Stop your usual routine and obsessive drive to think about this for a moment:
Does your dancing feed your life, or does it steal from it?
And vice versa, does your life feed your dancing?
So many of us dancers have been going after our dreams hardcore for as long as we can remember. It can be easy to get caught up in our career track without stopping to ask ourselves if we are even happy. Dancers are real good at driving forward, self-denial, delayed gratification, and discipline. But, what happens when you wake up one morning and realize that you've been living this life for decades on this planet but haven't been really enjoying it?
A cold sweat and panic ensues. Sure, you've been a dedicated, good little Bunhead, sacrificed a lot, and built a successful career for yourself (even though you still aren't happy with where you are at and need to get better). But where's the fun? Where's the joy? Where's the wild abandon? Where's the love? Where's the pleasure? Where's the exploration? Where's the freedom? Where are all the experiences that make this human life sensual and fulfilling?
In the ballet world, we are encouraged to think growth and success come from discipline – from denying pleasure, delayed gratification, obsessive drive, excessive punishment, putting your nose to the grindstone, resisting happiness, unrelenting effort, strict rules, narrowed focus. It's almost as if the more you can make it hurt, the more you will be rewarded in the end. You often get stuck thinking, if I’m not obsessively focused on my art, I’ll never succeed. So, you start skipping out on things because you're afraid they will detract from your ballet. It may be a vacation you turn down because you are worried about your technique regressing…or not learning to snowboard because you are worried about getting injured…or something as simple as skipping brunch with friends because you fear it will make you fat.
Maybe you think you're being noble...that you'll surely be rewarded for all the sacrifices you are making for your art. But, with this mindset, the rewards will never come because there will be no end to your self-improvements. When will you be good enough where you can relax and enjoy life? In reality, this discipline will burn you out. This all-or-nothing mindset can lead to self-destruction, a shortened dance career, an unfulfilled existence, and regret. It will leave you feeling hollowed out while your unquenchable desires demand more from you.
Real growth actually comes from freedom – from giving yourself permission to explore, try something new, take risks, make mistakes, fall down, get hurt, seek pleasure, to love yourself and realize that you are worth it. This freedom is what allows you to open up and experience life.
Far from stealing from it, all of these opportunities are chances to feed your art. You can still be just as passionate and dedicated to your ballet without being obsessed with it. In fact, by living a less restrictive existence where you experience more life outside of ballet, you will actually find that you have more fuel to put into your ballet. The greater variety you experience, the more challenges and new opportunities you face, the more pleasures you seek, the more freedom you give yourself, the more you will grow as an artist. All of these things will add to your emotional, physical, and mental development, which all enhance your dancing in their own way. This is the #BadGirlBallerina approach to success. Don’t wait until you get “there” to love yourself and enjoy life…love yourself and enjoy life first and let that fuel your art.
Bad Girl Ballerina mantra - I break the rules. I do what I want. I have fun. But, I'm still gonna be a bad ass ballerina while I'm at it.