Growing Into You

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(A KjzzFuzion Perspective Article on Dance and Growth)

Have you ever watched two skilled dancers execute a powerful routine, and thought, “Wow, I wish I had that much talent” or “I wish I had that kind of confidence?”

We look and admire dancers and may believe they are born with that precise level of sophistication they display.  However talented, the perfection of their execution came from long hours spent on training and practice. The outstanding abilities and strength that we envy in them are truly the result of discipline and hard work.

But what of confidence? Surely, that must be something they already had? Was it not their natural self-esteem and the belief in their own potential that gave them the courage to get to that level of performance and skill?

Well, it may not be that simple. Confidence, like skill, can be developed and built.

And it starts with your body. Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist whose work on the dynamics of power in the workplace, explains that there is a tight connection between body language and power (or confidence). We know that a confident person will display expansive body language: good posture, shoulders back, maybe even sitting down with their legs spread out, and stretching out their arms across the backrest of other chairs. Confident people take up a lot of space. Insecure or shy people, on the other hand, will make themselves small: shoulders slumped, body leaning forward, arms crossed, knees brought together.  They take the smallest amount of space they can. In short, body language can reflect how powerful we feel.

But can body language, instead of merely reflecting, also influence how powerful we feel? Can forcing ourselves into expansive poses make us feel more confident? In other words, can we fake it until we make it?

According to Cuddy, you can. Studies have shown that adopting a high-power pose for a few minutes can significantly increase a person’s level of testosterone (the dominance hormone), while also lowering their level of cortisol (the stress hormone). Participants were feeling more powerful and more laid-back, resulting in an increase in confidence in just a few minutes. Follow-up studies then showed that doing these power poses before a job interview led to better performance and evaluation. Because people were bringing their best authentic selves, they did not appear shifty, or phony. They were present, instead of being preoccupied by insecurities.  (Sources: “
Your Body Language May Shape Who You Are.”Amy Cuddy, 2012, Presence, (Book) Ed. Little, Brown and Company.)

If something as simple as power poses can increase confidence before a high-stress event, can an activity that brings the body through such expansive poses, like dancing, have a similar effect?  And if dancing is practiced on a regular basis, can the effects be even more lasting?

According to Pierre Dulaine, World Champion of ballroom dancing and founder of various initiatives bringing dancing classes to schools around the world, dance increases confidence.  Dulaine’s decades of experience teaching dance to students of all ages has demonstrated the undeniable effects it can have on insecure and shy individuals. Students come in with shoulders slumped, the embodiment of low-power poses. After a few months, they stand up straighter.  After a year, they are unrecognizable: they embody confidence, elegance, and a better awareness of their authentic self. (Source: “
May I Have This Dance, Please
?” Pierre Dulaine, 2014.)

Many dancers have experienced this transformation.  If you wish to develop confidence and personal strength, you can undertake a journey of self-discovery, through social dance.  The trick is to be honest with yourself and to aim for self improvement.  You will uncover your true self and make it more apparent to others. You will genuinely, unapologetically be yourself.  Remember there is only one you.  Dancing is not just about connecting with others, but also about connecting with yourself. If you feel that being your authentic self in stressful everyday situations is impossible, pick up a dance class, and learn to stand straighter, literally and figuratively, until it’s no longer about faking it. You’ve made it.

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