"When I mess up on something, I give up."

Yesterday one of the girls admitted something to me after class.
“When I mess up on something, I find myself just giving up. Like if I can’t get those jete’s, then I just stop trying.”
She continued to tell me about getting so angry at herself. It completely defeats her.

I let her in on the secrets of how I escape this, even though they aren’t really secrets. Still, it took me a few years to learn these things, and they have helped me tremendously.

  • You only go as far as where you give up.
    I don’t remember where I first heard this concept, but it’s stuck with me. Even when I felt completely defeated, I refused to let myself walk out of the studio, and I did my best to at least attempt whatever it was (unless I knew it was dangerously out of reach, but that is rare. Usually it’s fear.)
  • Failure is how you learn to fly
    It’s hard to try your hardest and it not be good enough, especially in ballet. We are some of the biggest perfectionists out there, and are really good at tearing ourselves apart. We have to be in order to go anywhere. But there is a fine line between criticism and constructive criticism. (if you haven’t figured it out, it’s the “constructive” bit.) You want to look at your progress as a teaching tool, not as a gauge of failure. It’s not about being better than anyone but yourself. If we aren’t allowed the room to be less than perfect in class, then what’s the point in coming? We are all in the process of learning. We are striving for perfection, but we are not expected to be perfect. We have to try things before we can succeed in anything. I find it helps to watch kids attempt things; to mimic what they see the older dancers doing. They don’t look  perfect by a long shot, but they get the feel for it and before you know it you see them again and they have it down better than you. Because, wouldn’t you know, they didn’t give up.
  • Leave yourself room for your humanity
    Even the greatest dancer has struggled. Ballet isn’t great because the people are born great, it’s because they strive for greatness. Sure, some people are born with genetics that give them a bit up an upper hand, but that’s the exception, not the rule. If it were the rule, I would be hopeless.
    But I’m not hopeless. Neither are you.
  • Watch the better dancers, pick out their flaws.
    She responded to this with, “That’s mean!” But then I explained.
    I don’t pick out their flaws to judge them, I pick out there flaws to judge myself. I noticed about this time last year that if you stared at a professional dancer’s feet, they weren’t always completely stable. Makes sense, right? Since she’s balancing her entire weight on two toes for extended periods of time. But we get this image in our head that they are flawless, when the truth is the opposite. That just means they’re doing something right, because we are supposed to appear flawless, even if we aren’t. If I see a professional, or a more advanced dancer struggling to hold their balance, I think, “that’s what I do!” and I see that if she can do it, so can I. Does that make sense?
  • If you’re not confident, go with someone better than you.
    I kinda learned this at my old studio, but in a different way. She used to tell us if we weren’t sure of the step to go with someone who is so you can watch them. But now if I’m not sure of a step, I go with someone better than me because all those other people who are waiting for their turn, who are watching to get the step better in their brains before they go, they’re watching the good dancer. They may watch you, but chances are their eyes go to the super advanced dancer to see the step more clearly. This goes for groupings in center, too. If I’m unsure I try and go first, near someone I can see. chances are the other dancers are also unsure and they will want to watch someone who is sure. If that’s not you, they won’t watch you. Pressure’s off. People tend to think I’m really confident in my dancing when really I’m not. It just appears that way because of these tricks. And no one seeing my struggles until I’m confident enough to be seen. (the teachers still see me, so I still get my corrections, though. So that’s good.)
  • Realize dancers are typically selfish
    And not in a jerk-selfish way. They want to better themselves, so chances are they aren’t watching you dance to pick you apart, but rather to pick themselves apart. I used to be really intimidated to be in a class with good dancers, because I was so afraid of their opinion. As I got to know them, I realized that no one really noticed what I did about myself. They saw me as a good dancer and picked themselves apart, not me. They aren’t out to get you, they don’t think any less of you.
  • Effort is more important than talent.
    What I mean by this is, I’m not exceptionally talented in dance. I know I have a long way to go. But one thing I do have an advantage of is coming from a theatre background. I can play the part.
    Take Crows for instance. I haven’t taken a jazz class in 7 years, but no one knew that. Why? Because my face told otherwise. My face showed confidence, so everyone believed it, even if I was struggling with the step. If you don’t show that you’re insecure in your dance, then no one will notice. And if for some reason someone catches it, they tend to be way more forgiving and understanding. If you put forth effort, it shows that you’re willing to work towards becoming better than where you are currently. Just this week I saw girls from the III’s dance as well as V’s, but their faces made them look so miserable. That’s what set them apart, not their dancing. It shows the potential for success. It inspires the people who watch you, and that’s what we’re really out there to do. To make the audience feel something.
  • Refocus your anger
    Instead of going home and taking it out on yourself, refocus it on bettering yourself. This doesn’t happen over night, but it’s a good use of that angry energy. Take your anger and pick apart what you did wrong. Then work on figuring out why you did that wrong and how to fix it. Focus on fixing your mistakes rather than being angry that you made one. Be proactive in your anger. Also,
  • Enlist someone you trustThis takes a bit of vulnerability, but it is so worth it. Find someone you trust and ask them to watch you. For me, this is typically Andie and Annika. I know I can go to them and have them watch me do whatever step I’m working on. They’ll see it and pick out what it is that I can’t see (usually turns) that is making me falter. They’ll tell me in a kind and beneficial way, not in a way that tears me down or belittles me. (I think this is what we are generally afraid of. But we know friends won’t hurt us, and if they do they shouldn’t be your friend.) Ultimately they want to see me succeed, and if they can help me to success, I know they will. Ps. This is how I got the pirouette down for Nutcracker. That thing was really difficult, but Andie watched me and pointed out that I dipped my leading arm instead of staying straight and locked. A few tries later and I had it down. Like jumping off the diving board into an adults arms. They won’t let you fall or tell you anything to make you drown.
  • No one is born perfect.
    In this case, I used Annika; someone I’ve seen rise to greatness, and someone they only know as great. I told them how two years ago when she first came in our class, she was as good as Ileana–someone who has great potential and you know will be good, but still has some things to learn and perfect. Last year, she was Lauren–someone that you looked at and saw that she had talent, and you were excited to see where she would go, but still is on the journey to get there.
    This year, she’s Annika–the mirliton right out the gate. The understudy to a principal role. The seeming prodigy who seemingly has shaken the studio in the best way possible.
    She didn’t get there over night; it took a lot of work. But it pays off.
  • Do what you love.
    Remind yourself of why you come to class everyday. What is it about dance that makes you love it? Show that in your dancing, even if you’re still struggling. My friend Annabelle is one of the greatest examples of this. She has no fear when she dances, it makes her come alive. So what if she wasn’t perfectly turned out that time? So what if she messed up the arm in the first run through? So what if she mixed it up that last time? The teacher may see it, but they know that you know you missed it and that you’ll correct it next time. If it becomes a pattern, then they’ll say something. Allow yourself the room to feel free. 

This is all I do, what I remind myself of, and I’ve had people look at me like I’m a better dancer than I actually am. It’s about being confident in yourself, which is sometimes hard to figure out how to do.

This doesn’t mean that you’re always so happy with how you did that class and things go perfectly–that’s impossible. It means that you let yourself actually enjoy what you’re doing and allow yourself the room to grow and improve. This is how you will excel. This is how you will succeed.

Ps. Ms. Alex complimented me in class yesterday. I usually struggle to keep my knees straight, especially at the barre. Apparently my hip being jacked up has caused me to think about this more, in turn making me engage all the muscles I need to and–tadaaaaa–straighten my knees.
It made me feel really good 🙂


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