“Live through consciousness, not through emotion.” -my Yogi tea this evening
Everyone has bad days. You know, those days where you sleep through your alarm, you spill your coffee, and you search for your keys for 15 minutes before realizing they have been in your pocket all along.
For dancers, though, a bad day extends far beyond the typical coffee stain. When a dancer is having a bad day (and believe me, we have plenty!), it usually means we are hyper focused on our flaws, tearing our technique apart, and subsequently hating what we see in the mirror…ultimately, as you can imagine, this is completely crippling. But not surprising, considering we spend our days and nights striving for perfection, fighting physics and forcing our bodies to move, balance, hold, turn, twist, and stretch in ways that seem impossible upon first attempt. Popular belief states that dancers possess a superior mental and emotional strength which permits tolerance of this extreme discipline, and I agree, but even within the confines of these “thick skins”, weak moments do exist. There are times when we feel that all of these efforts are in vain and negative thoughts swirl around like angry wasps, stinging at our pride. My feet are too flat, I’ll never have her extension, my boobs are too big, I can’t land a triple…these wasps are vicious and completely detrimental to any possibility of improvement. So what’s a dancer to do when they come swarming? Here’s my advice…
1.) Stop comparing yourself to others. I recently received an email from a student wondering how to boost her self-confidence in the studio. One situation in which she feels especially negative, she noted, is when she watches older students in her class, attempts to replicate their movements, fails, and ends up in a downward spiral of self-hatred. If this sounds familiar to any of you, please remember this: ballet is not a “team sport”. It is a highly individual practice, and your training is a constantly evolving journey that you are on. Sure, your teachers, parents, peers and muses are there influencing you along the way, but your dancing concerns you and you alone. We tend to see the best of talents in others and the worst aspects of ourselves, so comparing yourself to other dancers (especially older, more experienced ones) will only serve to hurt your ego. So stop that!
2.) Try changing up your look. The easiest way to trick your mind into cheering up? Give your eyes something you know they’ll enjoy seeing in the mirror- maybe a new leotard or a pretty headband– to turn turn those pesky wasps into butterflies. A few days ago I was having the worst class I’ve had in a while. Before rehearsal began, I took down my hair from its usual high bun and slicked it into a deeply side-parted one and instantly felt like a new person. Try it. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.
3.) Give yourself a break. As I mentioned earlier, technically speaking, ballet is outside the human body’s natural parameters. If you don’t get it right away, don’t stress. Some things will come easily, others will require hours of focus, stretching, practice, and yes, repetition before they feel remotely doable. Be patient, and don’t beat yourself up.
4.) Make small goals. I learned this trick in my kickboxing class. Instead of deciding you simply must nail 32 fouettés by the end of the week, start with 8. Then 16. Then 24…by breaking down the process, your goal won’t seem so frustratingly unattainable, and each checkpoint will feel like a major accomplishment. The small successes will bolster your spirits, providing you with the fuel to reach higher and work harder.
5.) Practice affirmations. I have a very good friend who swears by self-affirmations, also known as sweet nothings whispered (or better yet, spoken loudly with conviction) to one’s self each day in the mirror. It may feel strange at first, but studies show that sending your brain these positive reinforcements triggers a growth in confidence and an improvement in overall mental health. You is kind, you is smart, you is important…
A dancer’s most important relationship is that between the dancer’s mind and body. Maintaining a healthy balance of love and support between the two is vital. I’d love to know, how do you stay positive when things aren’t going your way?
Love this article! I seriously just wrote something very similar about comparing yourself to others. Attitude and positive thinking is EVERYTHING!
Thank you! It’s true, a positive attitude is so important- even if you have to fake it at first!
I feel the same thing. I’m a very focused and dedicated person in everything, and when anyone is asked, that’s how they describe me. But I have times (like the past few weeks, including now) that I don’t want to practice or work hard. I’d rather give up my goals (“I’ll do it tomorrow”) and eat chocolate in front of the TV. I’m still trying to push through. I think I’ll try tips 2 and 5 a lot!
It can be easy to fall into the wallowing hole of self-pity and/or procrastination, but being proactive- even if that just means doing some simple meditation- is always the most rewarding choice ;)
Thanks very much for this! It is true how much we go through. You have really highlighted how we are so self analytical sometimes that it makes those ‘bad days’ a lot worse than normal.
Would you say this strive for perfectionism is more damaging or also helpful for us to keep moving on?
For me what helps is to talk through any adversity with a great friend or family member. They help to reassure me in the right path. I especially get negative when it comes to injuries as they are extremely frustrating! However knowing you are in good hands with a physio/osteo etc. who you trust does help too. Getting inspiration from either watching dance videos or advice from other dancers is great to lift ones mood :)
Thanks for sharing, Gabrielle! I always call my mom in times of intense self-criticism, she always knows what to say. Injuries are tougher to deal with than one might imagine, but staying positive is a kay element to speedy recovery. I love watch dance videos as well- inspiration is the best medicine! xx
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I´ve kept telling myself that I should stop comparing myself to other dancers. But it just doesn´t work this way. I think it is very natural, wishing to know what one´s place is in class. Still it does hinder me doing my best sometimes. Do you have any tips on preventing the self-criticism caused by comparison to others?
I think the best way to avoid negative feelings caused by comparing yourself to others is to avoid partaking in it at all costs! I know that is much easier said than done (especially in the ballet studio!), but remind yourself that you have special qualities that others don’t have, and finding ways to use those qualities to your advantage is far more worthy of your time than harping on the qualities you may lack. Hope this helps! xx
This blog is wonderful. I am currently partaking in a degree course in which I am exploring what defines nourishment for a dancer, looking beyond their diet and eating habits. I have only recently been introduced to the term “self affirmation” and have found it to be beautifully powerful in my attitude toward myself, my life and my dancing. Although I am a beginner in this practice, I intend to keep this positive, enriching mindset from now on and have promoted to my colleagues, friends and family consistently since. Is this something you practice often? And how? I would love to read your thoughts of what constitutes nutrition for dancers and what they need in order to flourish in their practice.
as an aspiring dancer gearing up for summer intensive season, i find this sooo inspiring! i totally agree with the idea of “giving yourself a break”, because i put so much unnecessary pressure on myself for not getting something right immediately. thank you.