doesn’t matter what it is; you just need to find a way to keep the idea so you can come back to it later. You might cut out images or text from magazines, bookmark websites, collect fabric swatches, or stick a collection of pressed flowers into a scrapbook.

The other great things about things like writing, drawing or collecting is that you can use these things to tap into the stream of consciousness that bubbles below the surface of your conscious mind. A really lovely way to spend a morning is sitting in a coffee shop with a notepad and pen, poised ready to record any random words that enter your mind. You don’t have to try to write a poem or a story. Just let it unfold and reveal itself. You don’t even have to read it back (although reading it back at a later date can bring those now more developed ideas back to the surface). It is the process of writing and letting those ideas flow that your mind starts to make new connection.

Just do something different.

Epstein also advocates the importance of a change to physical and social environments, and searching for new challenges. Just being out of class and doing something different with your days gives you a kick start. So if you are the type of person who feels guilty when you relax, don’t be. Just remember that the time you are spending doing things outside of your daily routine, even “doing nothing”, can be helping you become a much more creative dance artist or educator, even when you’re not aware of it.

By Jo McDonald of Dance Informa.

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