Warren Craft performing with Dorrance Dance. Dana Lynn Pleasant, Courtesy Dorrance Dance

How Tap Dancer Warren Craft Worked Past His Fear of Failure Onstage

Improvisation has been my focus for as long as I've been able to move to music. At first, I was drawn to the way it transported me into a place of euphoria when things miraculously went well. I thought of improvisation as a force of its own, moving me to make certain choices. But if I wasn't happy with a performance, I would stay awake at night with tons of regrets, never accepting it as fated, always blaming myself.

I started to realize that I was dancing to "just not fail." I knew I had to stop thinking of dance as something to be afraid of. So instead, I began to see it as an ally that was revealing even more to me than it was to the audience: All of my hopes and fears were being uniquely and personally communicated through my body in a way that was meant for me to understand.

Something that plagued me when I started improvising seriously was the misconception that dancing my fullest, with my most energy, would need to take on aggressive, reckless or dark characteristics. My warm-up used to be tensing up all my muscles and thinking of something that made me angry. I was aiming for a particular intensity repeatedly without really taking stock of how I felt.

As the performances with Dorrance Dance became more high-pressure, due to the attention the company was gaining, I needed to adopt some centering techniques to calm my nervous energy before a show. Introducing meditation into my routine gave me a consistent way to ground myself. It allowed me a patience for an honest and open-ended type of creativity that wasn't just focused on success.

If I cleared my mind by being still and silent before I took the stage, I was surprised by all the different scenarios, identities and emotions that arose freely, without my forcing them. I could even get a sense for if those things were right to incorporate into my everyday life and if those were feelings I wanted to share with people close to me. That kind of information is so valuable. I now have a motivation that's fueled by a desire to explore a broader range of emotions through a more honest process.

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Charlene Gehm MacDougal as Lead Nursemaid in Petrushka. Photo by Herbert Migdoll, courtesy the MacDougal family.

In Memoriam: Joffrey Dancer Charlene Gehm MacDougal, 69

Former lead dancer with The Joffrey Ballet, Charlene Gehm MacDougal died of ovarian cancer on January 10 at her home in New York City, age 69.

Gehm illuminated the inner life of each of the varied characters in her extensive repertoire. Whether she was the gracious hostess in George Balanchine's Cotillon, the riveting Lady Capulet in John Cranko's Romeo and Juliet, or in the tumult of William Forsythe's Love Songs, she drew the viewer's eye and heart to the essence of the role.

As Forsythe puts it: "Charlene was certainly one of the most elegant dancers I have had the privilege to work with. Her striking countenance flowed into her work and, joined with her wicked sense of humor and intelligence, created thoughtful, mesmerizing and memorable art."

February 2021