facing fears


Like many dancers, I have struggled with body issues for a long, long while. I was a petite child until puberty threw me some curve(ball)s, forcing me to examine and reexamine my body. When I turned 18, I discovered my cooking skills (or lack thereof). When I turned 21, I discovered drinking (ha). When I turned 23, I discovered drinking in moderation (ha again). When I began doing more soloist work, I discovered cross training and eating consciously. When I began taking on more principal work, I discovered my fears.

This past weekend, I was nervous about hosting Wheeldon/Balanchine repetiteur Michele Gifford while she was in town setting The American. I am an introvert, so these kinds of intimate social interactions with strangers tend to give me anxiety. But, like most things we fear, it turned out to be a real learning experience. After dinner Saturday night, Michele and I had a long heart-to-heart.

“Every moment of every day, you have a choice.”

For so long, I have heard the same comments about my body. I have run a thorough obstacle course of attempts to shape my frame, most of which were fueled by hurt feelings, self-depreciation, and doubt. Sometimes my methods were healthy, other times they were not. Ultimately, each effort was squelched by a defensive inner voice.

“The only thing standing in your way is you.”

Feeling self conscious and attacked by male superiors at the ballet, I often found myself giving up on my goals as a way to give voice to my insecurities. What if I never look the way they want me to? What would happen if I did? Society says I am physically fit- why is ballet pressuring me to feel otherwise? Yeah! I look FINE! I would create angry narratives in my mind, convincing myself that the advice given by those in charge was outdated and wrong.

But then I would look in the mirror. While my inner voices created a strong sense of balance and continue to stave off dangerous aspirations, they also kept me from reaching my fullest potential. Michele reminded me that these angry thoughts are fears in disguise.

“If you know what you need to do to achieve something you want, just do it.”

Michele’s openness felt refreshing. She shared similar experiences, connecting with me on a struggle almost all female dancers face at some point. Her words of wisdom were honest and clear. If you want it, do it. It’s not easy, but it is simple.

What motivates you to reach your goals? If you are a dancer in need of support and guidance in reaching your potential, consider The Whole Dancer’s Best Body Program, a community of understanding individuals led by the insightful Jess Spinner.


photo by Tasnima Tanznim.

on negative thoughts


“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?


It’s strange to come to this point in my life.  This point where I have become actively aware of ballet’s predominance in my brain.  Yes, it’s always been a huge part of my life, driving (and at times dragging) myself to ballet class every day after school, practicing until well into the evening and falling asleep with a sore body- muscles, bones, tendons- everything hurt.  But it wasn’t until this past year that this aching carried itself from my body up to my mind.  It dug deep into my brain each night, racking my nerves, pulling on my emotions and burying itself into my soul.  It started with my replaying of the day’s rehearsals and corrections in my head as I settled down to sleep…”shoulders down, chest out”,  “articulate the feet”, “JUMP”…this sort of thing.  Then it burrowed in deeper, more emotionally.  I began contemplating each movement and decision I had made that day.  Each class.  Each rehearsal.  Each moment in time meant something.  Ballet is precise, and everything you do is based on a decision.  A decision to push yourself to use your body in a way that was never intended or deemed healthy.  To ignore the pain and self-depreciation and doubt and just do it.  To just dance.  To dare to enjoy it.  And to be the best that you can be.  The latter, however, is never a reality.  In ballet, there is always room for improvement.  Refusing to accept your current skill level is what makes a truly passionate artist.


I first began to really feel the confirmation of ballet’s mind-warping-take-over when I realized my dreams had been invaded.  It was not the normal “ballet dream”- I had had those before….Oh no, everyone is injured all at once.  I’m dancing the entire Nutcracker by myself and surprisingly knowing every step, somehow I’m pulling it off…No, these were realistic, rewarding, dangerously addictive dreams in which I was often the best version of myself.  I reached new heights each night as my dreamstate allowed my brain to be free of the physical pain that wracked my body as I slept, leaving me feeling spritely and hungry for movement.  Hungry for improvement.  Starving for challenge.  In my dreams, I was mature and on a mission.  I fed my soul with dreams of my own success.  In this way I could see myself stomping down barriers and progressing- no- excelling.  Somehow, like this, I could push one step past visualizing my goals and really feel them.  My mind was actively and realistically playing out before me all of the effects and emotions that came with such a personal success as fulfilling life long dreams.  It was the closest thing to experiencing them…and all I had to do was climb into bed and close my eyes.

The farther I am from working full-time, the harder it is to summon this “dream me”, which at this point feels a bit  like unexpectedly bumping into an old acquaintance at the bank.  But not the kind of acquaintance whose visiting requires stale small talk, but a familiar, energetic acquaintance in the most wonderfully beautiful bank I’ve ever visited.

Have you ever met your dream fantasy future?