I am not a thoroughbred dancer that will ever be revered like Sylvie Guillem. I will never dance with the big internationally renowned companies like ABT or Bolshoi Ballet. I may never get to perform on the iconic stages at Lincoln Center or the Royal Opera House. But I can honestly say that I am 1003% fulfilled and happy with my ballet career. I’m not saying this to rub it in…or to suggest that you should wanna be like me (LOL sorry, that was so necessary;). I’m saying this to encourage you -- no matter what level you are at, you can absolutely find success in your career. But “success” may not necessarily mean what you think it means.
The success I’m experiencing now in my dance career certainly doesn’t look like what I thought it would look like when I was younger. Back then, success was all about getting a contract with a certain company, hitting a certain rank, making X amount of dollars, getting press & being known as a dancer.
Boy, was I off on what I thought would make me happy.
So, what does “success” mean? What does it mean to be fulfilled by your ballet career? It means everyday you get to walk into the studio for your warm-up, class, or rehearsal and enjoy it. It means you get to feel grateful and present every time you perform, regardless of whether your performance is technically flawless or not. It means you get to give your all, vulnerable, unguarded you, to the audience, no matter how big of a stage you’re on.
As opposed to how ballet can make you feel when pursuing a different kind of success - where you have an incessant need to prove yourself. This is a black hole of neediness that surrounds your dancing and leaves you with the nauseating feeling that you will never be “good enough,” sucking the passion and presence right out of your dancing. You never feel satisfied. You never feel fulfilled. You never feel worthy.
If your drive for success leaves you feeling this way, chances are, you’re doing it wrong. In fact, most dancers are doing it wrong. They're trying to find success in their dance career by chasing external sources of validation. You need the corrections from your teacher to tell you you’re doing it right. You need the contract with your dream company to tell you that you’ve made it. You need the promotion to principal to tell you that you’re special. You need the director to see you a certain way, the attention of the critics, the praise of the audience to tell you that you’re worthy.
Focusing on external validation creates the need to please everyone else but yourself. You constantly outsource your worth, bleeding your energy into these outside factors in your attempts to rise to the top. But in this process, however great your efforts and “success” on paper, you lose touch with the internal. You stop feeling. You stop thinking for yourself. You stop caring for yourself – neglecting your wants, needs, dreams, health. You stop knowing who you are. You simply become what you think other people want you to be. You give all your power away when your identity is determined by these external factors - things you don’t really have any control over whatsoever. So, no matter how “successful” you may appear on the surface, it will never feel like enough because you don’t feel in control of your life.
So how do you take your power back? Focus on the one thing only you have control over – your body. Master your body first, and that is what gives you "success" in your ballet.
Here’s why: When you stop fighting your body and treating it like a generic piece of machinery that has to conform to industry standards at all costs, you start to develop your sense of self as you learn to optimize what you were given.
To do this, you need a practice that gets you in your body. So you can learn to appreciate the minute details of how it works. So you can push it and stretch its limits from an internal standpoint, not out of disregard. So you can focus on how it feels to move as opposed to how it looks. This internal sensation is an important asset to your dance technique. Think of what you can do in rehearsals if you understand your body better? Imagine performing and being able to call on your full physical capacity to get the job done?
Not only that, but the confidence you gain from feeling & watching your body transform is priceless for your dance career. As you get stronger through cross-training, as your body transforms through your nutrition choices, as you become vibrant through rest, recovery, & pleasure…you feel your personal power come back. You realize you are in control over your life and your path. Your “success” is no longer dependent on external factors & outsiders determining your worth. You start to value your self from an internal level…something no one or no thing can take away from you. Because you built it all by yourself. No one else gave it to you…you built it. There’s real power in that.
That’s when you can really let your art out. That’s when your artistry can really blossom - when you aren’t holding back or afraid of being vulnerable because you know you are already “good enough” no matter what the reviews say. When you aren’t trying to conform to what you think people want to see, you can feel free to say what you want to say through your art. That’s how you find “success” in your ballet career.
“If there's one reason we're suppose to be here is to say somethin' so people wanna hear it. So you gotta grab it and you don't apologize you don't worry about why they're listenin' or how long they're gonna be listening for. You just tell em what you wanna say." ~ quote from A Star Is Born (listen at :55)
Ballet used to be all about me - how good I could be, how much I could impress, how far I could make it up the ranks – a test of what I was worth. But it turns out, it’s not about me at all.
By turning your focus in on yourself...ironically you come to realize it's not about you. It's about being a part of something much greater than you...while leaving your mark behind on the world in your unique way. Mastering your body (and ultimately your life) is what allows you to appreciate ballet for the art it is. When you can let go of that need to prove yourself with your ballet it frees you up to enjoy your dancing as a passion, not an obligation. Stop chasing what the outside world tells you is “success” – fame, money, titles, acknowledgment, achievements. Look inside for the real fulfillment.
Photo credit: Rachel Neville Photography
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