There's a real difference between working hard...and beating yourself down. I fear far too many dancers take the latter approach, thinking the more they punish themselves physically, the more they degrade themselves mentally, the better they will get. The more pain you withstand now...the more you will be rewarded for your efforts in the future, right? But this is a form of delayed gratification that will never lead to rewards.
With this mindset, you will never feel "good enough" to be happy with yourself. You will always be chasing that ideal, perfect ballerina image burned into your head. And no matter how hard you work and punish yourself, you will never measure up to the unrealistic standards you've set for yourself. And so, you will be doomed to a lifetime of “If I can only get to this level, then I can feel good about myself; then I can be happy.”
You will never be in the present moment enjoying your art, giving your whole self over to it. You will never appreciate the unique gifts that you bring to the stage. You will start to despise and resent this art that you once lived for. Eventually, you will quit dancing because of a catastrophic injury caused by the brute force you carelessly inflicted on your body...or because you couldn’t take the disappointment and bitterness in yourself for not measuring up to those ideal standards in your head.
Then, one day years down the road, you will look back at an old video or photograph of yourself dancing and see what you can't see now because your vision is too clouded by those mental demons. You'll realize maybe you weren’t all that bad at dancing after all. Maybe you did have something special to share with your art. And the pain of regret from knowing you spent all those years hating yourself and not appreciating your unique gifts, not enjoying your dancing, will be hard to bear.
Let's not let that be you.
When you come from nothing -- from a foundation of hating yourself, wanting to hide away from the world, feeling like you don't deserve to be seen -- your victory doesn't come from proving your worth through status or roles or prestigious company contract.
It comes from getting up every day and fighting out of that hole.
It comes from convincing yourself that you deserve to be here.
It comes from believing you have something worthwhile to share despite not being one of the elite, the thoroughbreds, the dancers idolized by millions of followers.
Confidence is won through that fight. And it's okay if every day is a struggle...some worse than others. But what matters is that you keep fighting. Every day you get a chance to prove yourself a little more...and every day you find out what you are really made of a little more. Baby steps.
But you can't build that confidence through self-destructive measures - rigid routines, obsessive workouts, forcing your body to push through pain, strict self-denial. You have to nurture your body while you fight to improve it. And sometimes it's just a subtle mind shift that allows you to build yourself up versus tear your body down. My Bulletproof Ballerina cross-training was born out of this concept. The workouts are less about telling you what to do and more about teaching you how to do it. I often say the magic is not in the exercises themselves...but it's how you do those exercises that causes you to level up. It's about making friends with your body and nurturing it into a better place.
So, in case you are feeling this despair today, wondering why you are even trying in a sea of incredible dancers with thousands of Instagram followers...know that I'm out there on the battlefield right there with you. Just because there are other talented dancers out there doesn't invalidate your worth. So stop comparing yourself to them, focus on nurturing your body into betterment, stay strong & keep fighting. You're worth it...despite what those demons keep telling you.
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Pic credit: James Diaz Photography